Dog aggression can turn up in a dog you dearly love and may have had for years. There may have been some subtle or not-so-subtle clues that your dog might attack or bite other dogs or even people, or you may not have noticed anything. Then, one day, something serious happened: your dog attacked another dog you own or he got in a fight while in a dog park. Or maybe he bit a child.
UPDATE: One of the most popular articles on this site is Nine Tips if Your Dog Becomes Aggresive.
Whatever form it takes, dog aggression can be heartrending to the dog’s owner and a huge challenge to deal with. What are you going to do? How much time will it take to deal with this situation? Could there be legal issues? Will it cost a lot of money?
All too often, dog owners do nothing after an incident of dog aggression.
After all, otherwise the dog may be very loving, well behaved, and fun. The thought of having to give away the dog, to do some unknown number of things to address the problem, or even to euthanize your pet if the event was quite serious, is just too much to deal with. There’s a natural human tendency to let it go this time.
But if you do this, you have lost something: you’ve lost some flexibility in your management and training options. If your dog attacks again, it may cause even worse harm or be at an even more inconvenient time for you to deal with it. Merely hoping your dog won’t display aggressiveness again isn’t a very good strategy.
So… what do you do? A veterinary consultation is an excellent idea, for starters, because there are many physical conditions in a dog that can trigger violence. I remember reading once about a beloved family pet, I think it was a Golden Retriever. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, she began snapping at the other dog in the family when it tried to play with her. She snarled at the people when they tried to pet her. They were beginning to come to the conclusion that she had gone crazy but they did take her to their vet. He found a hairline fracture in one of her bones. Once that was dealt with, she returned to her usual sweet self.
Another good reason to involve your veterinarian early is that if it does become necessary, tranquilizers are one of the management tools used in dealing with dog aggression. Xanax, Valium, their generic equivalents, and other drugs can be used, preferably to gain some time for you to work with a good dog trainer.
When I say a good dog trainer, that’s kind of a loaded phrase. Who you will think is good will partly depend on your own attitudes and beliefs about how to train dogs. Since you’re reading this on my website, you can just look up at the top of the screen and see my point of view. I am among the many dog trainers and owners who are finding that pain-free methods work best for all aspects of living with and training dogs. To find a trainer with this point of view, I suggest you take a look at the dog trainer search feature of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. This organization advocates dog-friendly training. This does not mean that every trainer listed will be using only pain-free methods, but you can ask questions of anyone in your area. By the way, this search feature lists trainers internationally.
Something you can start right away is management: getting your dog more exercise to tire him out and supervise his contact with others. Consider his food too: I once wrote up a detailed case study of a dog whose aggression problems went away when his food was changed. That link takes you to the first of three articles I wrote about Marley.
Working with your dog on training helps too, and often going back to the basics is a good strategy here. How reliable is his sit-stay or down-stay? Will he hold them even when distracted?
Whatever you do, keep your dog and everyone around him as safe as possible while you address these issues! Dog bites are absolutely no fun.