Behavioral Therapy for Aggressive Behavior in Dogsby Simon Foden
Prevention is better than cure, but sometimes therapy is essential.
Early socialization and regular training are effective methods of preventing aggression in dogs from ever occurring. But sometimes fear, territorialism, resource guarding and anxiety can override your efforts and render a dog aggressive. In such cases, the use of behavioral therapies may be required to fix the problem for good.
Desensitization is based on a simple concept. For every aggressive episode, there is a trigger; be it a doorbell, the presence of another dog or the sound of the gate opening. Desensitization involves repeatedly exposing the dog to the trigger stimuli so that those stimuli become familiar to him. With sufficient exposure, you can normalize those triggers so that they don’t create an aggressive response in the dog. You have a role to play in this. Your dog will look to you for leadership upon encountering the stimuli. Your job is to simply ignore his aggressive behavior and act calmly.
Counterconditioning is the natural next step to desensitization, but you can practice it simultaneously. By using a combination of distraction and positive reinforcement, you can make the now normalized trigger stimuli positive. For example, if Rocky goes bananas every time someone picks up his toys, put him on his leash and have a friend pick up his toy while you distract him with a food treat. Over time, Rocky will learn that people picking up his toys has a positive consequence for him.
Massage therapy can relax and soothe a stressed or tense pooch. The human environment, with all its noise, smells and activity, can be stressful for a dog. Some dogs handle it fine, others turn their stress into aggressive behavior. A massage, while not directly interrupting aggressive behavior, can remove some of the root causes.
Deference training is the process of teaching a dog to sit calmly before he gets what he wants, whether that’s a treat, a walk or access to the yard. This method of training can work well for aggressive dogs, as it helps them learn that positive things occur when they are calm. If Rocky has his hackles up, using deference training can take him out of this mindset and put him in a more relaxed mental state.
While not strictly a therapy, exercise is often all that is required to curb aggressive behavior. If a dog isn’t getting sufficient exercise, he can be a bundle of energy. He’s got to burn that off somehow, and he might channel it in negative ways. A tired dog is typically a well-behaved dog. If your dog is exhausted because he’s been receiving lots of exercise, he simply won’t have the energy required to act aggressively.
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