I have been a dog trainer for over twenty-five years now…
Yikes, I feel old saying that! �
But itâ€™s trueâ€¦
And I mention this because I have to admit: what I believed was
true about dog aggression at 20 versus 45 years of age has
changedâ€¦ a LOT!
I have trained police dogsâ€¦ worked in a bite suitâ€¦ and seen
the purest forms of dog aggression. With so much experience that I
now see the very subtle changes in a dogâ€™s countenance and
behavior right before he bites.
So much that the hairs on the back of my neck stand
up when I see certain changes in a dogâ€™s behaviorâ€¦
â€¦ Changes that my coworkers in veterinary medicine never
I remember about a year ago, a two-year-old Cane Corso came to
our clinic. I was the â€œroom techâ€ so I greeted him and his
mom, put them in a room, and discussed what he was due for that
year. The dog was admittedly nervous, sitting in his momâ€™s lap,
but he seemed alright.
He was due for a heartworm test. A heartworm test requires a
tiny blood sample and most owners donâ€™t want to watch you poke
their dog in the jugular with a needle.
So I took the dog, on leash, to the back treatment area to meet
one of my coworkers.
As I put him into a â€œsitâ€ and my coworker got on her knees to
draw his blood, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.
There was a slight change in his behavior, he stiffened.
Doesnâ€™t sound like much, but it can be a telling warning
I suggested a muzzle, to which a few of my coworkers scoffed.
But I was always a better safe than sorry tech.
He did okay, he survived; I took him back to the room and his
â€œmomâ€. But when the vet entered the room he lunged and
tried to bite her face.
Thankfully, I was her technician and already didnâ€™t trust the
dog and was prepared for aggression.
Point of the story? Signs of aggression arenâ€™t always easily
spotted until the aggressive behavior turns into a dangerous dog
Even after the lunging episode at the vet and the near bite, the
owner was in denial. She didnâ€™t want her dogs muzzled (which I
completely donâ€™t understand since a muzzle is better than a
reported dog bite and a mauling) and she was praising and cooing to
her dog as he growled and snarled when he got his vaccines.
Listen To What Your Dog Is Telling Youâ€¦ Before He BITES!
At this stage in my career, I rarely pull punches. At 20 years
of age, I would have sugar-coated to this dogâ€™s owner that
perhaps they could use some training with this dog and perhaps she
shouldnâ€™t reward him while he is growling.
At 45 years of age, I will tell you that this dog is going to
bite someone, badly, and likely need euthanasia if the owner
doesnâ€™t get the aggression and the fear under control.
People often start a conversation off with:
â€œDonâ€™t worryâ€¦ He would never actually biteâ€¦â€ â€œHe is
sweet at home.â€ â€œHe has never acted like thatâ€¦â€ â€œHe was a
â€¦ These are some of my first indicators that the dog has
Let us be honest.
If you find yourself making excuses that sound like theseâ€¦
youâ€™re in denialâ€¦ lying to yourself.
Nobody Wants To Admit Their Dog Is AGGRESSIVEâ€¦
Nobody wants to have the â€œbad dogâ€ â€¦
â€¦ Or the dog that needs a muzzle â€¦ or the dog with
But just because your dog has â€œnever bittenâ€ doesnâ€™t mean
he never will. And if youâ€™re already making
excuses for borderline behaviors that are making you
NERVOUS around your dogâ€¦ Or, youâ€™re brushing off or soothing
other peopleâ€™s concerns about your dogâ€¦
â€¦ I must warn you:
Youâ€™re risking the safety and
lives of other people and kids. Youâ€™re risking
the safety and lives of other dogs. And youâ€™re the life of YOUR
DOG! (Who may be euthanized if he bites, attacks, or mauls
It is always better to err on the side of caution than to have a
dog bite or maul a human or another dog.
Itâ€™s Always Better To Be SAFE Than SORRYâ€¦
At one clinic I worked at; one of our technicians almost got bit
in the face. She was young and new as a veterinary technician and
she was down on her knees in front of an aggressive dog (something
I rarely if ever do without a muzzle). Thankfully, as the dog
lunged for her face, the owner intervened and blocked the attack
with his arm. The dog had never bitten before, but left the owner
with huge gashes.
