In general, there are three root causes of dog aggression.
The first is trauma. That includes abuse, neglect, agitation, and fear.
The second is irresponsible breeding. Aggression breeds aggression. That is why we always tell people who purchase a new puppy to insist on meeting the parents.
If the breeder does not want you to meet the parents, run! That is a severe red flag for the possibility of being trapped with an aggressive dog.
Since 1959, the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Russian Academy of Science in Novosibirsk, Russia, tested foxes. They found within 50 years and 40 generations of selective breeding of calm to calm, the fear and aggression have been bred out of the initial base of aggressive foxes.
They have evolved into foxes with a domesticated dog’s juvenile-like behaviors. Those behaviors include submission, barking, whining, and the desire for human companionship. They also noted a change in the physiology of the animals, such as coat colors and texture changes, broader heads, floppy ears, and changes in the shapes of tails. These dog-like, human-friendly foxes are now being sold worldwide as domesticated pets.
Conversely, during those 50 years, aggressive-to-aggressive breeding has created incredibly aggressive and vicious foxes.
Lack of socialization
The third cause of dog aggression is the lack of socialization. It cannot be stressed enough how vital it is to socialize a puppy as much and as soon as possible.
Fear is a massive factor in aggression. The first 20 weeks of a puppy’s life is when they should be exposed to as many new and most positive experiences as possible to help them become less fearful. These experiences must include meetings and be handled by unknown people.
Meeting and interacting with other animals is necessary. Put exposing your dog to new, loud, strange noises on your to-do list. Atypical adventures to places such as children’s ballgames and flea markets help a puppy learn how to cope with new situations.
And lots of short, fun car rides will help your puppy learn to enjoy traveling. This is when they will develop the coping skills to become well-adjusted, non-aggressive adult dogs.
The CAT method
There are several methods used to modify aggressive behavior in dogs. They all work toward desensitizing the animal to the stimuli that pump all that adrenaline that makes them fearful, angry, and out of control! Constructional Aggression Treatment, or CAT, is usually quite successful in modifying inappropriate behaviors.
It is a combination of socialization and behavior modification. By removing the subject dog from their comfort zone, which in most cases is isolation with only their family or home, they, as a rule, slowly associate being alone as not necessarily that much fun.
Being pack animals, once the inappropriate behavior is modified, most inherently seek the security of a pack.
With CAT, the subject dog learns if and when they show aggression, the object of their focus, another dog or person, remains in their company. The distraction is removed when their behavior transforms into a calm, appropriate response.
We have worked with several aggressive dogs by initially barricading them in the office, away from the other dogs in the pack, separated by a sliding glass door. This allows them to see how much fun the others are having together.
The water bucket is in the kitchen, so they come near the sliding glass door when the pack wants to drink. They drink and then walk away. If the subject dog shows inappropriate behavior while the other dog drinks, then an immediate, firm correction is made simply by telling them, “NO! BAD!”
The objective is to have them remain calm, and eventually, the other dog walks away. We emphasize approval of appropriate behavior by praising the subject dog with a simple “Good boy or good girl.” The fact the “threat” walked away when they were calm reinforces the subject dog, the association “I remained calm, they went away.” Using CBD oil also can help your dog stay calm and reduce its tendencies to become aggressive.
As we see appropriate behavior changes, we crate the dog and allow all the other dogs in the pack into the office to hang out while we have our morning coffee. This brings everyone up close and personal. When the crated subject dog sees that the pack is ignoring their drama, it takes the wind out of their sails, and they will calm down. That’s when the pack leaves them and usually goes outside to play.
We then remove the subject dog from the crate. They remain in the office, where they can watch the other dogs having fun together through another set of sliding glass doors.
When we deem the subject dog ready and want to join the pack, we release them outside with the calmest, well-adjusted dogs and deal with the newcomer’s theatrics. It is only a matter of minutes before the subject dog realizes they are not scaring off the others, not being attacked, and will relax. Thus far, we’ve had excellent results from the CAT method of behavior modification.
Finally, we “road test” the subject dog in the real world. They are taken off the premise, which has become their new comfort zone, and we test them in public. They are leashed and walked where there are other dogs and people. If they react inappropriately, the focus of their issue remains. When they become calm, the person or dog leaves.
The final test is the dog park when we are comfortable with the subject dog’s behavior. There we have people and dogs, their ultimate nightmare! With each case we have worked with, the subject dog’s behavior has been modified enough that they’ve had a wonderful time romping with the other dogs in the park and meeting and greeting new people.
How quickly the CAT method eliminates dog aggression depends on you and your dog.
This isn’t TV, where the problem is solved in less than an hour. Be fair, firm, consistent, and patient.
Behavior modification takes time, but it’s worth the effort. If you aren’t willing to commit, find a reputable local trainer who will do the hard part for you.
Karen A. Soukiasian owns Good Dog! — Dog Training in St. Augustine, Florida. You can follow Karen on Facebook.