Who's the Boss Here? Count
on big trouble if it's not you
Dog aggression directed at his owner can make
a dog uneasy and anxious and his owner frustrated and fearful. "Such aggression
tends to happen more in the alpha want-to-be dogs rather than true dominant
dogs. The behavior is often triggered by fear and conflict and living in
an unstable hierarchy" Dr. Moon-Fanelli said. "The dog may feel the need
to challenge owners in order to obtain or maintain social control."
Untreated, the behavior will only intensify, warned Nicholas Dodman,
BVMS, MRCVS, Professor and Director of the Behavior Clinic at Tufts. "These
are controlling dogs that try to control everyone and everything. In about
12 percent of the cases, behavior modification and medications do not work
and the dog has to be put down."
||Dominance aggression, a canine version of bullying people, usually
develops between 12 to 24 months of age as the dog gains physical social
maturity. Some breeds, especially working dogs, such as those bred to guard
and herd, may be genetically predisposed to the behavior. Intact males
are more likely to display dominance aggression than neutered males or
females, Dr. Moon-Fanelli said.
Showering a dog with affection, unearned treats
and freedom of the house may reinforce this behavior because he starts
to view himself as higher in the hierarchy than his owners. "Dogs enter
into a pack-like relationship with their owners," Dr. Moon-Fanelli said.
"A dog with a strong desire to push to the top of the social group interprets
kind owners as 'weak' and takes advantage of them to increase its status."
Owners often have a difficult time identifying early clinical signs
of owner-directed aggression, she said. A dog may display some or all of
the following behavior:
The two ways to convert your canine bully into a buddy: Avoid confrontations
that will only escalate the aggression and ensure he earns every valued
resource by obeying your commands, Dr. Moon-Fanelli said. Aim for slow
but steady progress. On average, owner-directed aggression may take two
months or longer to curb, depending on the owner's and dog's willingness
Resists having his feet handled, being lifted off the ground or being patted
on the head.
Ignores verbal or physical discipline.
Guards his food bowl, toys, resting areas, preferred family members and
Steals food or other items in front of his owner.
Maintains prolonged eye stares with the owner.
Growls or snaps if ever he chooses.
Jumps up and mounts people.
Uses his body to block and control his owner's movements.
Rarely displays submissive postures, such as a lying on his back.
A dog may have a glazed look in its eye before and during an owner-directed
attack that seem to be unprovoked and fast. Usually, the dog does not growl
as a warning before biting," Dr. Moon-Fanelli said.
The experts offer these treatments:
Avoid aggressive confrontations. Dominant dogs usually win these tiffs
by growling or biting their owners. Don't try to match force with force.
You'll end up reinforcing your dog's unwanted behavior. Instead, identify
a list of circumstances that elicit aggression in him and devise ways to
avoid those situations. Put your dog in a safe, small room like a bathroom
with a bowl of water as a time out and keep him there 30 to 60 minutes.
When you open the door, ignore him to establish your higher status.
Start a "Nothing in Life is Free" program. Bolster your leadership and
cultivate your dog's dependence and respect for you by controlling all
resources. You determine when you put the food bowl down and when you pick
it up. You set the time for playing with toys and when game time ends.
"By controlling the resources, you will have your dog eating out of your
hand instead of biting your hand,"
Neuter your dog if you haven't already. About 25 percent of dogs displaying
dominance aggression show up to 90 percent levels of improvement after
Work your dog. Give him a healthy, invigorating outlet for his energy by
providing a minimum of 20 minutes of aerobic exercise once or twice a day.
Some high-energy breeds, such as Border Collies, may require more exercise
time than low-energy breeds, such as Basset Hounds.
Instill daily, mini-obedience training. Use reward-based training and make
your dog earn every food treat by complying with your "Sit," "Stay," "Leave
it" and other basic commands. Rely on training tools. The use of a head
halter and other non-painful restraints prevents a dog from biting and
allows the owner to gain more control of him. It's important to make the
time of putting on head halters a fun activity so that the dog doesn't
view wearing it as punishment.
Ignore demands or pleas for attention. Owners should initiate and end all
interactions with there dogs.
Stop roughhousing play. Avoid tug of war or hand wrestling with your dog.
These activities can trigger a dog's aggressive behavior.
Serve healthy chow. Work with your veterinarian and select a dog food that
is low in protein and free of artificial preservatives. Gradually switch
diets over three days to avoid stomach upsets in your dog.
Don't leave dogs unsupervised with young children. Children may unwittingly
breach the household hierarchy rules and cause the dog to react. A child
may reach down to pick up the dog's favorite toy prompting the dog to lunge
and possibly attack.
Keep your dog floor-bound. Dogs view sofas, beds and chairs as prized real
estate. Maintain your higher status in the household by keeping your dog
off the furniture. You can provide him with his own dog bed on the floor.
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Consider medication. In extreme cases, the veterinarian may prescribe Prozac
or another anti-anxiety medication to provide greater success with the
behavior modification program. The goal is to use these drugs as a temporary
bridge until the dog's behavior can be improved.