Even though the dog bit his OWNERâ€¦ the bite had to be
reportedâ€¦ the dog quarantinedâ€¦ and the dog was added to the
â€œdangerous dogsâ€ list.
It would have been so much easier to just have the owner muzzle
People get so wrapped up in what other people may think of them,
or their dog. They donâ€™t want us to judge them or to blame them,
or to hate their dog.
The truth is that what other people think literally doesnâ€™t
matter at all. People tend to be a judgmental and will judge you
for the shoes that you wear or the car that you drive, so why would
you care about how they feel about your dog?
Stop Caring What Others Think And Protect Your Dog
We need to stop caring what others think and protect ourselves
and our dogs.
If your dog is fearfulâ€¦ skittishâ€¦ anxiousâ€¦. or
aggressiveâ€¦ teach your dog to HAPPILY wear a muzzle.
Keep your dog from putting his life on the line. Keep him from
having a true aggressive experience.
I donâ€™t care if he has never bitten anyone before. I
understand that you love him and 90% of the time he is a great
companion. No dog is aggressive 100% of the time. Most dogs are
only sporadically aggressive. Most often, he is your best
But believe him when he warns you.
The Warning Signs: Your Dog Is Getting Ready To Bite
Staring/Hard Eyes: Dogs donâ€™t usually stare
unless they are stimulated or overstimulated. When your dog sees a
squirrel, he likely stares because of prey drive. His eyes lock on
and he stares at his prey. Equally, when a dog stares at another
dog or a human, his pupils will often grow and harden. Instead of
sweet squishy face, his countenance changes.
Freezing/Stiffening: His countenance changes
and then his body freezes or stiffens waiting for impending
attack. Both of these warning signs are often ignored by owners
and even those in the field. But, these are usually the first
signs that make most of us on a primary and instinctual level take
note or feel uneasy. I remember reading a book called â€œThe Gift
of Fearâ€ in which the author begs you to listen to that
prehistoric part of your brain that is telling you something is
wrong. Donâ€™t get on the elevator with a person if your amygdala
is telling you not to. Who cares what people think. Listen to
your instincts, donâ€™t push that aside and wait for a serious
Wide eyes (a.k.a. â€œwhale eyesâ€): The
â€œwhale eyeâ€ is a real thing. I first heard the term maybe 20
years ago from a trainer and expert in the dog bite field named Sue
Sternberg. She studied dogs in shelters and performed temperament
tests in order to adopt out adoptable dogs while euthanizing those
with aggression. As she explained; right before a dog bites he
often looks to the side so that you can see the whites of his eyes
(whale eye). Nothing showed me this phenomenon quite as clearly as
being in a dog bite suit. Over and over, I could see the dogs look
to the side and then bite. It is an interesting phenomenon for
sure. So, when I see the whites of a dogâ€™s eyes, I know I am
moments away from an actual bite. But how many people know
up/Growling/Barking/Lunging/Hiding/Snarling: These are all
indicators that your dog is uncomfortable! He is trying to
communicate this to you with his body language. By ignoring or
rationalizing these behaviors â€¦ or worse, making excusesâ€¦ you
are setting him up for a BIGGER SHOW of aggression â€” potentially
a bite! These signs tell us your dog is uncomfortable and
Donâ€™t Let It Get This Far!
Your dog doesnâ€™t have the ability to understand the
repercussions of his aggressive behavior.
He is simply reacting, trying to stop behavior he finds
stressful or triggering. And maybe, heâ€™s already received
positive reinforcement for these aggressive behaviors. Heâ€™s
learned, for example, if he growls when someone tries to pet him,
the person backs away. Or if he barks, people jump back.
He sees these â€œsmallerâ€ acts of aggression getting results. So
itâ€™s only a matter of time before he escalates to a BIGGER SHOW
of aggressionâ€¦ when people or dogs donâ€™t respond as he expects
to the smaller acts of aggression.
Lungingâ€¦ bitingâ€¦ mauling. Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s next.
Will you let it get that far? Or will you act to prevent
aggressive behaviors now?
The 8 Types Of Dog Aggression
When we talk about aggression or aggressive behavior we often
talk about Fight or Flight. When challenged will you stand and
fight or will you give up or run? What happens if you run but
canâ€™t get away or your aggressor continues the aggressive
behavior? Will you resort to violence and fighting then?
