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Ask the experts

Fear spawns aggressive dogs


Aggressive dogs are scary. They growl, snap and sometimes bite. The knee-jerk reaction is to punish the dog when he firsts growls, but how you deal with an aggressive dog will determine whether the dog becomes less aggressive or becomes a dangerous dog.

Most dogs that growl do so out of fear. When punishment is used, that confirms that his fear is justified.

If the dog is afraid of strangers and when new people come into the house he gets yelled at spanked or worse, it substantiates his impression that bad things happen when new people come into the house.

Aggression escalates when the dog is physically punished. If someone pushes you, you may push back, leading to a fight. This is the same with dogs. They may hold back for a while, but they can only hold it in temporarily and soon they will explode and often bite.

Many people with aggressive dogs look for a trainer to help them with their dog. But unfortunately there are many dog trainers who do not understand that when working with aggressive dogs, using punishment only suppresses the dog's behavior.

Some trainers will suggest that the owners use a shock collar to stop his aggression. Using stronger punishments will make the dog worse. When shock collars are used the dogs often become so aggressive that the only option left for the owner is euthanasia.

Positive reinforcement dog trainers work to change the dog's perception of their fear. They want to change the dog's attitude of their fear, to one of acceptance by connecting the fear-provoking experience with something good.

When strangers enter the house the dog gets small bites of hotdogs, chicken and cheese. Connecting the arrival of new people into the house with really great things for the dog will change the dog's reaction from a fear provoked growl to a more relaxed greeting.

If your dog seems aggressive, realize that this is a fear reaction on his part. Instead of reacting harshly to his growls, try and change his perception of what is occurring. If he growls when you trim his nails, try giving him peanut butter while you trim the nails. If he snarls when he meets men, have the men give him bits of chicken or other tasty treats. By associating good things with things that make him uncomfortable you can change his attitude toward these things. When his attitude changes, his behavior will change.

Tip of the week: If you are looking for a trainer to help you with an aggressive dog, make sure they are a positive reinforcement trainer who works with you to change your dog's emotional state not just their behavior.

Bark questions to: Canine Companion, 11652 North - 825 West, Huntington, IN 46750 or email

Canine Companion conducts dog training classes in Fort Wayne, Huntington and surrounding communities and behavior consulting nationwide. Along with their combined 30 years experience and endorsement by national organizations, the lead trainers are graduates of Purdue University's DOGS! Program and have earned the title of Certified Pet Dog Trainer through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.