By Karen A. Soukiasian
In general, there are three root causes for dog aggression.
The first, is trauma. That includes: abuse, neglect, agitation and fear.
The second is careless breeding. Aggression breeds aggression. That is why we always tell people who are purchasing a new puppy, to insist on meeting the parents.
If the breeder does not want you to meet the parents, run! That is a serious red flag for the possibility of being trapped with an aggressive dog.
Since 1959, the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Russian Academy of Science, in Novosbirsk, Russia, has been testing foxes. They found within 50 years and 40 generations of selective breeding of calm to calm, the fear and aggression has been bred out of the initial base of aggressive foxes.
They have evolved into foxes with a domesticated dog’s juvenile like behaviors. Those behaviors include: submission, barking, whining and the desire for human companionship. They also noted a change in the physiology of the animals, such as coat colors and texture changes, broader heads, floppy ears, and changes in the shapes of tails. These dog-like, human-friendly foxes are now being sold worldwide, as domesticated pets.
On the flip side, during those same 50 years, aggressive to aggressive breeding has created foxes that are extremely aggressive and vicious.
Lack of socialization
The third cause of dog aggression is lack of socialization. It cannot be stressed enough, how vitally important it is to socialize a puppy as much and as soon as possible.
Fear is a huge factor in aggression. The first 20 weeks of a puppy’s life is when they should be exposed to as many new and mostly positive experiences as possible, to help them become less fearful. These experiences must include meeting and being handled by new people.
Meeting and interacting with other animals is absolutely necessary. Put exposing your dog to new, loud and strange noises on your to-do-list. Atypical adventures to places such as children’s ballgames and flea markets help a puppy learn how to cope with new situations.
And lots of short, fun car rides will help your puppy learn to enjoy traveling. This is the period when they will develop the coping skills they will need, to become well adjusted, non-aggressive adult dogs.
The CAT method
There are a number of methods used to modify aggressive behavior in dogs. They all work toward desensitizing the animal to the stimuli that pumps all that adrenaline, that makes them fearful, angry and out of control! Constructional Aggression Treatment, or CAT, is usually quite successful in modifying inappropriate behaviors.
It is a combination of socialization and behavior modification. By removing the subject dog from their comfort zone, which in most cases is isolation with only their family or their home, they as a rule slowly associate being alone is not necessarily that much fun.
Being pack animals once the inappropriate behavior is modified, most inherently seek the security of a pack.
With CAT, the subject dog learns if and when they show aggression, the object of their focus, be it another dog or person remains in their company. When their behavior transforms to calm, appropriate behavior, the object of their focus is removed.
For this example, we will use dogs. However, if the subject dog’s aggressive focus is on people, we switch to people instead of other dogs. By following the same simple formula, which is, “Act inappropriately and your dilemma stays in your face. Calm down, and it leaves,” you will reinforce the perception that calm, not crazy gets them what they want.
We have worked with a number of aggressive dogs, by initially barricading them in the office, away from the other dogs in the pack, separated by only a sliding glass door. This allows them to see how much fun the others are having together.
The water bucket is in the kitchen, so when the pack wants to drink, they come near the sliding glass door. They drink and then walk away. If the subject dog shows inappropriate behavior while the other dog is drinking, then an immediate, firm correction is made, simply by telling them “NO! BAD!”
The objective is to have them remain calm, and eventually, the other dog walks away. We emphasize approval of appropriate behavior by praising the subject dog with a simple “Good boy or good girl.” The fact the “threat” walked away when they were calm reinforces to the subject dog, the association “I remained calm, they went away.”
As we see appropriate behavior changes starting, we then crate the subject dog, and allow all the other dogs in the pack into the office to hang out while we have our morning coffee. This brings everyone up close and personal. When the crated, subject dog sees that the pack is totally ignoring his or her drama, it takes the wind out of their sails, and they will calm down. That’s when the pack leaves them, and usually goes outside to play.
We then remove the subject dog from the crate. He or she remains in the office, where they can watch through another set of sliding glass doors, the other dogs having fun together.
When we deem the subject dog is ready and wants to join the pack, we release him or her, outside with dogs that are most calm, well adjusted and can deal with the newcomer’s theatrics. It is only a matter of minutes, before the subject dog realizes they are not scaring off the others, they are not being attacked, and they will relax. Thus far, we’ve had excellent results from the CAT method of behavior modification.
Finally, we “road test” the subject dog in the real world. They are taken off the premise, which has now become their new comfort zone, and we test them in public. They are leashed and walked where there are other dogs and/or people. If they react inappropriately, the focus of their issue remains. When they become calm, the person or dog leaves.
When we are comfortable with the subject dog’s behavior, the final test is the dog park. There we have people and dogs, their ultimate nightmare! With each case we have worked with, the subject dog’s behavior has been modified enough, where they’ve had a wonderful time romping with the other dogs in the park, and meeting and greeting new people.
Bottom line: How quickly the CAT method works to eliminate dog aggression depends on you and your dog.
This isn’t TV, where the problem is solved in less than an hour. Be fair, firm, consistent and patient.
Behavior modification takes time, but it’s worth the effort. If you aren’t willing to make the commitment, find a reputable local trainer, who will do the hard part for you. Then, it’s up to you, to keep the training going. Dog training doesn’t stop at the end of a class. Your dog’s training is a work-in-progress, 24/7, for as long as you have each other.
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