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Can We Avoid Aggression in Our Dogs?

May 07, 20234 min read

I've been reading "Decoding Your Dog," written by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. It's an amazing book and there's a chapter called Aggression Unleashed: Do Dogs Mean to Be Mean?  I'd like to share a bit of information here. 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year. Most dog bites to people result from fear and self-defense on the part of the dog. Preventing and minimizing the risk of biting includes being sure that your dog is not placed in a situation in which she feels threatened enough to bite. Force-free training emphasizes positive reinforcement and avoids leash tugs, shock, physical manipulations, and threats. Keep these things in mind:

1. Dogs have no agenda. They live in the here and now and will protect themselves if frightened.

2. Dogs in our home rely 100 percent on us, their human family, to feed, walk, shelter, and love them. It

is important to extend this to humaneness in training.

3. Any training method-including use of aversive tools, such as shock collars or other sources of pain-can result in a "well-behaved" dog who performs the commands, but may be quite frightened and unreliable. In fact, studies have shown that using these types of training devices and techniques increases anxiety in dogs and diminishes their interactions with humans who use them. Ethical and humane methods train just as effectively and result in less stress and, therefore, less risk of fear-related biting.

4. Science-based training relies on well-established principles of learning. If your goal is to have a happy dog who is eager to do the things you ask her to do, use positive reinforcement to ensure this will happen.

Does Your Dog Have the Right to Say No?

Like us, dogs are sentient beings who can feel frightened, stressed, or contented. Life with dogs is a lot simpler if we think of their needs as well as our own and attribute some autonomy to our complex companions. Dogs will express their reluctance or ambivalence through their actions and body language. If a family member or unfamiliar person initiates an interaction and the dog does not reciprocate by approaching, it is best to leave the dog alone. This is true whether your child wants to hug the family dogs who is sleeping on her bed or whether a stranger approaches with his or her own dog to "say hello." If your dog does not jump off the couch to play with your child, let the dog sleep in peace. If she stiffens or growls when other dogs approach, lead her the other way. Rather than assuming your dog feels up to such interactions or, worse, assuming she should, allow your dog to say no and quietly discontinue or interrupt the interaction.

Teaching Children

At home, infants and children should never be left unattended with dogs. A responsible adult should always be present supervising their interactions. Teach children to be respectful of the dog's needs. As soon as they are old enough to take direction, children should be taught:

Not to stare at dogs.

Not to hug and kiss dogs. P.S. Did you notice the boy and dog picture above? Examine the dog, does he look comfortable and pleased with this kiss and warm embrace? While we don't have a good shot of his face, I can tell that he is pulling away and averting eye contact using his native language to let us know this is not his favorite interaction. Hugging and kissing is not a natural behavior for dogs. While some dogs may tolerate hugging, many do not, especially from unfamiliar people and children. It's best to respect your dog and find another way to show your love.

Not to approach a dog who is eating or resting and to respect a dog’s toys, sleeping/resting place, and bones.

Always ask permission from your parent and the dog’s owner if you want to pet a dog.

How to play appropriately with a dog.

A dog is a living, breathing animal and should be handled with kindness, gentleness, and respect, just like people.

Use teaching resources such as and the book A Kids' Comprehensive Guide to Speaking Dog!

This blog was written by Katie Midkiff, KPA CTP and originally posted by REC on Februrary 26, 2019. Katie is the owner and trainer of Southern Paws Training.

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