No one likes to work with an unruly dog. But worse than a bundle of rambunctious energy, is a dog with an aggressive streak. Fortunately, if you treat every dog as if they are a good dog who just needs some behavioral correcting, instead of an inherently bad dog with no chance of succeeding, then there is hope for whatever animal you work with. All it takes is understanding, devotion, firmness and consistent training to help your dog improve those less-likeable qualities.

Types of Aggression

The main goal is to first understand WHY your dog is behaving a certain way. Does he snap or nip only when someone interrupts his meal, or do you notice he only barks at or jumps on people in dark coats? Is he aggressive only toward animals, but seems fine with all humans? Dogs have reasons for acting out, or exhibiting certain negative behaviors. Before the undesirable pattern or isolated action can be corrected, you must first address the causal issue, and determine what it is that is triggering the aggression. To do so, review our list of types of dog aggression to see what might be ailing your pup. Once you have identified this, it would be worth consulting an animal behaviorist for advice on what steps should be taken next.

Tips for Training Aggressive Dogs

  • As a first step, if you have not spayed or neutered your dog yet, this will help to reduce any hormone-driven aggression and help make them more docile to work with.
  • Enlist the help of professionals: talk to your vet about your dog’s difficult behaviors (in case there is a medical issue which has not been considered. For example, maybe your dog is only snappy whenever someone pets his left leg. He may have severe arthritis, without your knowledge, causing him to behave defensively.) Once you have spoken with a vet, talk to a pet trainer who is skilled in working with aggressive dogs, or see if you can get weekly help from a dog behaviorist. Many pups who have learned bad behaviors have worked to overcome these obstacles quite easily with some professional help.
  • Do obedience training once a day for 15-20 minutes. Reward with affirmation and treats. In the training sessions, consider hiring a professional dog trainer (LINK) to help you teach your dog specific skills. One specific way you can help your pup is to practice desensitizing him to strangers, teaching him to avoid snapping when you grab his collar, practicing “calm” commands, like lay down, sit, stay as opposed to speak or fetch.
  • Punishing your dog is to be avoided since can actually increase the problem, if the pup is being aggressive out of fear or frustration. Never punish a dog outright for aggressive actions or mistakes; this will only add fuel to the fire.
  • When you do go out with your dog be sensitive to avoid trigger areas or scenarios while he is learning stranger desensitization and other methods of corrective behavior training. If the aggression trigger is an object, such as a toy, bone, blanket, etc. take it out of the equation to help him focus on positive training.
  • Do not be afraid to use restrictive tools. When walking, you are teaching your dog that you are the alpha dog in your pack. If nipping and biting is something that has occurred in the past, you may need to consider putting a muzzle on your dog when you take him out for walks in society. This will help protect not only the people around, but also your dog from doing anything rash, should one of his triggers arrive during your walk. Note: Another way to bring your dog’s intensity under control is the Thundershirt.

Books On Aggressive Dog Training

  • Aggression in Dogs: Practical Management, Prevention and Behavior Modification –by Brenda Aloff
  • Feisty Fido –by Patricia McConnell, PhD.
  • Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT For Fear, Frustration and Aggression in Dogs –by Grisha Stewart
  • Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog –by Emma Parsons