Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do?

< A version of this article was published in the April 2017 issue of Downeast Dog News>

Step one – Know that you are not alone. I receive several calls per week from people that are concerned about the manner in which their dog is behaving towards them, other people, other dogs, other animals, or maybe some combination of things. Aggression, reactivity, fear, and anxiety are all on a continuum of behaviors and the primary reason I see dogs for behavior consultations. Fear is almost always the direct cause or a major factor in aggression and reactivity. Previously in this column, I have discussed the 2015 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines which reported that “Behavioral problems affect more dogs and cats than any other medical condition and are one of the most common causes of euthanasia, relinquishment, or abandonment of pets.” You are not alone.

Step two – Act Now!! Accept that behavioral issues will not go away on their own nor will your dog outgrow them. Commit to act NOW! Understand that these matters are every bit as traumatic to your dog as they are to you. You are both suffering. Delaying action is only likely to make the resolution of these issues harder and in all probability take longer.

Step three – Stop the use of force, fear and pain. Immediately stop the use of any and all aversives for the management and training of your dog. Common aversives include but are not limited to; prong, pinch, choke, or shock collars, alpha rolls, squirt bottles, and the entire dominance/alpha construct. Aversives impair our dog’s ability to learn, damage the human-dog bond and trust, and often result in an emotional outburst resulting in the very behavior problems you wish to resolve. The AAHA guidelines categorically oppose the use of aversive techniques. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) and the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) also oppose the use of aversives in training and behavior modification.

Step four – Talk to your veterinarian. If you have not already done so, make an appointment with your veterinarian to have a detailed discussion about your dog’s behavioral issues. Aggression can be caused by many medical problems. Pain, neurological disorders, tumors, thyroid disease and other hormone related problems, and even an adverse reaction to a vaccine, can cause aggression. Any medical issues related to your dog’s behavior need to be identified and resolved if you wish the behavior to change.

Step five – Seek help from a behavior professional. If your veterinarian determines that your dog’s behavioral issues are not the result of a medical problem, seek the advice of a professional animal behavior specialist, someone who understands canine behavior, ethology and behavior modification. Do not try to resolve this issue on your own or based on what someone tells you on Facebook. It is unlikely that you will be successful and you may, in fact, may make the problem worse and harder to resolve.

Behavior modification is not the same as dog training. Dog training is about teaching your dog to offer a particular action when given a cue. Behavior modification is about changing your dog’s emotional response to a stimulus. Aggression and reactivity are emotional responses typically based on fear or anger. Making your dog sit when a stranger approaches is very unlikely to make your dog less afraid or angry, but in fact, may make your dog feel more threatened. Behavior modification is about helping your dog develop a positive emotional response instead of barking, growling, lunging, or cowering.

There are three levels of professionals that specialize in assisting pets with behavioral problems.   Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (CDBC) and Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (ACDBC) credentialed by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) are qualified to work with most behavior problems. Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB) and Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAAB) accredited by the Animal Behavior Society work with more advanced behavior problems. Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB), who are credentialed by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, are veterinarians with advanced training in behavior. They are skilled in dealing with the most dangerous behavior problems using both behavior modification therapy and medications.

Step six – Be patient. While an undesirable behavior such as reactivity towards strangers can be created in a single event, it will likely take a significant amount of time and effort to change your dog’s behavior. Our brains and our dog’s brains work much the same. If we are exposed to something we perceive as dangerous or frightening, we are genetically preprogrammed to remember that for life. It is all about our instinctual motivation to survive. To successfully reprogram the brain can take weeks and even months of carefully planned desensitization and counterconditioning. It is human nature, especially in today’s culture to be impatient and to what instant results. That is not behavior modification works. Be patient.


Green Acres Kennel Shop offers a monthly Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. seminar. At the workshop, for people only,  Don will discuss behavioral issues in general terms; he will need to see you and your pet individually to offer specific behavioral programs designed for your particular dog. You will gain some general strategies that you can begin using immediately. Topics covered include; common myths about dog behavior, the common causes of aggression and reactivity, and their underlying emotions. An overview of canine body language will be addressed, so you are better able to identify when your pet is feeling stressed before they start reacting. FMI – call 945-6841 or go to – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/behavior-counseling


Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)

What Is A Pet Behavior Consultant? – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/12/12/what-is-a-pet-behavior-consultant/

Pet Behavior as an Essential Component to Holistic Wellness http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/10/28/pet-behavior-and-wellness-pet-behavior-as-an-essential-component-to-holistic-wellness/

Introduction to Canine Communication
http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/01/16/dog-behavior-introduction-to-canine-communication/

Dominance: Reality or Myth http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/20/dog-behavior-dominance-reality-or-myth/

Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stresshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/11/01/canine-behavior-understanding-identifying-and-coping-with-canine-stress/

