Problems with Dog Behavior – Aggression Toward Family Members – Introduction and Safety

Why would my dog be violent toward me?

A dog’s hostility against family members might occur for a variety of causes. Conflict aggressiveness, fear-based aggression, defensive aggression, status-related aggression, possessive aggression, food guarding aggression, and redirected violence are the most typical causes. Living with a dog that is violent toward family members may be challenging, hazardous, disheartening, and irritating (see Aggression – Diagnosis and Overview).

Should I keep a dog who is violent toward my family?

There are several compelling reasons to share your life with a pet. They give companionship, share experiences, nurture, entertain, and improve our lives, thus sharing your life with an aggressive dog should not be taken lightly. The capacity to offer safety for individuals who will be around the dog must be the most important consideration in the choice. The family makeup, daily duties, and other challenges in certain families may make retaining and retraining an aggressive dog unfeasible and dangerous. Placement in another household is occasionally a possibility, although it is not always possible to find a suitable home. The only way to ensure a dog does not become aggressive is to euthanize it.

How do we weigh the pros and cons of keeping an aggressive dog?

According to the CDC, 800,000 individuals seek medical care for dog bites each year, with children accounting for half of them (see Aggression – Children). Dog bites are not uncommon; they are typical occurrences in the life of ordinary families, and it is believed that 15% of dog owners have been bitten by their own dogs. When a dog bites, he has demonstrated his readiness to employ biting as a behavioral technique, at least in that setting, and is thus more likely to bite in the future.

Aggressive dogs are seldom cured again. The severity of a bite can be determined by carefully considering the scenario, the harm inflicted by the bite, the choices made by the dog, including the dog’s readiness to prevent escalation to a bite by growling, snarling, or snapping, and the kind of aggressiveness diagnosed. To evaluate and prioritize this evaluation, complex cases may need the expertise of a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

Aren’t all bites the same?

While all bites should be considered serious; the circumstances and choices the dog made during the episode may give some indication as to the options the dog considered before using aggression. In general, most dogs have good control of the intensity and force of their biting.

“Dogs that are willing to use aggression to change the outcome of a situation are rarely cured.”

Some bites are prevented and may leave no visible traces on the skin. Other bites may cause bruising, pinching, or indentation of the skin without causing blood. More severe bites may cause skin breakdown, superficial or deep puncture wounds, numerous punctures, or tearing/shearing injuries. Some canines may bite so fiercely that they break bones. Some dogs bite once and then withdraw, while others bite several times within the same incident. Some dogs attack when threatened or when they are in close contact, while others charge from across the room.

How can we avoid hostility while yet keeping family members safe?

The first step in keeping family members safe and beginning the process of behavior adjustment is to ensure safety and bite prevention. To begin, identify any scenarios that might lead to aggressiveness and prohibit access to these settings (through caging or confinement, muzzle, or environmental manipulation) or otherwise manage the dog when a hostile situation may emerge (e.g., leash and head halter control, tie down).

Then, in order to minimize future harm and learning, these circumstances must be avoided. Although the long-term objective would be to decrease or eliminate the propensity for violence in these settings, each new event might result in damage and worsen the condition. Even within the home, a head collar and leash can help to regulate and avoid aggressiveness. A basket muzzle that is correctly fitted is considerably more efficient at avoiding bites and may be beneficial in specific instances. Without retraining, the dog is unlikely to modify his behavior, and the dog learns from each opportunity to exercise his hostility; thus, minimize his exposure to more aggressive interactions (see Aggression – Getting Started – Safety and Management).

When a family decides to start a behavior modification program for aggressiveness, their capacity to keep others safe and prevent hostile episodes must be continually reevaluated. If there are regular safety failures, unintentional bites, or new bites that occur in new and unexpected conditions, the decision to maintain and treat this dog must be reconsidered.

Isn’t it enough to just demonstrate to our dog that we are the alpha or dominant species for the violence to cease?

Family member aggression is unlikely to be connected to dominance or social standing. This is a widespread misperception that can lead to ineffective treatment techniques and perhaps worsened aggressive behavior. Fear, anxiety, conflict about what to expect and what to do, and the anticipation of possible punishment are the most common motivators for a dog’s aggression (see Aggression – Diagnosis and Overview, Dominance, Alpha, and Pack Leadership – What Does It Really Mean?, and Canine Communication – Interpreting Dog Language).

As a result, if underlying anxiety and fear are producing aggressive behaviors, training programs aimed to impose human family members as alpha or dominance through confrontation or intimidation-based interventions would increase rather than diminish anxiety and related violent responses. Strategies for achieving pack leadership, alpha or dominance over your dog do not address the underlying issue; fear or anxiety and a lack of awareness of what to anticipate or how to behave in the scenario. While consistency and control over the pet are desirable, they should be done in non-confrontational methods that reduce anxiety and conflict rather than increasing those underlying feelings.

