As an expert in aggressive dog training in Colorado Springs, I’ve learned that aggression in dogs is really the same thing as aggression in any other species, even human beings. (Except you might not see human beings biting as often as dogs do.)
In this post, I will explain the true cause of aggression in dogs and what is going on in the dogs brain when they are being aggressive. I will also explain why the dog training techniques socialization, punishment and treats will not work for fixing aggression. This information is key to understanding aggressive dog training to control the behavior.
What is aggression in dogs?
The Oxford Dictionary defines aggression as “hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront.”
Aggression is an innate behavior in dogs and a function of their DNA. Getting aroused and aggressive is linked to instinctive survival behaviors in dogs, and the need to protect limited resources in the wild.
Usually, aggressive behavior starts to wink on during the dog’s adolescence between six months and two years. However, sometimes you may meet an outlier like a precocious Malinois puppy or German shepherd youngster who thinks they’re all that at four months.
Socialization Does Not Turn Off the Aggression Gene
Aggression has little to do with early socialization or singular events in the dog’s early development. Because of this, early puppy socialization, which involves exposure to lots of other dogs and people, will do little to prevent this behavior since the genes for aggression won’t even start to express themselves until months later.
Quick Note on Jargon in Aggressive Dog Training
For some reason, a lot of aggressive dog training professionals lately tend to replace the term aggression with reactivity. There is now dog reactivity, leash reactivity and barrier reactivity, to name a few.
The reason, I believe, for this shift in aggressive dog training jargon is to make aggressive behavior sound less severe than it is. The dog doesn’t want to attack or hurt anyone. He’s just reacting to something. If it sounds nicer and less dangerous, you can treat the aggression with softer, kinder methods. Also, by breaking the behavior down into several variations, you can justify making it much more complicated to fix.
Understanding Aggression in Dogs
The first step to aggressive dog training is understanding aggression in dogs. Aggression really isn’t that complicated or difficult to fix. What it is is potentially dangerous and could lead to the death of your dog if it isn’t addressed directly.
Aggression is an arousal process, escalating from low to high. If the dog hits A he goes to B, then to C, to D to E to F. Basically, your dog is getting himself “jacked up.”
Before you can begin aggressive dog training and fix the aggressive behavior, you need to know what aggression looks like in your dog.
Phases of the Arousal Process
In most dogs, aggression starts with a direct stare. The dog becomes fixated on the person or animal he has an issue with. Sometimes, even an inanimate object can trigger the arousal process. I had a pit bull named Max that developed an issue with a huge rock in the front yard during adolescence. The issue did resolve itself, but it was funny for a while.
Maintaining visual contact with your target is part of the arousal process. This is level A to B.
During Arousal Your Dog’s Body Chemistry Changes
Next, most dogs start to lower their heads and stiffen their legs. They will move very slowly, if at all. Some dogs start to growl at this point. Some don’t. They are preparing to launch.
What you are seeing is B going to C. Things can go downhill pretty quickly from there.
At the same time that these visible behaviors are happening, there is also a lot going on inside the dog’s body when he is getting himself worked up.
His adrenaline is climbing. His heart rate and blood pressure are climbing. His body is preparing for a fight or flight response. Because of this, he is no longer as sensitive to pain.
At this point, any physical punishment administered by you isn’t going to break through to his brain.
Blood flow is moving from his core to his extremities. This means the dog’s digestive tract is shutting down. He doesn’t feel hungry. That’s why he won’t take treats at this point. Feeling the need to stop for a snack if he is in a real fight or flight situation could spell the end of your dog if he was living in the wild or on the streets.
Aggressive Dog Training: Understanding is the First Step
This is a very general picture of what an arousal process looks like. The most important takeaway you need to understand when beginning a program of aggressive dog training is that arousal is a process.
Some dogs have a lightning-fast arousal process, and some take much longer. My old cattle dog, Shiloh, reacted the instant someone made eye contact with him. He had one of those lightning responses. Part of the problem with identifying the arousal process in some dogs like Shiloh is that they may be living in a constant state of heightened arousal, and it takes very little to push them over the top. This is essential information for dealing with aggression.
Next Step? Speak to a Colorado Springs Dog Trainer
So, we know we can’t prevent aggressive behavior with early socialization. During aggressive dog training, we can’t use treats because the dog won’t feel hungry when aroused. We can’t use physical punishment when our dog is in full on aggressive mode because he won’t feel pain. What is left? Make him live out his life in a leather muzzle? Just shoot the dog? I don’t think so. More than 90% of these dogs can be fixed and fixed reasonably quickly.
There are answers out there for aggressive dog training. If you are looking for help with dog training in Colorado Springs. then please contact me to schedule a free dog behavior phone consultation.