June 03, 2021
Living with a dog that is aggressive to you or family members is difficult, dangerous and frustrating. And it’s more common than many dog owners realize.
Roughly 4.5 million humans each year are bitten by dogs – and nearly a million of those incidents required medical attention – according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). About half of these cases involved children.
It is important to note that a dog’s breed does NOT determine aggression. Any dog can become aggressive if provoked: male or female, young or old, big or small. With a little bit of training (dogs and children), serious dog bites can be prevented. Here are five helpful tips:
This is the crucial first step. Teach your family to respect your dog, and to understand that the dog needs time alone, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends. Family members “should know that it’s not okay to run up to a dog, even if that dog is on a leash and with its owner; let them know to approach dogs calmly. They should also understand what to do if confronted by an aggressive dog, how to tell when a dog wants to play and when it doesn’t want to play, and to ask a dog’s owner for permission to pet it. Children should also be taught never to approach a strange dog,” according to the AVMA.
Reading a dog's body language takes a little practice, but most dogs are relatively transparent about their feelings. Like people, dogs rely on body gestures, postures and vocalizations to communicate. Try to assess if your dog is feeling stressed, frightened or threatened. Once you have diagnosed the reason, change the dynamics of the situation. Some dogs, for example, are aggressive around the food bowl. If that is the case, simply provide space and privacy.
Socializing your dog helps him or her at ease in different situations. If your dog has already displayed aggression to a member of your family, it’s important to use a leash when attempting to allow interaction between the two. The goal is to let your dog feel comfortable and relaxed in different situations with family members. This will require patience and consistency. In time, the dog will understand.
Learn how to avoid escalating risky situations and to understand when you should and should not interact with dogs. According to the AVMA, avoid petting or engaging with a dog in these potentially risky scenarios:
Also, the American Kennel Club said the following signs should be heeded in anticipation of a possible bite: Signs of anxiety or arousal, intense eye contact, showing whites of the eyes, a tense body, and showing teeth.
When all else fails – or if you want to ensure proper training – search for a qualified behavior modification therapist in your area. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend a program or individual therapist. VCA Hospitals, one of the largest veterinarian groups in North America, offers this advice: “A behavior modification program will generally include avoidance of triggers, teaching new responses, positive reinforcement for desirable behaviors, control with a head halter and leash, training exercises for response substitution and desensitization for the dog’s significant triggers.”
The best step, of course, is prevention at a young age so a puppy grows up without aggressive behavior. If you find yourselves handling an aggressive dog and are trying to cope, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Ask your vet to refer you to a certified animal behaviorist. You might also consider the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, or the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.