If you are forced to put your dog in a crate or kennel due to his aggression or fear issues when guests come to visit your home, then learning about the true cause and how to fix it is past due! Fear and aggression typically go hand in hand together. A dog that is fearful may become aggressive in an effort to protect himself, but that does not mean that you can’t help him get over his fears and learn to be a relaxed and happy dog!
The cause to both fear and aggression can be a deeply rooted problem from a lack of proper socialization or even a traumatic experience such as being hit by a car or even landing incorrectly on his leg during a jump. It is difficult to find the cause, but easier to help cure your dog of the fears that his triggers bring up. When your dog is no longer terrified, he will stop lashing out through barking, growling, lunging or even biting.
Most dogs who exhibit fear aggressive behaviors do so because this is what they learned to do in situations that frighten them this badly. They feel like their safety is in jeopardy, so they do the only thing know can which is protect themselves through aggressive behaviors. This learned reaction can be hard wired into the brain during puppyhood. A puppy will go through special growth periods in their lives called a fear period. The first fear period begins at 4 weeks of age and usually lasts until about 12 weeks of age. This period is especially important to do proper socialization with objects like umbrellas and hats, gentle people that you know and even sounds, smells, and floor textures. Socialization does not teach your dog to be social with other people, dogs and animals but instead teaches him not to be afraid of unfamiliar and scary things. During negative socialization experience, a puppy can learn to act out in fearful ways which leads to aggressive behavior as an adult.
Correcting aggressive and fearful behaviors in a dog is a long term commitment, but includes only short sessions using counter conditioning techniques. Counter conditioning is a fancy term for helping your dog change the way he feels about his triggers. Currently he is terrified, but in time he will feel comfortable and relaxed around whatever it is that scares him with your help!
Before you get started, honestly ask yourself if your dog is in danger of harming anyone. If he attempts to bite, or has bitten in the past it would be in everyone’s best interest to seek the guidance and aid from a professional canine behaviorist. The cost is well worth the prevention of someone getting hurt or your dog risking euthanasia due to his aggressive behavior.
Start with a handful of high value treats like real meat or cheese. Always keep the trigger well below your dog’s threshold. During this entire process, you never want him to regress to his aggressive or fearful behaviors at all. If he does, you have pushed too far too soon and must go back a few steps and work you way up all over again. As your dog is exposed to his trigger, make sure he is rewarded with the high value treat. For example, if a guest knocking on the door makes your dog go berserk start with only one knock on the floor and immediately hand your dog a treat. You want to get him to the point of expecting a treat every time he hears a knock.
You can build the criteria by moving the knocks, and yourself and dog, closer and closer to the door. Always provide that reward after your dog is exposed to his trigger. In time he will a positive emotion when that trigger occurs instead of feeling fearful and acting out aggressively.
Keep At It!
Some dogs may take a year, others only mere weeks to get over their fear. It all depends on the dog himself and your training abilities. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek professional guidance! Remember, always reward your dog for good behavior!