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Common Behavior Problems

Threatening and Aggressive Behavior Towards People

Before assuming this is a behavior problem, have your dog examined by your veterinarian. Anything that is making your dog uncomfortable or irritable, such as an abscessed tooth or ear infection, can lower his threshold for threats and aggression. So can certain medications and other medical problems.

Misconceptions about aggressive behaviors are common. Few aggression problems are due to “dominance problems”. Most are because the dog is fearful and defensive, rather than offensively aggressive.

Often, dogs are afraid or anxious when children reach out to pet them, and they snap or growl to make the child go away. Dogs who’ve been fine with babies often develop problems when the child begins to crawl and invade your dog’s personal space.

You may notice your dog trying to avoid your child when possible. Problems arise when you dog can’t do this, for whatever reason, and threatens or bites your child so your child will leave him alone.

Most dogs (there are notable exceptions) don’t want to injure people, but want to warn them to go away or stop what they are doing. Aggression – biting and other behaviors that harm – is different from threatening behaviors – growling, lunging, snapping without injury, etc.

Some dogs who snap, growl, and show other threatening behaviors never bite. Others do. You should assume your dog will, and seek help before this happens.

Your immediate goal is to keep people, especially children, safe from your dog. Until you get help, avoid situations in which your dog is likely to bite. Don’t rationalize this problem as your dog having a bad day, or perhaps he was startled, or the person looked or smelled odd.

We do not recommend confrontational techniques such as leash and collar corrections, alpha rolls and scruff shakes. Your dog will not learn to have a better first reaction to people with these procedures, and they put you at great risk of being bitten.

Threats and aggression are serious problems. Seek help immediately. We prefer to see these dogs in person, rather than conducting a telephone consultation. We will do a telephone consult only if you do not have a qualified behaviorist in your area. We require that you send a videotape of your dog prior to the telephone consultation. You will receive more information about this requirement when you contact us for an appointment.

Learn how to be proactive rather than reactive, how to assess a dog’s intentions, the dangers of intimidation techniques, what 4 phrases will defuse threats from may dogs, how to make friends with dogs, and how to protect yourself should a dog try to bite you. It’s all in our Narrated slide presentation: What You Don't Know About Dogs Can Hurt You. For more extensive information see our Dog Bite Prevention Training Program.

Click here to learn more about:

  • Triggers for aggressive behavior
  • Introducing dogs to new babies
  • Preventing dog bites
  • Keeping children safe
  • Greeting dogs you don't know
  • Avoid being bitten on the job: veterinarians, groomers, service worker

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