What can I do to help my dog’s aggression?

A detailed history and evaluation of aggressive episodes, as well as your dog’s behavioral history, are required for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. When choosing someone to assist you with your pet’s behavior problem, consult 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 are all part of a behavior modification program (see Behavior Consultations – Seeing a Behaviorist, Getting Started, Diagnosing a Behavior Problem – Is It Medical or Behavioral?, and Aggression – Introduction).

“Dogs that are willing to use aggression to change the outcome of a situation are rarely cured.”

How can I effectively control my dog?

It is critical that family members establish themselves as effective parental leaders from the start of their relationship with their dog. Good dog leaders handle their dogs in the same way as a good parent or teacher would treat a student. It is critical to give consistency, patience, perseverance, regularity, and predictability as a pet owner. Rewarding positive behaviors gives the dog knowledge, which acts as a direction for the dog’s interactions with you. Being the leader or being “in control” does not indicate severity or punishment, but rather that the dog’s conduct is suitable and will remain such.

This is done through the use of incentive-based training, physical control mechanisms, and monitoring. Consistent replies lessen your dog’s anxiety and conflict by teaching him which actions are rewarded and which are not. You acquire control over your dog’s behavior while your dog develops control over its rewards by “offering” the actions you want it to learn. (See Learn to Earn – Predictable Rewards for further information.)

Because some puppies are more assertive, excitable, fearful, easily distracted, or difficult to motivate and thus more difficult to train, the owner’s methods for becoming the leader will be determined by the puppy’s individual temperament and genetic predisposition (see Training Basics – Getting Started, Aggression – Diagnosis and Overview, Behavior Management Products, Learn to Earn – Predictable Rewards, Learning, Training, and Modifying Behavior, and Teaching Calm – Settle and Relaxation Training, as well as handouts on how to train specific commands).

It is also critical to detect deference when it happens. While your dog looks away, lowers its head, or avoids you, especially when you are reprimanding it, this is an expression of reverence, appeasement, and submission, as well as an attempt to stop the contact (see Canine Communication – Interpreting Dog Language). The encounter is ended in the dog’s mind, and if the human persists with reprimands or punishment, the dog may respond with fear and protective actions. Remember that just because the dog deferred once does not guarantee he will in the future. Each environment is distinct, and the dogs’ desire for the resource in question influences their reaction.

How do I deal with my dog’s aggression?

Treatment plans will begin with educating the dog what you Perform want him or her to do. This is often accomplished through a positive reinforcement-based training approach. Teaching a dog to go to a confinement area on cue, sit and remain for treats, or get off/on furniture on command can vary depending on the individual dog and scenario (see Reinforcement and Rewards, Learn to Earn – Predictable Rewards, and Working for Food). Control devices like as head halters and leashes provide for more control and safety without the need for harsh, strong corrections, while also decreasing potential for aggressiveness (see Training Products – Head Halter Training and Training Products – Head Halter Training – Synopsis).

Once fundamental control tasks have been learnt and safety and aggression avoidance measures have been implemented, advanced activities can commence. Classical counter-conditioning, desensitization, and exposure gradients are examples of behavior modification strategies for specific problematic interactions in which the dog is gradually exposed to previously arousing stimuli at such low levels that arousal does not occur and then rewarded for the proper response. At the same time, the dog is accountable for obeying new orders and is lavishly rewarded for making new, suitable judgments.

What can I do if my dog refuses to listen to my commands?

It is critical that the owner avoid any conflict or circumstance that might result in injury or where the owner may be unable to recover control securely. It is possible to create scenarios and environments in which the dog must obey. It is ineffective to “force” or confront your dog, as this may result in resistance and aggressiveness. Instead, assess whether or not compliance is possible in each case. If not, do not proceed; instead, modify the environment so that you may get the desired result. As previously said, if the dog is fitted with a remote leash and head halter, you will have more instant control.

What is the prognosis for dogs who are aggressive against their owners?

Dogs that are willing to use violence to affect the result of a situation are seldom healed, but they are frequently controllable. Predictable interactions, avoidance of aggression-inducing stimuli, and a regular daily routine of exercise, play, and social engagement can all help. Some dogs, however, may remain hostile toward family members and pose a risk to people who live with them. Certain family circumstances may make it hard to successfully rehabilitate an aggressive dog while keeping people safe. Each situation necessitates an evaluation by a veterinarian behaviorist as well as continued monitoring to establish whether or not improvement is being achieved (see Aggression – Introduction and Aggression – Getting Started – Safety and Management).