Owning and Training the Aggressive Dog


It is so tough to own an aggressive dog (or is it?). Dedicated Dog Training is no stranger to helping owners with their dog’s aggression.

If you own a dog with this temperament then you probably have experienced the aggravation and endless work it takes to prevent an unfortunate incident.

Many pet owners cannot relate to the anxiety that often comes with owning an aggressive dog. Always wondering “where’s the dog?” “is the dog in the crate (or other room)?” “Is the dog still in the backyard?” it is not uncommon for the dog’s owner to walk their dog less and host less which leads to spending less time with their dogs. Pet owners that have dogs with aggression have a direct impact on the pet owners social life (sometimes it is small and sometimes it is a larger impact).

Do you find yourself:

    • telling people at the door to wait just a second (while you put your dog away)?
    • Are you making things worse by trying to socialize your aggressive dog with other dogs?
    • Are you tired of telling people NOT to approach while walking your dog?
    • What about having to walk your dog late at night, not to run into anyone – is this becoming more of a chore than pleasure for you?

We understand your daily struggle. And we can help. That said, we’d like to eliminate one of the BIGGEST obstacles which often prevent pet owners with aggressive dogs from finding a happy place. This obstacle is unrealistic goals.

Owning an aggressive dog is NOT an EASY journey; that is the first thing that aggressive dog owners should understand before entering into any dog behavior modification program. The second, but just as important, is to realize that obedience training is ongoing especially with an aggressive dog. Lastly, owning an aggressive dog requires the owner to FULLY understand that their dog will probably always be aggressive, no dog behaviorist or dog trainer is going to be able to give them a new dog.

Regrettably, this is your dog’s personality. That said, there is an upside, you can CONTROL your dog’s aggression, NOT Eliminate it. Unfortunately, this is what distinguishes whether most pet dog owners with aggressive dogs obtain the results they seek. KNOWING the difference between CONTROLLING your dog’s aggression & ELIMINATING it, is the difference between SUCCESS & FAILURE in a dog behavior modification training program.

Owning an aggressive dog REQUIRES A LOT of CONSISTENCY from the members in the household, especially if the dog’s aggression is toward them (dog handler aggression). This without doubt, will call for human behavior modification as owning an aggressive dog is a team effort from both the human and canine.
Can a truly aggressive dog be FIXED?

Occasionally, timid puppies and dogs will act with aggression to fend off a person or another dog that they’re afraid of, but they do not want to hurt the person or other animal, they’d prefer that person or other animal left. However, depending on other variables and that dog’s temperament a bite may take place.

Aggressive dogs are often predisposed and can be biased towards humans (sometimes all, sometimes certain dispositions, gender, clothes and equipment carried or worn) or dogs (or certain people and animals).

In our opinion & experience, no truly timid dog can be taught to be independently confident. The same holds true for us with an aggressive dog; a truly aggressive dog cannot learn to be openly accepting.
Sadly, it is not in their nature. That said, you may be reading this and shaking your head or find yourself in a state of confusion because of the conflicting information that you’ve received from other dog behaviorists or dog trainers. As with any industry, dog behavior modification or obedience training is no different; we all have our ideas on how to help our clients.

What dog obedience trainers Do Vs What They Say

Not all, but a fair share of dog trainers would have you believe that they’re going to “FIX your dog’s aggression.” At face value, most pet owners, would jump on this belief. This enthusiasm or play in words by many trainers is often misleading. With that said, it is not our intention to knock other dog trainers or pet dog owners for the matter. The truth is in the initial conferral between dog trainer and dog owner two (2) agendas are brought to the table:

      • Dog Owner: is very eager to help with fearful or aggressive dog (mostly both)!
      • Dog Trainer: is very eager to help them as well

So, how does this go wrong. The details are in the definition. For many dog trainers “FIXING aggression” is being able to control your dog’s aggression.

For dog owners, “Fixing Aggression” is having their dog NO longer be aggressive.

Sounds the same, but as the training commences and comes to an end, you may witness two (2) very different faces. The trainers’ will be HAPPY that the dog that once could not be around other people, now can. The dog that was not able to walk by another dog without growling and snapping, now does. The dog owner, now takes the leash and begins to walk their dog and their dog growls and the trainer gives advice what to do, the dog owner turns to the trainer and says something like “he’s still aggressive.”