Canine Behavior – Myths and Facts – Part 1, Where do we get our knowledge about dogs? – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/05/04/canine-behavior-myths-and-facts-part-1-where-do-we-get-our-knowledge-about-dogs/

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on the Use of Dominance and Punishment for the Training and Behavior Modification of Dogs – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/training/position-on-the-use-of-dominance-and-punishment-for-the-training-and-behavior-modification-of-dogs

The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2013/08/05/dogs-the-unintended-consequences-of-shock-collar/

Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2014/10/01/animal-welfare-assessing-pets-welfare-using-brambells-five-freedoms/

 

Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show (http://www.woofmeowshow.com)

Canine Behavior: Myths & Facts – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/03/27/podcast-canine-behavior-myths-and-facts/

Pet Behavior, Vets & The AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines with Dr. Dave Cloutier from Veazie Veterinary Clinichttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/03/13/podcast-the-woof-meow-show-pet-behavior-vets-the-aaha-canine-and-feline-behavior-management-guidelines-with-dr-dave-cloutier-from-veazie-veterinary-clinic/

Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 3http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/27/blog-post-27jul15-podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-3/

Handouts to Download

Dr. Sophia Yin – Body Language of Fear in Dogs – http://info.drsophiayin.com/free-poster-on-body-language-in-dogs

Dr. Sophia Yin – How To Greet A Dog and What to Avoid – https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/preventing-dog-bites-by-learning-to-greet-dogs-properly/

Dr. Sophia Yin – Canine Bite Levelshttp://info.drsophiayin.com/download-the-bite-levels-poster

Web Sites

2015 American Animal Hospital Association Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelineshttps://www.aaha.org/professional/resources/behavior_management_guidelines.aspx

The Guiding Principles of the Pet Professional Guildhttp://www.petprofessionalguild.com/PPGs-Guiding-Principles

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Pet Correction Deviceshttp://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Equipment-Used-for-the-Management-Training-and-Care-of-Pets

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Choke and Prong Collarshttp://www.petprofessionalguild.com/chokeandprongcollarpositionstatement/

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Shock In Animal Traininghttp://www.petprofessionalguild.com/shockcollars/

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Animal Traininghttp://www.petprofessionalguild.com/DominanceTheoryPositionStatement/

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals – https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Dominance_Position_Statement_download-10-3-14.pdf

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on The Use of Punishment for Behavior Modification in Animals https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Punishment_Position_Statement-download_-_10-6-14.pdf

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on Positive Veterinary Carehttps://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Positive-Veterinary-Care-Position-Statement-download.pdf

________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (http://www.greenacreskennel.com/) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at http://www.greenacreskennel.com/woof-meow-show/the-woof-meow-show.html. Don also writes about pets at his blog: http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/about-the-blog-words-woofs-and-meows/.

©01APR17, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
<Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Behavior Consulting – Management of An Aggressive, Fearful or Reactive Dog

When you have a dog that is showing signs of aggressive, fearful or reactive behavior; growling, barking, and lunging at dogs, people or other animals, you have a responsibility to keep everyone safe. That includes other people, yourself, other animals and you. If your dog has a bite history, this becomes even more important, and you may want to have a discussion with your insurance provider about possible legal liability.

Ensure Safety

  • Keep your dog physically isolated from people or animals that could become the target of their aggression. This may mean keeping the dog crated, preferably in another room, or locked in another room when you have guests in your home. If you are having guests for an extended period, you may want to consider boarding the dog during this time. This is essential for safety and also to keep the behavior from getting worse.
  • When the dog is outside of your home, make sure that you can safely handle them and keep them from escaping. When the dog is outside of your home and in an unfenced area, they should be on a 6ft leash attached to a regular collar, a regular collar in combination with a front connect harness or a Gentle Leader. Flexi or retractable leashes and choke or prong collars should never be used. You may also want to consider a muzzle.
  • Consider using a muzzle if you can do so safely. Muzzles can be an effective management tool; however, 1) in my experience a determined dog can get out of any muzzle, 2) putting on the muzzle can cause the dog stress and make a reaction more likely and cause them to become defensive around you, 3) putting a muzzle on your dog and having them around others is tantamount to advertising that you have an aggressive dog and thus may change the people’s behavior which can cause a reaction by the dog, 4) if the response is fear based, the muzzle will often make the dog more fearful, and 5.) A muzzle can limit your dog’s ability to breathe properly and thus may cause additional distress. A muzzle is at best a temporary solution and does nothing to address the source of the dog’s behavior.
  • Do NOT leave your dog outside, unattended. Being tied out can be very stressful to a dog and is a frequent cause of fear aggression. When a dog is tied up, they know that they cannot flee or fight; typical reactions a dog would pursue if afraid. In addition, if he is tied out and reacts in this manner he is rehearsing the behavior you want to change, which makes further occurrences of that behavior much more likely. Even if you have a fenced yard, I recommend you stay out with the dog anytime that they are in the yard as no fence can be guaranteed to be 100% secure.
  • If your dog does not need to go with you, leave them at home. I know that we have dogs for companionship and that both they and we enjoy our travels together; however if your dog becomes reactive while in the car they threaten your safety as well as the safety of others. If they become reactive where you take them, you may make yourself unwelcome, and you are probably making your dog more likely to react in the future.