Aggression training has a few vital components that are
important to understand!
#1 â€“ Forward Aggression
Forward aggression is outright aggression or confident
aggression. This has no components of fear aggression.
When the dog is aggressive it is making a conscious and bold
choice toward the behavior. When I think about this kind of
aggression I picture the perfect police or protection dog (Belgian
Malinois or German Shepherd). They assess the situation and are
confident in their aggression. And, although this is a dangerous
dog, this kind of aggression is fairly rare without extreme
training or having something wrong physically (think seizure
disorder) and genetic conditions.
Occasionally I hear from dog owners or young puppy owners whose
puppies are showing extreme and confident aggression at a very
young age. This is not normal, and usually means there is
something wrong genetically or mentally. This is when I often
recommend the help or assistance of a board-certified veterinary
behaviorist. Why? Because a veterinary behaviorist can help not
only with behavior modification training but they can also
Be aware, anyone can call themselves a â€œbehavioristâ€, only
seek those with a veterinary degree and who went to school for
several more years to attain. Often, veterinary behaviorists then
utilize good positive professional dog trainer to help with that
behavior modification schedule.
#2 â€“ Prey Aggression
Prey aggression is exactly as it sounds. This is the desire to
chase and hunt. Again, this is a very forward behavior.
Most dogs will exhibit SOME form of predatory behaviorâ€¦ but
some dogs have MORE prey drive than others.
(Especially some working breeds.)
Extreme predatory behavior and prey drive can be hard to
control. Thereâ€™s an old saying: â€œOnce a dog tastes blood, you
will never break him from killing.â€ True or not, the challenge
is that chasing and killing other animals is FUN for many dogs, due
to their predatory instincts.
When we train police dogs and protection dogs, we train them
mostly by building their prey drive, letting them chase and bite
and then building their confidence. We often begin this training
at anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks of age. We allow them to win and
conquer and build that confidence so that they believe they can win
any war against human aggression even when conflict arises, they
are taught how to battle. We also work with their feelings of
â€œpossessionâ€ or possession aggression. Once they have bitten
the assailant, we want them to hang on and possess that person. We
teach them to possess and defend what they win.
Essentially these dogs are taught and molded toward this forward
aggression. These are ALL of the things you want to avoid with pet
#3 â€“ Possession Aggression
Possession aggression is often a more forward type of
aggression. It can be genetic, as I have seen 6-week-old puppies
with severe aggressive possessive behaviors that can only be
explained by genetics.
But often this dog behavior arises from some conflict with the
dog owner. The dog or puppy, steals something that he should not
have and the owner chases him down and snatches it out of his
mouth. The behavior also often comes with a reprimand verbally and
sometimes often physically. These encounters fill the dominant dog
or puppy with hostility and anger.
Imagine going to school every day and having the school bully
hit you in the face and take your dessert. If you were submissive,
you would give it up. But if you were confident and a little bit
dominant you might decide to fight. Day after day you are filled
with rage until one day you stand up for yourself and prepare to
This is how your puppy or dog feels when you snatch â€œhis
things or the things that he wants.â€ And, then if he snarls or
growls, most dog owners will stop their forward behavior. This
teaches the dog that their aggressive behavior keeps that conflict
away and they win!
Winning brings confidence, and confidence backed by aggression
in dogs often brings more severe aggression the next time.
Keep the dog on leash and teach him appropriately how to give up
things and exchange.
#4 â€“ Territorial Aggression
Dogs who are more dominant in nature will often exhibit guarding
behaviorsâ€¦ and be territorial about their property, their people,
and objects/items they perceive as belonging to them.
This form of aggression can be both FORWARD and DEFENSIVE.
But most often it is blatant with no component of fear. This
dog will bite you for coming on his property or coming in his
home. He may even bite you for touching or coming near his owner.
He sees these things as HIS THINGS, to be defended.
Plus, itâ€™s important to be aware that guarding behaviors can
be FUN for dogs. It breaks boredom and gives them something
â€œfunâ€ to doâ€“which can make it DANGEROUS as it becomes a habit
or even an addiction in some cases.
#5 â€“ Defensive Aggression
Defensive aggression comes from that feeling of â€œflightâ€ or
getting away. Your dog is feeling afraid and often his inability
to get away from the situation brings out aggression. This, in my
opinion, is the most dangerous form of aggression because it is
hard to know where the dogâ€™s confidence lies and where his
breaking point lies.
