Threatening and Aggressive Behavior Towards People Outside the Family
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
The most common reason dogs are threatening and aggressive
to people they don’t know is because they are afraid.
This is particularly true for children your dog doesn’t
know well. Often, dogs are afraid or
anxious when children reach out to pet them, and they snap
or growl to make the child go away.
Some dogs may appear quite threatening at the door or
from behind a fence, but are quite friendly once visitors
actually enter your home. This is likely a manifestation
of territorial threatening behavior.
Do not believe the popular media and television trainers
that your dog’s behavior is all about “dominance”.
It’s nothing of the sort and if you try to change
your dog’s behavior based on that starting point
you will not be successful and will likely end up with
a worse problem.
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, 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, or the person looked or smelled odd.
Your dog is more dangerous if he is inconsistent in his
behavior. In other words, sometimes he may allow visitors
or strangers to pet him 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 friendly to people with 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 choosing a 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 FROM HELPING FIDO THAT
WILL HELP YOU UNDERSTAND, PREVENT AND RESOLVE THREATS
AND AGGRESSION TO PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE 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.
If your dog has snapped or even injured someone, you
are in a precarious legal situation. You can be sued if
your dog hurts someone, especially if your dog has an “aggressive” history.
Attorneys for the injured party may try to prove that you
knew about your dog’s tendencies and did not take
the necessary steps to protect people from injury.
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.
The context for many aggression problems to visitors
is at the door. Our “Managing
Chaos at the Door” audio CD gives you over 10 strategies to acquire better
control over your dog when people are at your door.
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 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.
If you are an animal control officer or home service
worker who comes into contact with unfamiliar dogs, in
addition to the resources above, we have several additional
educational programs on our AnimalBehaviorAssociates.com
website that will help you.
Bite Prevention Training Progam