You might think your pup's aggressive behavior is unfixable, unless you happen upon a genie who will grant you a wish or three. Stow away your doubts and fears, because correcting your little guy's dangerous behavior is only a counterconditioning regimen away. But it's not something you should do yourself, although there are plenty of other ways you can help limit his aggressiveness and keep everyone safe.
Tip #1 - Determine the trigger. Finding out what exactly causes your pup to growl, snap, lunge or whatever aggressive thing he does is vital. If his aggressive behavior seems random and has just started, drive him in for a vet appointment. Sudden, unexplained aggression is sometimes linked to illness or pain.
Tip #2 - Avoid the stimulus that causes your pup's aggression. Once you find out what sends your pup into a tizzy, it's time to avoid that stimulus like a plague. You may have been taught that running away from your problems doesn't fix anything, and while that's also true of your pup's aggression, confronting his problems is not a job you should undertake yourself. If he goes nuts when he sees another dog, walk far away from other dogs when you encounter them. If he gets angry when you try to play tug-of-war, don't play tug-of-war.
Tip #3 - Protect everyone involved. Doing your best to avoid whatever triggers your pup's aggression sometimes isn't enough. If he's aggressive towards other dogs or people, outfit him in a muzzle, keep him on a four- to six-foot leash and tell people he's not friendly if they want to pet him. If he's aggressive with your other pets, keep them separated when you leave, and always keep a watchful eye on their interactions.
Tip #4 - Maintain your composure. In the words of the 1939 British government, keep calm and carry on when your little guy shows his aggressive side. Don't freak out when he thrashes about if he sees another dog, don't try to calm him down by yanking on his collar to show him who's in charge and avoid screaming at him. Grabbing his collar can result in redirected aggression, which means his teeth may latch onto your arm and you'll be taking a trip to the hospital for stitches. Yelling accomplishes nothing, aside from wasting your breath and hurting your throat. When he's in his aggressive state, he doesn't care what you say or do.
Tip #5 - Contact a trainer. You might want to train your pup yourself, but that's not a good idea. Aggression is complex and it needs an equally complex counterconditioning strategy. Snap your fingers—that's how fast your pup can go from growling at you to biting your hand because you're trying to train him to not react aggressively when you walk past his food. You're putting yourself, your dog and everyone else at a great deal of risk by trying to countercondition him without a qualified trainer.
Warning: If you decide to use a muzzle, always choose a basket muzzle. Nylon muzzles do not allow your pup to pant properly and can be dangerous on a walk.
By Chris Miksen
About the Author
Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.