Prevent the Behavior from Getting Worse

  • Stop the use of any training and management tools (alpha rollovers, shock collars, choke collars, prong collars, citronella collars, anti-bark collars, spray bottles, or anything else) that that have the potential to cause your dog distress, discomfort or pain. It is our belief that individuals that choose tools and methods based on punishment and dominance are not intending any ill will towards their pet; in fact they are simply trying to do the best they can with the information they have. However, based on our understanding of dogs, stress and how these tools work we believe that they are only likely to make your dogs behavior worse and to put you and others at a much greater risk for injury. The articles Dominance: Reality or Myth, Position on the Use of Dominance and Punishment for the Training and Behavior Modification of Animals and The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars explain our rationale for this position and link to additional scientific articles on these topics.
  • Avoid putting your dog in situations where there is a potential for him to display the behavior of concern. This is essential because each time he display this behavior; this behavior becomes stronger and more likely to occur again. Events like this change the chemistry and anatomy of the brain, making future reactions more likely. This level of management will be necessary until your dog has become desensitized to the things that cause his reactivity/aggression. Read the handouts Introduction to Canine Communication, Body Language of Fear in Dogs and How to Greet A Dog (And What to Avoid) so you are better able to read your dog’s body language and tell when he is becoming stressed and anxious.
  • Limit movement when your dog reacts. Movement increases arousal and increased arousal increases the probability of aggression and reactivity. If your dog is barking and running back and forth from window to window, either in your home or car, try to restrict movement either with a crate or if in the car, a seat belt. If you do not need to take the dog with you in the car, leave him at home.
  • Carefully consider safety issues and the possibility of making your dogs behavior worse if you walk them off your property.  If you cannot walk your dog safely or if you continue to expose the dog to his triggers, you are better off staying at home. If you do take the dog for walks, choose locations and times when you are least likely to encounter his triggers. When walking a dog with reactivity/aggression issues, it is imperative that you be totally aware of your environment at all times. It is not a time to be day dreaming, thinking about tomorrow’s schedule, chatting on your cell phone, conversing with a friend walking with you, or listening to music. Alternatively, you can find other ways to provide your dog with physical and mental stimulation such as playing in the yard and feeding him with a Kong. If you need ideas as to how to do this, contact us.
  • If your dog is aggressive towards people and/or dogs you need to keep your dog away from places where people and dogs congregate. A dog with aggression issues should not be taken to the pet store, a dog park, dog events or charitable walks.
  • Prepare people before allowing them to interact with your dog and do not force them or the dog to interact. Remember it is not just your dog’s behavior that will determine the result of a dog/human interaction, but also the behavior of the person. Do your best to teach people that come to your home how to interact with your dog. Providing them with a copy of How to Greet A Dog (And What to Avoid) is a great first step. Allow the dog to decide if he wants to interact with people and if he does not, act to protect his best interests. Also, be aware that if you have a breed which some people readily prejudge as having aggressive tendencies those people may behave in a manner which may trigger a reaction from your dog. Anxiety in one often creates anxiety in another.
  • Situations where I would be especially cautious are: whenever your dog is around large gatherings of people. Large groups are likely to increase your dog’s excitement/anxiety which increases the probability of an inappropriate response. Anytime your dog is around children. Most children do not understand how to behave around dogs. Children and dogs ALWAYS need adult supervision.
  • Do not punish your dog or get mad at them for growling. While a dog’s growl can be upsetting and disheartening to us, it also serves the very useful purpose of alerting us to the fact that the dog is feeling threatened or uncomfortable. It is the dog’s way of saying “If something in this situation does not change, I may feel threatened enough to bite.” It is never wise to punish a dog for growling, even by saying “No,” as dogs that are repeatedly punished for growling eventually may stop giving a warning and just bite. If your dog does growl, determine what is causing them to do so, and remove them from the situation with as little fanfare and emotion as possible. For more information read the article Canine Behavior – What Should I Do When My Dog Growls?
  • Consider how your emotions may be affecting your dog. Dogs are very adept at sensing our emotions, which can often add fuel to the fire. Since our emotions are always part of the dogs environment, our anxiety and frustration are very likely to cause our dog to become more anxious. It is important to become aware of your own emotions and to work on resolving any issues you may be adding to the situation. The Bach Flower Remedies can be very helpful in assisting people in dealing with their emotions. For more information you might want to read the following: An Introduction and Guide to Flower Essences – The 38 Bach Flower Essences, Wigmore Publications, Ltd., 2001, and The Bach Flower Remedies – Step by Step, by Judy Howard, Vermillion, 2005