To give you a more accurate picture of what a program for dog aggression may look like, let us walk you through the dog behavior modification program that obedience trainers invoke when we/they say that “We can FIX any aggressive dog.”

Obedience Training, The Aggressive Dog

However, an aggressive dog can be trained to ignore the fear which usually can lead to aggression directed at a person, dog or animal.

By consistent obedience you can train your dog to pay attention to you, its leader, rather than be aggressive to another dog or person. When done in this light, the dog will understand that he is being corrected for not focusing on you verse looking at what he is aggressive to or afraid of.

Many dogs are very distrustful of people and dogs; it is not your job to get them to like people or dog, it is your duty to navigate your dog by them without incident – Accepting that this is the type of dog that you own, and that there will be limits……. is OK. Your dog’s chances of success relies on your understanding of this concept.

Aggression in a Dog’s World

In a dog’s word the top dog makes the decisions, protects the family from predators as well as their environment (otherwise known as territorial aggression when referring to pet dogs). When someone challenges a dog that is deemed to be Alpha it can, in the beginning create conflict.

The older and more settled that dog in its roll of Alpha, the more conflict can be created. Switching back to modern times with the domesticated dog. An older dog that is aggressive in the home to family members is much more difficult to break than a younger dog trying to achieve that position.

Many seasoned dog trainers shun when they observe pet owners allowing dominant behavior with their puppy because they (the puppy owner) deems it be cute. At the time it seems cute, but as the dog gets older, bigger & stronger, that cuteness quickly fades into chaos, fear, conflict and uncertainty for both the dog and the owner.

An experienced dog trainer does not want to hear form puppy owners that their dog will grow out of this behavior. They ‘re aware that the puppy may grow out of certain behaviors, but do not see value in allowing a puppy to practice any dominant or aggressive behaviors.

The same as in a human’s world, behaviors that go uninterrupted become habits. When we allow young canines to display undesirable behaviors for an extended period of time we are assisting in forming habits that later we will probably be trying to break.

Aggressive Dogs Should Never Be in Charge

Don’t allow your dog to be in charge, you can do this through obedience.
Have your dog be confident in your leadership.

Aggressive dogs believe they are the boss, that is until you let them know that they aren’t the boss and you’re the leader. And shy dogs, really do not want to be the leader; it is a lot of stress for them, so having them believe you got this! Is also prudent in helping them to be more comfortable in their skin.

Unfortunately, many people view an aggressive dog as a confident dog and the truth is, MOST (not all) aggression is fear based. Your dog’s aggression is a reaction to their fear; whence, the term fear-aggression. Fear-aggression in dogs is extremely prevalent among pet dog owners.

Many owners of fearful or aggressive dogs can make their situation better by hiring a professional obedience trainer or dog behaviorist, but what is more important is defining practical and obtainable goals.

If your goal is to transform your aggressive dog into an independent dog by “socializing him with dogs or people” you may have missed that boat. Dog socialization should take place PRIOR to aggression. We have seen and heard of so many stories, where with good intentions, but inaccurate information has led to worsening their dog’s aggression by forcing them to socialize with others.

Untrained Aggressive Dogs & Group Classes

Many owners of aggressive or fearful dogs make the mistake of bringing these dogs for initial training to group pet training classes; this is a mistake. Dog training classes can be very beneficial to proof (test how the training is going) training. Instead many dog owners bring their dog’s aggression to these classes with the term “socialization” in mind. They hope that the more their dog is around its fears and things that he is aggressive towards will somehow help him.

This puts both you, and more importantly the dog at a great disadvantage as well as the other canine and human participants in the class.
What follows next is something completely opposite of what your goal may be, but it is what your GOAL should be to prevent your dog from getting worse and to even help him to move past the place he may be stuck in.

Goals for Owning & Obedience Training with Aggressive Dogs

The truth, he does NOT have to like everybody or everything; he must listen to your direction:

      1. 1) Tell people that approach to IGNORE him
      2. 2) NEVER TRUST him because you NEVER know what a person is capable of, let alone an aggressive dog.
      3. 3) Keep him or her LEASHED
      4. 4) TREAT him LIKE an AGGRESSIVE dog, because he is

And you remember that any type of training requires consistency, when dealing with an aggressive dog, it is that much more important to stay on top of the way you train and reside with your dog.
Do not lose sight of the what you are trying to accomplish; you’re not trying to turn him into “Lassie.”

