I Think My Dog Is Fear Aggressive. How Do I Know?

12 01 2009

gang-chillingA longtime dog owner wrote me recently, inquiring about a possible fear aggression issue with her pet.  Fear aggression is a scary issue to deal with, because when it does present, the provocation is typically an everyday action.  Before pursuing any behavioral or training issue, the first thing necessary is to take your dog to his vet.  It is especially important that you go to YOUR vet, as the long-term relationship will help him diagnose any issue.  Your dog needs a clean bill of health from his Doc to see if there is anything physically wrong with him before you attempt to change his behavior.  We are unable to tell you when we are in pain, so getting the vet involved is imperative. Read the rest of this entry »

Aggression Part Two – Fear Aggression

5 11 2008

I received a question via e-mail last week about aggression.  Since there are eight different types of aggression, I have decided to break things down into an eight-part series on aggression.  Fear aggression is the second topic I will cover, and it is included below.

What is fear aggression?

Fear aggression is actually pretty self-explanatory.  It occurs when a dog is frightened by something and that will trigger a “fight” response.  Since his fear does not allow him the luxury of the “flight” response, he will respond the only way he can.  He bites.

This often happens as the result of a puppy’s improper socialization, especially not being properly socialized at the appropriate time.  From the age of three weeks to three months, your puppy should only be exposed to positive people and things.  Don’t ask me why, but some things to avoid this include men with beards, anyone with a hat, ladies with shrill voices, and even children, unless VERY CLOSELY SUPERVISED.  Taunting a dog or punishing him too severely can also lead to fear aggression.

Signs of fear aggression in your dog:

  • Nearly always displaying submissive body language
  • Ears that are laid back usually flat against the head
  • Tail is tucked between the legs
  • Reluctance to rolling over to expose their belly
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Tilt of their head toward the person seeking the dog’s attention, often licking their lips
  • Do not like to be groomed, especially the feet

What can be done to help correct this?

  • Train him using ONLY positive reinforcement. Remember, you are building or re-building trust!
  • Do not reinforce any fear aggressive behavior positively.
  • Never surprise or startle the dog.
  • Do not punish bad behavior.  Correct the behavior.
  • Do not allow people to pet the dog without permission, especially strangers.

Fear aggression can be very tricky.  Often, people will observe a fearful dog and try to give the dog some comfort.  However, the dog may not be aware of what the human is doing, and he will bite as a response.  Although any breed of dog can be fear aggressive, some breeds are born with fearful or anxious behavior tendencies and are more likely to be fear aggressive.

Dogs are the most social creatures on the face of the earth.   In fact, a dog is actually more social than a human being.  Allowing your dog to learn how to socialize at an early age will help prevent fear aggression.
Because most people are not well versed in canine body language, it is advisable that a professional be contacted to help with this situation in a dog that is exhibiting fear aggressive behavior.  The most important thing with fear aggression is to avoid the situation that causes the behavior (leashes, cages, grooming, etc.) when possible, until you can correct it with the aforementioned professional.