How do we avoid aggression and keep family members safe?
Safety and prevention of bites is the essential first step; both in keeping family members safe and in beginning the process of behavior modification. First, identify all situations that might lead to aggression and prevent access to these circumstances (by caging or confinement, muzzle, or environmental manipulation) or otherwise control the dog when a confrontational situation might arise (e.g., leash and head halter control, tie down). Then it is essential that these situations are avoided to prevent further injury and learning. Although the long-term goal would be to reduce or eliminate the potential for aggression in these situations, each new episode could lead to injury and further aggravation of the problem. A head collar and leash is a good way to control and prevent aggression even inside the home. A properly fitted basket muzzle is even more effective at preventing bites and may be useful in some situations. The dog is unlikely to change his behavior without retraining and the dog learns from each opportunity to practice his aggression; so limit his opportunity for additional aggressive encounters (see Aggression – Getting Started – Safety and Management). Once the family elects to begin a behavior modification program for aggression, their ability to keep people safe and prevent aggressive episodes must be reevaluated constantly. If there are frequent safety lapses, accidental bites or new bites occurring in new and unforeseen circumstances then the decision to keep and treat this dog must be reassessed.
Step 4: Change Your Play Style
While you might enjoy roughhousing with your dog, your playtime together is one way your dog internalizes your love and affection. Rather than use your hands to roughhouse with your dog, start using durable chew toys. If you notice your dog getting close to nipping, engage them in fetch or a game of tug of war to redirect their energy.
Don’t we just need to show our dog that we are alpha or dominant for the aggression to stop?
Aggression toward family members is not likely to be related to dominanceor social status. This is a common misconception, which can lead to inappropriate treatment strategies and perhaps worsening of the aggressive behavior. Most often a dog’s aggression is motivated by fear, anxiety, conflict about what to expect and what to do and the anticipation of possible punishment (see Aggression – Diagnosis and Overview, (Dominance, Alpha, and Pack Leadership – What Does It Really Mean?, and Canine Communication – Interpreting Dog Language). It follows that if underlying anxiety and fear is causing aggressive responses then training programs designed to enforce the human family members as alpha or dominance using confrontation or intimidation-based interventions will increase rather than decrease anxiety and associated aggressive responses. Strategies designed to achieve pack leadership, alpha or dominance over your dog do not address the underlying problem; the fear or anxiety and lack of understanding of what to expect or how to react in the situation. While control and consistent interactions with the pet are desirable, they should be achieved in non confrontational ways that decrease anxiety and conflict not increase those underlying emotions.