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Training Blog

April 7, 2022

“Ask MM” Training Post: How to stop dog aggression in your dog

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Written by: Aileen Barker

Ok, I got several emails over the week involving some type of dog-to-dog aggression question. Rather than pick one situation, I decided to talk about aggression as a whole…Ibelieve that most aggression comes from fear, and/or too much excitement. If you can learn to control the excitement and eliminate the fear by building self-control and teaching confidence, you can stop the aggression before it starts.

Controlling excitement, whether positive or negative, starts inside your home. I always work in the same order. I start inside, a completely controlled environment, and then we move to the backyard, a semi-controlled environment, then finally a park, a completely UN-controlled environment. So with that in mind, I like to start inside, addressing the excitement triggers that all dogs have, before we start addressing the aggression. This is a desensitization process that you can do with any trigger you see in your dog.

Start by putting your dog on his bed, and tell him to stay. Then you hit 3 particular triggers that cause most dogs to lose control, ignore the stay command and get up. They are: 1. Giving your dog attention (touching, talking, eye-contact) 2. Touching or opening the side or back door. 3. Opening the pantry door or refrigerator/messing with the food bag. If you attempt any of these steps and your dog gets up, you simply put him back and try again, until he can stay successfully through all three triggers.

Once you can accomplish that, you can move to higher triggers like the doorbell, leashes being picked up and moved, you can move the dog bed out to the back yard and start working on more advanced stay commands while using 3 outside triggers: 1. Walking back to the inside door 2. Sitting down on an outside chair 3. Mess with gardening tools such as a rake, hose, etc. If he gets up at any point, simply put him back. Once you can successfully get your dog to stay through all these triggers, you can start dealing with the actual dog aggression.

Now that your dog has a VERY strong foundation of self-control, due to all your desensitizing exercises, he should remember how to ignore things that cause too much excitement, whether positive or negative. That means that your first exercise is too teach your dog to ignore strange dogs or dogs that provoke an over-reaction…i.e. too much excitement. You ask your dog to lay down and stay, while another dog is present. Not interact, just be present and ignore it. The other dog should also be relatively calm during this exercise. Once he is capable of calmly ignoring this dog while lying down, you can progress to having him ignore the dog while he walks by it. Or vise-versa, he can watch the other dog pass by. Movement is always harder to ignore, as is space, so move closer when your dog is calm, and slightly further away if he becomes overwhelmed.

This process can take a LOT of time (usually at least a week or so for uniting household dog packs, sometimes longer for eliminating aggression in solitary dogs), and should be done in 20-45 min increments, daily if possible. Eventually, the dogs you are trying to socialize will not become excited when they see each other any more, until they don’t react AT ALL. That’s when they are ready to start being friends. But that will happen naturally once they have learned over time and positive experiences to trust each other and ultimately YOU to keep the peace. Happy training! ~ Lisa

(pictured is Anikka, a MM bulldog that started out with some definite aggression issues brought on by too much excitement…she is now adopted!!)
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