Some Deeper Insights on Fixing Dog Aggression Problems

Last week’s issue about the woman who was having problems fixing her Rottweiler’s aggression generated a lot of interest.

“Things looked better for about a week, but this weekend it all went to, well, you know where. I was cornered on my steps when I touched her head, we were run off our couch when she snuck (spelling!?) on for a nap. I don’t think she was touched more than a dozen times in 2 days that she didn’t snarl. In other words??? She way worse!!!! Is this to be expected, cause I gotta say, she won these rounds. I’m now honestly afraid of her.”

“We’re not expert dog trainers, every other dog either of us has had has NEVER acted anything like this. I’m just completely torn apart. The vet gave her a clean bill of health.”

“I’m now really looking at re-homing her vs. putting her down. I don’t have the experience to correct this kind of problem. I know most behavior issues are the owners’ fault, and I’ll take the blame for jumping on the door and counter surfing, but I just can’t see where we erred to this degree. She snapped at me when she was 6 WEEKS old (so I’ve been at this for a while) while being bathed.”

[D. Ames– our board moderator– replies:]

“I have not read all of your posts, but I have a sense [as you have admitted,] that you are afraid of this dog. Unfortunately, your dog probably has this pegged as well. If you are seriously interested in trying to alter this dog’s behavior, there are a couple of things that you can do.”

“Firstly, on the dog¬†health issues,… you stated that the vet. gave her a clean bill of health. Did your vet. do blood work? If so, did you vet. specifically do a thyroid check? Thyroid issues are important to rule out when you are dealing with aggression. If, in fact thyroid issues are present, thyroid medication will help.”

“It will also be necessary to enlist the assistance of a qualified dog training professional! Not a ‘behaviorist,’ and not a pet dog/obedience trainer. But rather, a dog trainer who deals daily [and specifically] with aggression. These include a Schutzhund/sport dog trainer, a police dog trainer, and/or a personal protection dog trainer. These folks must know how to turn aggression off as well as how to turn it on. They will be your best resource for evaluation, [i.e., what is behind your dog’s aggression.] They will also be able to counsel you appropriately as to whether your dog can or should be rehabilitated. Furthermore, they will be able to properly teach you how to effectively and safely handle and train your dog. ”

“Sometimes, no matter how good our intentions are, a specific dog may not be a good match for us. If this is your sense, then be honest with yourself. In the mean time, stop putting yourself in the position of being able to get hurt. As things are going now [per your description,] you are setting yourself up to get hurt, and your dog is learning that it can bully you and get away with it. Stop giving your dog freedom–where it can get to the couch! Furniture is ‘off limits!’ Actually, any freedom [off leash] should be off limits! I.e.: either keep her crated, on a leash [with a pinch collar] in a kennel–that is IT –no freedom [to run amuck.] If you are really afraid of your dog, then muzzle it.”

“Invest in a good muzzle that will keep you from getting bitten [Bridgeport Leather 800-678-7353 is a good resource for these, but a qualified dog trainer will be able to assist you with this as well.] Aggression has a nasty tendency to escalate [as you are finding out.] Doing nothing will actually lead to further problems. You need to be very proactive if you are committed to fixing this.”

“PLEASE, PLEASE don’t even think about trying to re-home her. If she has a history of dog aggression you cannot in good conscience give her to someone else. Even if you tell them about her dog aggression you could still be held responsible if the dog bites someone. ”

“Also don’t try to give her to a rescue group. I live in MI. and work with a rescue group and we are over run with stray, abandoned, unwanted and otherwise dumped on us dogs. And these are the nice ones, without aggression problems. We have no place for a bitter and I am sure other rescues don’t either.”

“You have done a good thing by committing to work with her, but results don’t always happen within a week or two.”

“If she has spent most of her life getting away with everything and being the dominant one in the pack you cannot expect her to be submissive overnight. In fact in situations like this a dog may become more aggressive if it’s pack status is challenged (you doing the NILIF, setting boundaries, etc.).”

“She may need time to adjust and accept the fact that she can no longer be the leader.”

“Now, if you choose to continue to work with her, are you sure your being consistent? If not then you are sending her mixed signals.”

“Did she have her leash and training collar on when she “cornered” you? If not then she should have. She should ALWAYS be wearing a leash and training collar whenever she’s with you, outside of the crate/confined area.”

“How was she allowed to sneak up on the couch? ”

“And why were you chased off?”

“Just the fact that these things have happened tells me that she was not on leash and training collar(correct me if I am wrong), because if she was you could have corrected/prevented it.”

“In the end it comes down to one question: Are you going to be committed to training her CONSISTANTLY!”

“And if not are you willing to live with the aggression?”

“If the answer to this is NO then the best thing you can do is to put her down humanly and not pass on your problems to someone else.”

“Don’t get me wrong, there are situations where the owner can do everything right but still not get results.”

“Some dogs just cannot be changed no matter what you do.”

[Editor’s note: I disagree. Many times this is just a relationship issue between the current owner and the dog, and it MAY NOT be passed along to the next owner. In most cases, it’s an issue of an owner with a soft temperament living with a dog who’s got a hard temperament.

When I owned South Bay K-9 Academy for 7 years, I would routinely see Grannies who would relinquish their dominant-aggressive German Shepherd or Rottweiler to a new owner that happened to be a truck driver or a construction worker or a cop. I would continue working with the new owner and would often find that the aggressive behavior the prior owner had experienced vanished INCREDIBLY QUICKLY when the dog was put with a new handler who didn’t take any guff and wasn’t afraid of the dog.]

“Please read and consider what Perfect Paws has written.”

“Also, when trying to change an unwanted behavior it very often happens that the behavior will get worse or occur more often just before a change for the better. Just be sure you are being consistent in what you ask of the dog. This means everyone in the family must be consistent, not always an easy task. Keep a training collar and lead on at all times so you can correct without having to put yourself in a position of being bit. And get yourself some professional training help. Also, if she reacts to someone reaching over her to pet or touch her head (or back), I wouldn’t do that for now. Does she do the same if you reach from under to pet her chest or side?”