We’ve all been there. You go to visit your friend, your neighbor, your co-worker, etc., and then before you even walk in the door you hear it. Barking. Growling. Lots of anxious movement.
Dealing with an anxious and aggressive dog is scary and, for the owners, can be a bit embarrassing. Barring the invention of a time machine that would allow you to go back in time to when your dog was 6-12 weeks old to focus on behavioral training (which is what Oscar E. Chavez, DVM, MBA, Member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition, says he likes to first suggest), there are a few specific things you can do to try to help curb your pooch’s bad (and oftentimes dangerous) behavior.
“Aggressive dogs, if truly aggressive, usually require professional behavior modification, and the attention of a trainer or professional,” says Dr. Chavez. “This doesn’t mean you need to work with them at all times, but it does mean that they need to be a part of the behavior modification program.”
The key when dealing with aggressive dogs is to identify which type of aggression your dog is exhibiting, and then develop an appropriate strategy to reverse it. “This process can take days, weeks, months or even years,” says Dr. Chavez. “But if done right, it can be effective over 90 percent of the time. Truly ‘evil’ dogs are rare, and most of the time it’s poor socialization or training during puppyhood that leads to problems.”
When it comes to training, the key is to ignore bad behavior (provided it’s not immediately threatening), and reward good behavior with attention. “Negative attention is still attention, so yelling and shouting your dog’s name when it’s lunging and growling may only fuel the problem,” says Dr. Chavez.
One common technique that helps in the initial stages is what Dr. Chavez called the ‘invisible dog’ technique. “This is where you literally are instructed to ignore the dog completely, except for only feeding and potty walks for two weeks,” he said. “Even during these allowable interactions, you are instructed to avoid eye contact and be very cold to the dog.”
Dogs who are being given the ‘invisible dog’ technique typically go through a mourning phase, where they miss the attention and affection of their pet parent so much that they become open to training and to being very cooperative. After this period, the dog’s behavior is usually better modified. “Invisible dog is tough, because the last thing we want to do is ignore a pet we love,” says Dr. Chavez. “But it must be adhered to very consistently for it to work, and when it fails, it’s usually our fault for giving in.”
If your dog’s aggressive behavior worries you, Dr. Chavez suggests checking out The Animal Behavior Network as a great place to start for advice.
Cheryl Lock is an editor at Studio One. Her work has appeared online at Petside and Pet360, as well as in print in publications like Parents, Family Circle and Runner’s World. She lives in New York with her adorable rescue cat, Penny, and a rabbit named Nugget.