Constructional Aggression Therapy for Dogs

Aggressive tendencies in dogs can be reversed through special training.
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Most dog training techniques involve using positive reinforcement to encourage a dog toward good behavior -- for example, using vocal commands and treats rather than choke chains or other punishments. However, another form of training can turn aggressive dogs into friendly ones without encouraging snacking (which can lead to obesity in the dog) or having the dog expect other rewards for his good behavior. In this case, another dog is used to train the aggressive dog.

The Main Idea

Constructional aggression treatment uses a dog's negative reactions toward decoy animals to turn an aggressive animal to gentle behavior without using any forms of punishment. By letting the aggressive dog feel hostility and turn it around in his own time to friendly reactions, better behavior is learned and retained without treating the dog harshly. This better encourages the dog to change his own mind, rather than having it changed for him through punishment.

Two Handlers and a Decoy Dog

The aggressive dog's handler does very little except hang onto the dog's leash, thereby maintaining control over the animal throughout the exercise. Another handler walks in with the decoy dog, who brings out the expected aggression behavior in the other dog. The decoy dog must have a high aggression threshold so he won't also turn aggressive during this type of training. He must be able to ignore the aggressive dog's growls and other behaviors.

The Training Begins

The new dog is walked into the room or yard where the aggressive dog is standing. The decoy dog is positioned several feet away and made to face the aggressor. The objective is to see how long the aggressor keeps growling and baring his teeth. Once he stops these actions, the decoy dog is led away again out of the aggressive dog's sight. In this way the dog in training is rewarded for better behavior.

The Next Step

The decoy dog is brought back in and walked a few feet closer to the aggressive dog. When the snarling and growling stops and the aggressive dog turns away or sniffs the ground, or makes some other non-aggressive move such as paying attention to something not pertaining to the decoy, the second handler once again removes the decoy dog from his sight. A few more minutes pass to give the dogs a chance to relax.

The Two Dogs Get Acquainted

Now the decoy is brought back in, closer than before, and stands again in front of the aggressive dog. At this point, if there is still an aggressive reaction, the dogs are once again separated and then re-introduced a few minutes later at an even closer range. In this way the decoy and the dog in training can gradually get acquainted with each other, and the aggressive dog gets used to having another dog nearby.

The Switchover Point

This is the hoped-for moment in the dog's training, the point where the aggressive dog suddenly gives up the hostile behavior and becomes friendly with the other dog. He will show friendly mannerisms such as tail wagging, sniffing and showing signs of wanting to approach the other dog. Don't allow him to do so at first. When this stage is reached consistently, the two dogs are finally allowed to interact with each other.