On a daily basis at our dog training facility in Northern Virginia, people contact us and ask if it’s possible to fix their people aggressive dog.
When working with dogs that are people aggressive, I believe the first step is understanding what the aggression is based off of before you can properly create a training program to begin to rehabilitate the dog. People aggressive is a general and “overused” phrase in my opinion. Most of the people we work with who describe their dogs as people aggressive, show up for our dog training lessons in Northern Virginia and we quickly discover that the dogs aren’t people aggressive at all. Most of the time the dogs are “fear aggressive.”
The way I look at it, if your dog will go out of his way to bite someone, he’s people aggressive. If he/she will generally ignore people and stay away from them, and only react when that person overwhelms them, they are probably fear aggressive (again, this is a generalization).
Last month, we just finished working with a Leonberger who his owner described as a “people aggressive dog,” after working with him and evaluating, we learned that he wasn’t people aggressive, at all. He just liked, “his space.” Once he was comfortable with you, he would come up to you on his own, and loved being pet! However, if someone “forced themselves” on him, then he would respond with the only way that he knew to tell you to leave him alone, using his teeth. So, after using our 5-part approach and telling the owner to not let people force themselves on him, and instead, let him go to them (when he was ready); they have been problem-free since their last lesson over a month ago.
The root of people/fear aggression can stem from many things such as: lack of confidence, lack of socialization, mistreatment, bad breeding (which can be read about on my blog on How To Pick A Dog), and poor pack leadership. Additionally, you can have a combination of these many factors, as well.
When working with people aggressive/fear aggressive dogs at our training facility in Northern Virginia, I always preach that we do a 5-part approach to this: Obedience, Confidence Building , Positive Association with People, Pack Leadership, and Proper Correction for the Negative Behavior. I have found that this is a fundamental approach that is imperative to start working a dog towards rehabilitation, and all 5 components are necessary to be successful.
With people aggressive or fearful dogs, we do a drill I call “positive association with people.” What we do is find something that your dog is highly motivated or driven for (often we use hot dogs) and have every person your dog meets give him/her this highly valued reward. After this goes on for a week or so, what is your dog learning? “Every time I meet a new person, they give me something awesome!” Imagine if you weren’t a people person, but every person you met gave your $50.00, they would rapidly grow on you, correct? Same with the dogs, they slowly learn to associate people with something positive. If need be, you can do this drill with your dog still muzzled (dependent on the severity of his/her issue).
The WORST thing you can do (and the thing that many people do) is keep them separated from people, this will only progress the problem. You are not fixing anything, you are just avoiding the problem. It’s like a person who is afraid of high places, their solution cannot be, “Stay away from high places.” You have to constantly put them in those environments and make their experience with it positive, fun, and motivating!
On a weekly basis someone will call and say, “I watched all of your amazing dog training videos on YouTube; however, all I really care about is fixing the aggression in my dog.” I always tell people, it doesn’t work like that. My famous quote is, “You cannot fix any issue in a dog that doesn’t listen to you and that you have no control over.” Once we gain obedience/control over the dog, which is a NATURAL confidence builder/pack leadership booster, we can start addressing the specific issues with the aggression. I find myself saying on a daily basis, “I have never seen a highly aggressive dog that was amazingly obedient, and I have never seen an amazingly obedient dog that was highly aggressive.” So, that has to mean what? They kind of go hand-in-hand, right?
Just like I speak about in my blog post about dog-on-dog aggression, you cannot “guarantee” that you can fix do aggression or fear aggression; however, sometimes you can completely rehabilitate the dog and you can almost always make the dog more manageable. Recently, we did a 2-week board and train for a Doberman named “Doris” who was very fearful of people, when she was dropped off, we couldn’t even touch her. Using this 5-part approach, look at Doris’ progress before/after just in 14 days.
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