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How to Prevent Aggression in Dogs


When you bring home a new puppy the last thing you consider is that he or she could become aggressive.  What many pet owners do not realize is that a dog is rarely genetically predisposed to aggression; rather, the actions of the owners can unwittingly lead to anti-social tendencies.  Listed here are ways to prevent aggression in your new dog.

The most important way to prevent aggression is to properly socialize your pet.  Your dog should be introduced to as many new people, places, experiences, sights, sounds, smells, and animals as possible.  One cause of aggression is fear, and proper socialization helps dogs develop coping mechanisms for new and potentially scary situations.  Socialization should continue throughout your dog’s lifetime.

Set Boundaries
While dogs deserve to be spoiled by their humans, it is also important to set boundaries for how pets should interact with family members.  A dog whose every whim is indulged may mistakenly believe he or she is alpha of the household.  This can lead to the dog becoming territorial, as well as feeling the need to “protect” family members from other humans and animals when outside of the house.  Employ a “nothing in life is free” system in your household, by expecting your dog to behave a certain way in order to receive attention.  For instance, do not set down a food dish until your dog sits down; do not clip your dog’s leash to his or her collar until all four paws are on the floor; and never give attention to a dog who is begging or whining.

Teach Impulse Control
Along with setting boundaries it is important to teach your dog to control his or her impulses.  Remember:  dogs are on the same emotional level as human toddlers.  A toddler’s tantrum is similar to a dog’s aggressive outburst in many ways.  Impulse control helps your dog learn to cope with frustration, which is a trigger for aggression.  To help your dog become better with this skill, teach commands such as “wait,” “leave it,” and “watch me.”  Each of these cues will redirect your dog’s attention and make him or her cognitively consider instinctual actions.

Know the Warning Signs
Finally, it is important to know the warning signs of aggression in order to better recognize and understand improper behavior in your dog, as well as to correct the problem.  An aggressive dog will display characteristic body language.  If fear aggression is experienced the dog will crouch low to the ground with tail tucked and teeth snarled.  A dominant aggressive dog will stand tall with weight distributed to front toes, hackles raised, while barking and snarling.  If restrained, this dog may also be lunging.  Subtle cues in both instances are the dog’s eyes and ears.  An aggressive dog will pin its ears flat against its head.  A frightened dog will have “whale” eyes, meaning the whites of its eyes will be visible, while a dominant dog will have an intense and direct stare.  If any of these signs are observed, remove your dog from the situation immediately.

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Anna Weber

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