#6 â€“ Fear Aggression
Fear aggression is very difficult for dog owners. Most want to
deny it is happening at all, some want to make excuses (like he was
abused), or you have the dog owners who ignorantly praise and
making â€œcomfortingâ€ noises at dogs who are exhibiting fear
This inadvertent praise raises the dogâ€™s confidence with his
fear and his aggression.
Instead of teaching true confidence or working on problems, the
dog becomes complacent and contented by his own aggression and
We often see this in veterinary medicine! The dog is crawled up
in the ownerâ€™s lap, trying to get away, growling and snarling,
sometimes lunging then retreating; all while the owner pets the dog
and tells him â€œItâ€™s okay, itâ€™s okayâ€ and describing what a
tough life he is lead.
And if a muzzle is recommended to keep everyone safe this dog
owner is horrified.
Yes, aggression, especially fear aggression, can be rewarded by
an ignorant or even calculated dog owner.
Some dog owners, intentionally reward defensive dog aggression
whenever the dog hears a sound outside or someone comes to the
door. They want a â€œprotectiveâ€ dog, but donâ€™t realize the
dog is barking because he is fearful and unsure; and by rewarding
that they are creating an unpredictable monster.
I would much rather deal with a forwardly aggressive dog because
I can clearly read his terms. Fearful or defensive dogs are almost
impossible to accurately read because they are unpredictable, even
to themselves. I have seen fearful dogs bite people and then look
amazed and horrified by their actions.
This kind of aggression needs to be recognized and dealt with as
soon as possible so that owners can encourage confidence instead of
#7 â€“ Reactivity Aggression
Reactivity is a learned behavior that stems from fear and
Often, ignorant dog owners teach their dogs these behaviors by
both ignoring or trying to correct these fearful behaviors.
Let us first talk about ignoring the behavior. When your dog
sees another dog and becomes slightly aggressive or reactive and
you do nothing, this defensive behavior grows as a form of
displaced confidence. The next time he sees a dog or a person and
you do nothing this displaced confidence that came from a place of
fear, well, it grows.
Eventually, it is out of hand and can no longer be
At the point that most dog owners seek help for dog aggressive
behaviors their behavior have spiraled out of control and are just
then being addressed by the dog owner who has allowed these
behaviors to flourish.
On the other hand, some owners try to correct this behaviorâ€¦
The dog sees another dog and doesnâ€™t know what to do, so maybe
he barks or growls. The dog owner swiftly reels in the dog with a
tight leash, possibly yells or physically disciplines the dog to
stop the behavior. What happens is the nervous dog, unsure of
himself around this other dog, feels the physical and emotional
pain of discipline. He is confused. He associates the correction
with the other dogâ€¦ and this further reinforces his fears and
uncertainty about other dogs.
The next time the dog encounters another dog, heâ€™s once again
unsure of himselfâ€¦ the dog owner confirms these fears again with
a physical correctionâ€¦ and the downhill spiral continues, with
the dog owner unwittingly making the aggression worse.
So Whatâ€™s A Concerned Dog Owner Supposed To Do?
Now letâ€™s have an honest conversation â€¦
â€¦ If your dog shows any degree of aggression, what can you do
Even if you suspect that youâ€™ve inadvertently made the problem
The MOST IMPORTANT thing I can tell you is this:
Donâ€™t make excuses. Donâ€™t ignore the problem.
Your dog doesnâ€™t get a free pass to behave aggressively
because heâ€™s a rescueâ€¦ he was abusedâ€¦ he had a bad
Whatever happened, wherever he came from, there are to be no
His present behavior, today, matters. His future with you
Live in the present, deal with the aggression issues heâ€™s
STEP #1 â€“ Be the person in your dogâ€™s world who deals with all
Stop allowing him to feel in charge of everything in his
environment. Never make your dog feel like itâ€™s his duty to
defend or protect your family or property. Let your dog see that
he can rely on YOU to deal with everything scary. People ask me:
arenâ€™t I afraid something may happen to me or someone may break
into my house? NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! ..
Source: FS – TheDogTrainingSecret
My Dog Would Never Bite… And Other Lies.