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How to Handle Dog Aggression

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No one wants to admit they have an aggressive dog, but the fact is, many dogs do show signs of aggression, even when they're loved and well cared for. An aggressive dog isn't necessarily a bad dog, and it doesn't mean there's no hope, either. The Oklahoma dog bite lawyers at McIntyre Law see too many instances where dog bite injuries have occurred because an aggressive dog was not treated properly. The key is to know what's causing the aggression, and to take steps to change the behavior. A dog can show aggression in many ways: growling, baring teeth, snarling, and even biting. Your first reaction may be to punish the dog for this behavior, but it's important to understand that aggression doesn't necessarily indicate a "mean" dog.

A dog may exhibit signs of aggression for many reasons—illness, injury, mistreatment, or mistrust, to name just a few. If your dog begins behaving aggressively, take him to a veterinarian first to rule out any illness or injuries that may not be apparent to you.

Aside from illness or injury, a dog may also exhibit aggression to show dominance, fear, maternal protection, sibling rivalry, territoriality, possessiveness (as when protecting food or toys), or even jealousy. Do you have more than one dog? Does one dog become aggressive when you show the other one attention? If so, your dog isn't bad or mean—he just needs some training. But knowing why your dog is being aggressive is vital to knowing how to deal with the aggression.

You may want to seek professional advice. An aggression problem won't go away by itself. You can consult an animal behavior specialist, or a professional dog trainer. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations.

You can also find a multitude of books, magazines, Web sites, TV shows, and online videos that offer dog training advice if you feel you can tackle the problem on your own. Until the issue is resolved, make an effort to avoid situations that prompt your dog's aggressive behavior:

  • If your dog is possessive of toys or treats or certain areas or is territorial of certain locations, prevent access.
  • Spay or neuter your dog if they have not been already. Intact dogs are more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior.
  • If your dog is exhibiting signs of aggression, especially towards other dogs, don't allow your dog to be around other dogs. This is especially true of taking your dog to a dog park. Your dog may get nervous and feel the need to defend himself.

Above all, do not punish your dog for aggressive behavior, and never hit him. Punishment will just make the problem worse. Punishing or hitting a fearful, territorial, possessive, or protective dog will elicit additional defensive aggression. Getting treatment for your dog is a much better solution for anyone who will be around your dog, and for your dog's well-being. Not to mention, it will help you avoid the costs of a dog bit lawsuit.

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    As a veterinary behaviorist I would disagree with the idea that dogs bite people because of dominance (in fact, it is most often fear, territorial defense or resource guarding), or that neutering will significantly decrease risk of bites. But, other than these points, I appreciate your comments here. Dogs do bite for many reasons, and are not typically “mean” – most important is to understand the risks and reasons so that bites can be prevented. This would be especially true with children. Thank you for emphasizing the importance of avoiding punishment, and of looking at the underlying motivation for biting so that it can be addressed. Great points.