Some dogs, especially former strays and unsocialized dogs, may have learned that they needed to use acts of aggression to be able to survive. The only way to stop the cycle of your dog responding to unfamiliar or fearful events with aggression is to demonstrate consistently to him that that no one will inflict pain or suffering onto him and for you to give him other viable avenues of behaviours for him to use. You have to be prepared to show the dog (in a way that is meaningful and understandable to the dog ) what you want him to do instead of him acting aggressively or reactively.
Show Them What You Want Them To Do
Things that your dog can be taught to do instead of reacting to a new situation with barking, lunging, snapping, or snarling:
- Go to a mat or bed and lie down when instructed to do so.
- Come and sit in front of you, watch you, and get a treat.
- Go get a chew toy and redirect his anxiety to chewing.
- Look to you for instruction and leadership during tense or fearful situations. (can be taught using a re-direct and WATCH ME cue).
Also, if you have an aggressive or reactive dog, you need to avoid encouraging domination games (tug of war, wrestling etc.) and overly excited rough housing between humans and with other dogs. At this point, these dogs lack the skills to be able stop themselves from reacting to excitement or fear with an explosion of aggressive energy. Noisy or overly stimulating dog toys are also not recommended for these dogs until they have been conditioned to better handle their fear and anxiety.
Training Is Not About Compliance Through Force or Punishment
Aversive training methods are never recommended for any dog but especially not for aggressive or reactive dogs. There are so many better options available these days for training dogs that will actually help you to foster a nurturing and balanced relationship bond that it makes aversive training methods obsolete. When it comes to training an aggressive or reactive dog, techniques that use heavy handed or physically punishing training methods will only serve to re-enforce their need to be aggressive.
Aversive training methods would include the use of:
- Choke chains, prong collars, or correction/shock collars.
- Alpha rolls or ear pinches.
- Squirting dogs in the face with liquid.
- Scaring or startling him with loud noises.
- Yelling or screaming at your dog.
- Physically hurting him or dominating him in any way.
If you react to aggression WITH aggression it only serves to add fuel to the dog’s fire. Redirection of the aggressive behaviour and showing the dog another way to handle the stress is a much better way of coping with his behaviour challenges.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or frustrated with your dog’s aggression or reactivity, PLEASE contact a qualified trainer or behaviourist, preferably one that has direct experience working with huskies or malamutes and they can give you some suggestions as to the best way to work with your dog.
Change Begins Here
To begin changing the cycle of aggressive behaviours there are four areas of concern to address:
- Manage your dog’s environment so he does not get the opportunity to practice the behaviour. Be proactive. If a triggering opportunity never arises, then the dog never gets the opportunity to react to the trigger. So whenever possible manage the dog’s environment to reduce and remove the triggers to his aggression.
- Identify all the triggers for his stress and aggression. If you don’t recognize the triggers to your dog’s aggression then you cannot begin to manage your dog’s problem. Look for the patterns to his aggressive behaviour. Be aware of all the body language and clues that your dog is giving you to show you that he is uncomfortable or afraid within his environment.
- Break down the short term and the long term strategies to deal with the triggers to the aggressive behaviour. Changing behaviours in a dog is a process and processes take time so that means that you need to approach the behaviours with both short term and long term goals in mind.
The short term goal is always to keep the people in the environment safe in the moment so sometimes that may mean using a muzzle for a while. While the use of a muzzle is not a long term solution to a behaviour problem, it is a suitable short term solution to address the issue of immediate safety.
Long term strategies should include desensitization to the triggers and behaviour modification to teach more acceptable behaviours instead of defaulting to aggression and/or biting.
And lastly, there is the issue of providing good, stable, consistently strong leadership. Dogs need to have a strong leadership presence at the helm of the social group or they will feel obligated to step in to lead the group. There are some antiquated ideas about this issue. For the most part, dogs are not plotting coups to over throw the local governing body in your household.
However, if dogs do not see a strong recognizable leadership presence, they WILL step in to make the rules and choices for themselves and on behalf of the group. They do this not for reasons related to anarchy or ego mania , but for reasons related to their survival. Dogs equate predictability, stability, and consistency with the safety and survival of the group. Human rules and strong leadership provide dogs with the information of what they can expect in their environment and for what is expected of them within their environment.
Dogs that are not natural leaders but find themselves thrust into a leadership position by default (because the human did not step up to take the leadership role) are not comfortable acting in this capacity. Dogs who find themselves in this position will usually behave in a very anxious, fearful, unstable, and often times aggressive fashion while they remain in the leadership role. They would very much prefer to have someone else steer the ship but the natural drive to survive is strong and they do what they feel is required for them to survive.
So for those owners who do not give their dogs, consistency, rules, training, or expectations for their behaviour, if you think that you are doing your dog a favour by letting him make up his own rules, your dog does not see this a benefit. Quite often the root issues for aggressive dog behaviours is due to nothing more than a lack of strong leadership on the part of the owner. If this describes your dog ownership style, then you may want to reconsider this choice. If not for the sake of peace and safety in your own household, then do it because you love your dog and you want to do what is best for him.
Some strategies that you may wish to employ:
- Manage the behaviour and the environment (avoidance of the trigger).
- Changing associations (change how your dog feels about the trigger using treats).
- Training a new behaviour (don’t do this behaviour, do this instead).
- Eliminate the trigger or stressor (if possible).
Stress As A Trigger For Aggression
Another important factor in changing the cycle of aggression is to make sure that the dog is given appropriate and adequate breed specific physical exercise. A dog that has pent up energy without an outlet for it is stressed and he is in danger of funnelling his stress into an aggressive outburst.
You can also remove or reduce stress in your dog by:
- Increasing physical exercise and mental stimulation.
- Change in diet (check for allergy related items that may trigger agitated or cranky behaviour).
- Doggie massage or acupuncture for stress relief.
Using Aversive Measures Against Aggressive Behaviours Is Counter Productive
The use of force against aggressive behaviour in your dog is never acceptable. Old out dated techniques like using alpha-rolls, pinning, shocking, and hanging are dangerous to the dog and only results in more intense aggression being levelled back at you from the dog.
If you are really unsure of how best to handle your dog’s behaviour, please consult a qualified trainer or behaviourist who can properly assess the behaviours and offer you a plan for safely and gently handling your dog’s behaviour modification.
Tomorrow, in Part 3 of this series, I discuss How To Deal With The Biting Husky
As always, we encourage you to as questions, comment, or share your stories about his topic. When we share our stories, we might just be helping someone who is struggling with their dog.
Helping ALL Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.