How People Might Reinforce Aggressive Behaviors In Their Dogs
My Nashville dog training is not just about teaching dogs, but’s also about guiding owners to find consistency in their handling and communication with their dogs. It doesn’t matter what the behavioral issue is—excessive barking, hyper jumping, separation anxiety, growling at guests, etc.—a dog will not be able to thrive and progress if the owner is incapable of taking control and enforcing the boundaries, while also setting things up in the dog’s environment so they can succeed more, rather than fail.
Aggressive dogs are usually seen as “beyond help”, and many dog owners that have an aggressive dog will be at a loss on how to properly handle the behavior. Aggression is a high risk behavior issue, depending on the severity of it. However, even if the aggression seems “minor”, it is something to take seriously and to behaviorally tackle immediately! Owners need to be conscious of how they respond to their dog’s aggression, as they may be unintentionally reinforcing it!
The other week, I began training a dog named Indy, who was very aggressive toward people and other dogs over his food and treats. At our initial consultation, Indy’s owner gave him some rawhide so I could see the aggression firsthand. With the rawhide in his mouth, Indy would watch me carefully and suspiciously, anytime I made the slightest move. When I stood up, Indy dropped the rawhide, barked, lunged toward me, and then retreated (without actually biting me). After that, his owner immediately grabbed him, told him to calm down, and gently pet him to get him to stop growling and baring his teeth at me. While it’s natural to try to calm a dog when they appear on edge, what Indy’s owner was doing was rewarding him through his consolation. Indy was learning that when he behaved aggressively to someone over his rawhide, he would get soothed over, both verbally and with affection. Rather than let Indy know that “everything was okay”, we needed to let him know that his aggressive behavior was not okay, and ultimately build his confidence so he would recognize that aggression was not only inappropriate, but completely unnecessary.
Owners want the best for the dogs, including my clients (after all, if they did not, they would not have called me in the first place!). Training is more than just teaching simple commands and getting your dog to eliminate outside, it’s also about showing your dog how he/she can succeed. It’s about establishing a trusting relationship between the dog and owner, where the owner can direct their dog and be a leader for them. Dogs are willful and want to do what they want to do, but they are pack animals and unless they take the leadership role themselves (which could lead to behavior issues and bad habits that the owner will have to deal with), then the dogs are looking for their leader in their pack, which should be their owner.
The owner should take this role and stay consistent with it, even when things get tough with their dog and their behavior gets unruly in any way. If a poor behavior goes unaddressed, you may be reinforcing the behavior by doing nothing! For dogs, positive is the absence of the negative, and if there is nothing there to show the dog that their behavior is a problem, then they will see it as fair game and something they are allowed to repeat. Give your dog the opportunity to succeed by training them and showing them the right way to behave and to be a happy dog!
If you’re having problems setting rules for your dog, or are at a loss on how to fully communicate with them and keep a consistent protocol in the home, then call us at 800-649-7297 and we’ll figure out a training plan that matches your lifestyle, your goals, and your dog’s behavior problems!