Threatening and Aggressive Behavior Towards Family Members
Before assuming this is a behavior problem, have your
dog examined by your veterinarian. Anything that is making
your dog uncomfortable or irritable, such as an abscessed
tooth or ear infection, can lower his threshold for threats
and aggression. So can certain medications and other medical
One common reason dogs are threatening and aggressive
to people in the family, especially children, is because
they are afraid. Dogs who’ve been fine with babies
often develop problems when the child begins to crawl and
invade your dog’s personal space.
You may notice your dog trying to avoid your child when
possible. Problems arise when you dog can’t do this,
for whatever reason, and threatens or bites your child
so your child will leave him alone.
Dogs can also be afraid of adults in the family, often
when they are know they are going to be “disciplined”.
Many bites have happened when owners grab for their dog’s
collar, confront the dog after he’s taken something
from the trash, or try to drag the dog over to show him
a “mess” made earlier.
Do not believe the popular media and television trainers
that your dog’s behavior is all about “dominance”.
There are dogs that will challenge their owners for possession
of space, toys, or food. These dogs may be displaying elements
of “dominance” aggression. However, many of
these problems are mis-categorized as dominance related
when they are actually the result of fear. Learning to
carefully read your dog’s body language using our
DVD described below will help you understand the difference.
Most dogs (there are notable exceptions) don’t
want to injure people, but want to warn them to go away
or stop what they are doing. Aggression – biting
and other behaviors that harm – is different from
threatening behaviors – growling, lunging, snapping
without injury, etc.
Some dogs who snap, growl, and show other threatening
behaviors never bite. Others do. You should assume your
dog will, and seek help before this happens.
Your immediate goal is to keep people in your family,
especially children, safe from your dog. Until you get
help, avoid situations in which your dog is likely to bite.
Don’t rationalize this problem as your dog having
a bad day, or perhaps he was startled.
If your dog is displaying aggression toward your child,
you should take an objective look at the relationship your
child has with your dog. Dogs are not designed to be children’s
personal play toys and tolerate anything the child wants
to do to them. Riding the dog like a horse, trying to hug
or kiss the dog when the dog clearly isn’t comfortable
with these interactions, will likely result in a bite.
Your dog needs a safe place to get away from your children
when he wants to.
Your dog is more dangerous if he is inconsistent in his
behavior. For example, sometimes he may allow family members
to take toys away and sometimes he won’t. Just because
he is “OK” one time, do NOT allow this to lull
you into a false sense of security that he’s “over” his
problem. He is not. If he’s growled or snapped even
once, unless you take steps to change his behavior, he
will do it again.
We do not recommend confrontational techniques such as
leash and collar corrections, alpha rolls and scruff shakes.
Your dog will not learn to be tolerant of family members
using these procedures, and they put you at great risk
of being bitten.
Threats and aggression are serious problems. You will
likely need to seek additional professional help in addition
to what you find here at Helping Fido. Be sure and read our Guidelines for Finding a Dog Trainer or Behavior Consultant. Private “obedience” lessons will not help this
problem. Your dog may sit, lie down and come when called
quite readily and still growl at people or try to bite
PRODUCTS THAT WILL HELP YOU UNDERSTAND,
PREVENT AND RESOLVE THREATS AND AGGRESSION TO FAMILY
First, it will help you if you understand canine aggressive
behavior from a scientific viewpoint. Start by reading
of Articles on Canine Aggression.
This CD contains over 30 articles we’ve written about
many aspects of aggressive behavior. The more you know
about aggression, the better equipped you are to implement
behavior modification techniques to change it.
To understand more about social relationships between
dogs and people and why your Fido’s threatening or
aggressive behavior is unlikely to be due to “dominance”,
listen to Dr. Hetts’ interview with Dr. John Wright
Rules, and Relationships”.
Dr. Wright’s dissertation research was on social
roles in dogs and he is a well respected researcher and
educator in the field of applied animal behavior.
To effectively work with and manage your dog’s
threatening and aggressive behavior, you must be well versed
in canine communication signals. There is no better way
to learn how to ‘read’ your dog and be better
able to recognize aroused and anxious behavior signs that
precede a bite or snap than our Canine
Body Postures DVD.
Used in many professional training programs.
If the problem involves your dog and your child, we recommend
Ms. Pia Silvani’s and Ms. Lynn Eckhardt’s book “Raising
Kids and Dogs Together"
If you know the specific situations in which your dog
is likely to growl or snap, you should try a Calming
Essentially a comfortable hood that filters your dog’s
vision, it will help your Fido be less reactive to those
situations in which he responds aggressively, and will
make it much easier for you to manage his behavior as well
as have a better “starting point” for behavior
modification. The Calming Cap™ can be worn under
Your biggest responsibility is to prevent your dog from
hurting someone. If necessary, muzzle your Fido if he must
be in a situation where he might bite. We recommend wire
basket muzzles from Morrco.com.
NEVER leave a dog alone while muzzled.