You’re trying to CONTROL your dog’s aggression, not ELIMINATE your dog’s aggression. Keep your eye on the ball & know that there are limits with everyone and every canine too.

By trying to transform your dog into someone he is not will probably exasperate the aggression and add more stress to your dog and you. We need to be realistic with our goals to achieve them. We’ve been doing this along time and we’re saddened by how many times we hear “every time we try to introduce him to a dog he gets more aggressive,” “we try to bring him to as many people as possible, but once they go and try to pet her, she lunges and goes to bite!” This troubles many dog trainers because we would NEVER do this.

It’s probably because we see things a bit differently than most pet owners. Our goal is to have our dogs navigate successfully (with minimum to no incident) away from people or dogs; whereas, most pet owners of aggressive dogs and “dog behaviorists” spend their time trying to change their dogs’ temperament.

Your Aggressive Dog Can Bite & Cause Serious Injury

Your dog has the ability and at times whether driven by fear or sheer dominant aggression to cause serious physical injury to another person or dog. And if he believes that he is the one in charge, he may do this. Being a leader and making him realize that he does NOT have the right to protect you or get aggressive while in your presence is the frame of mind needed to help your dog’s aggression.

  • Shannon Earley

    Hello, I have a 6 month old German Shepherd puppy, who is human reactive in the home, barks, lunges and tries to bite if not corrected. I am currently using a prong collar I was given to by a trainer I boarded my dog at for 10 days a couple weeks ago. He does really well walking on a loose leash, and knows heel well. His reactions seem almost unpredictable though when near other people in the house, but we are learning his discreet warnings signs. He doesn’t allow other people to pet him, a quick pat on the head is enough, but any longer he snaps. If a stranger to him makes eye contact in the house he gets set off. My goal is to train him so he is able to live together with other people. Especially going home in a few days to the northeast, he will be around family. If I can get him to be manageable with them in the house I would like for him to be able to be out and around then. Putting him on his “place” cot is a good spot for him to hang out with other people around, but you can tell he puts his back to them and cowers. I got him at 5 months old and I don’t believe he was socialized well at all with dogs or people.
    Thanks again!

  • DogTraining

    Hi Shannon,

    Thanks for taking the time write about your German Shepherd puppy who is human reactive in the home. Of course this advice is being rendered without any personal observation of your German Shepherd & based on your observations. That said, your puppy may be a bit protective of you as well as fearful (possibly in the early stage of a phenomenon known as fear aggression).

    Fear aggression is when a dog learns to feel safer in a situation through aggression; of course there is much more to it than that brief general description. Also, any aggression comes in different seventies. Just as important, it has been our experience that a TRUE dog aggression is not fixed as much as controlled.

    You mentioned utilizing the ‘PLACE’ command which is sending your dog to a specific area such as doggie bed or cot and having them remain there until released. Like many dog trainers, we firmly believe that there is a GREAT need for the PLACE command, but at he same time, we subscribe to the notion that it should NOT be used in some situations – this would be one of them.

    Controlling your dog’s aggression is VERY important, but in our opinion, with dogs, especially with dog’s that exhibit aggression we need to pick and choose where we apply obedience training. Any type of training can create stress; most training creates manageable stress which is not bad at all.

    Having a dog that is aggressive or fearful that ignores people when sitting on PLACE is a great deal of stress that we may choose NOT to place on the dog at that time.

    We’d recommend if not in a training session and are visiting people to crate your dog in a place where they are being secured but also can feel a bit more comfortable for their time in the crate. Of course, you’ll let them out and give them the required activity depending on the time and environment, but to ask them to remain in the same room as what they deem as a potential threat with no protection would not be the route that we’d embrace.

    Again, every dog training school has their way as does every pet owner. Sometimes the methods are just different, not right or wrong.

    For us, as of now, we’d subscribe to the method that we mention above; however, that doesn’t mean that down the road we wouldn’t make changes to our protocol. Dog training is constantly evolving and with obedience training, especially aggression it is VERY important that trainers and owners of dogs keep themselves updates to new methods with an open mind.

    We spoke in some duration on the phone, so when you guys arrive in New York, please feel free to connect with us. We’d like very much to help with your dog’s training.

    Best regards,
    James Colella

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