Reducing Your Dog’s Stress

  • Learn how stress affects your dog’s behavior. Stress is frequently a component in undesirable behavior for people and animals. Our bodies react very similarly when under stress, producing hormones and other chemicals, which make us more likely to be reactive and irritable.  Most people think of stress as being caused by adverse events or memories of adverse events. However, stress is also caused by things we like such as playing fetch.  When the things we like are taken to excess, stress is even more likely. The key thing to remember is that stress, whether from something bad or something good, causes the same physiological reaction in the body. Those reactions happen instantly but can take 24 to 36 hours to subside and can and often do effect behavior. Read the article, Understanding, Identifying, and Coping with Canine Stress, which provides an overview of stress in dogs. For more information we recommend reading the book Stress in Dogs – Learn How Dogs Show Stress and What You Can Do to Help, by Martina Scholz & Clarissa von Reinhardt to help you better understand what stresses your dog and how they express this stress in their behavior.
  • Minimize Unpredictability and Be Consistent. Unpredictability in our behavior is a major stressor for dogs. As a family, you need to all commit to working together and using the same training approach with your dog. Getting a different response from each of you only stresses the dog more. You all need to have consistent expectations, but they do need to be reasonable. Teaching the dog to be the dog you want him to be will take time and patience.
  • Consider using Bach Rescue Remedy with your dog. Bach Rescue Remedy is a combination remedy developed by Dr. Bach for balancing emotions in emergency situations. Read the articles Bach Flower Remedies – An Overview of the Bach Flower Remedies and Bach Rescue Remedy for more information.
  • Consider using an Adaptil/DAP diffuser in your home to reduce anxiety. Read the article entitled D.A.P Comfort Zone for more information.
  • Consider using a Thundershirt with your dog to reduce anxiety. The handout The Thundershirt provides more information.

Document Your Dogs Behavior

  • Keep A Daily Journal as described in the handout Keeping A Daily Journal. The information you observe and record will be helpful in resolving your dog’s behavior problems.

Train Your Dog

  • If your dog does not “sit” reliably, begin a reward based training program to teach the Sit and Attention behaviors. If you have any concerns about being able to do this safely, contact us first.

If your dog knows “sit” very well, begin a Say Please – Nothing In Life Is Free program as outlined in the handout of the same name. This program can be very useful in teaching your dog self-control. If you have any concerns about being able to do this, safely contact us first.

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)

Keeping A Daily Journalhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/behavior-consulting-keeping-a-daily-journal/

What Should I Do When My Dog Growls?http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/18/canine-behavior-what-should-i-do-when-my-dog-growls/

Introduction to Canine Communication – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/04/05/dog-training-introduction-to-canine-communication/

The Body Language of Fear in Dogs (Dr. Sophia Yin)http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/body-language-of-fear-in-dogs-dr-sophia-yin/

How to Greet A Dog (And What to Avoid) (Dr. Sophia Yin)http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/canine-body-language-how-to-greet-a-dog-and-what-to-avoid-dr-sophia-yin/

Canine Behavior – Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stresshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/11/01/canine-behavior-understanding-identifying-and-coping-with-canine-stress/

Dog Behavior – Dominance: Reality or Myth – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/20/dog-behavior-dominance-reality-or-myth/

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on Pet-Friendly, Force-Free Pet Care –  http://www.greenacreskennel.com/boarding/what-is-pet-friendly

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on the Use of Dominance and Punishment for the Training and Behavior Modification of Dogs – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/training/position-on-the-use-of-dominance-and-punishment-for-the-training-and-behavior-modification-of-dogs

The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2013/08/05/dogs-the-unintended-consequences-of-shock-collar/

Bach Flower Remedies – An Overview of the Bach Flower Remedieshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/22/bach-flower-remedies-an-overview-of-the-bach-flower-remedies/

Bach Rescue Remedyhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/22/bach-flower-remedies-bach-rescue-remedy/

DAP/Adaptil Comfort Zone – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2014/08/14/canine-behavior-adaptild-a-p-comfortzone/

The Thundershirthttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/product-the-thundershirt/

Dog Training – Teaching the ATTENTION or LOOK Behaviorhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/dog-training-teaching-the-attention-or-look-behavior/

Dog Training – Teaching the SIT Behaviorhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/dog-training-teaching-the-sit-behavior/

Dog Training – SAY PLEASE – NOTHING IN LIFE IS FREEhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/dog-training-say-please-nothing-in-life-is-free/

 

©2016, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>