Aggressive dogs

  As a dog trainer I get all kinds of phone calls from people needing help with their dogs.  For me the hardest call is one about an aggressive dog.  I don’t dread these calls because I can’t help them though.  More because people want a “cure” or a quick fix.  One thing I have always told people is that I can do all the obedience training they want with a dog, but it is up to the owner to then use the training to control and manage their dog.  I know there are trainers out there who will promise the world and take someone’s hard earned money, saying everything will be just fine.  I’m not one of those trainers, I’m realistic.  When dealing with any aggression issue the owner has to be 100 % dedicated to working with the dog.  I own a dog aggressive dog.  But most people don’t even realize it.  Because I control him and the situations that I put him in.  I don’t take him to dog parks or feel that he absolutely needs to have dog friends. He gets along with a few select dogs and that suits him just fine.  People seem to want to force their dogs into situations that the dogs have no desire to be in.  And that’s when accidents happen.  Forcing your dog to meet other dogs or people is not going to help them. 

  There are different types of aggression that can be worked with and managed.  I have delt with dogs that have food aggression, possessiveness over toys, aggressive with strangers, aggressive with other dogs and small animals.  All of these forms of aggression can be worked on and managed.  But I feel it is always there, just under the surface.  It does not go away completely.  Some owners can handle dealing with these dogs and understanding their needs and situations. 

  The one type of aggression I do not deal with and have no desire to work with is handler/owner aggression.  I don’t trust a dog that bites it’s owner.  Now let me clarify this because it’s not a black and white issue.  If your dog has dog aggression and gets into a fight and bites the owner when they are breaking up the fight that’s not horrible.  A little excited nipping or mouthing is normal for some dogs/breeds.  The problem is when a dog has bitten it’s owner and now the owner is afraid of the dog.  I have heard people say they are afraid of their own dogs in the house.  All the obedience in the world won’t help them not be afraid of the dog.  Because they are not going to use it.  What will happen the first time they go to put a leash on their dog and the dog growls at them.  They back off and the dog wins, making it more likely to repeat the behavior the next time.  Unfortunately in these situations I usually tell the people they may need to choose to find a new home for the dog.  They say they love the dog and don’t want to get rid of it.  When it comes down to it these owners need to determine who is more important, people or animals.  After working with dogs for over 15 years I’ve come to the conclusion that not every dog can be helped or fixed.  It’s sad because it may not necessarily be the dogs fault, it could be genetic. 

  Dealing with aggression takes time.  I’m a slow and steady person and that’s how I train.  I take my time and don’t like to push the limits with dogs that have aggression.  Sometimes people are willing to work with their dog, but always ask the question “when will I be able to….”  insert whatever issue the dog has.  Take toys or rawhides from his/her mouth, take him/her to the dog park, have him/her around kids.   The answer might be never.  Owners need to come to terms with that, because if you put a timeframe on working with aggression I feel you are setting yourself up for failure.  But if you say “ok lets see how this goes”  you will probably get a lot further and have more success.