Dog Aggression: Training A Dominant Dog

*NOTE: This article has been modified from its original version.

Dog aggression is a serious problem, and it's usually the owner that gets hurt. While this article focuses on the dominant dog, or dominance based aggression, the idea of dominance based aggression is actually outdated and very rare. If your dog or puppy is showing signs of dominance, he may actually be showing signs of fear, possessive, or territorial aggression. (Source: The Truth About Aggression and Dominance in Dogs, Clinical Animal Behavior Service)

Growl: Image by Smerikal, FlickrGrowl: Image by Smerikal, Flickr 

Causes Of Aggressive Behavior

There are a number of factors thought to contribute to the development of aggressive behavior. These causes might include breeding, hormones, medical causes, situational causes, or environmental causes such as abuse or unsuitable living conditions. (Source: Causes of Dog Aggression, K9Aggression)

Recognize The Signs

If you see any signs of aggressive behavior in your pup, it's important to get it taken care of quickly, regardless of if your dog is big or small. Some early signs might include protectiveness over food or toys, growling, aggressive barking, or snapping. 

Start Young

Ferocious.: Image by Andy on FlickrFerocious.: Image by Andy on Flickr

If possible, it's important to steer your pup away from aggressive behavior at a young age. If he does show signs of aggression, start behavior training immediately. Be sure to take your pup to the vet to so you can be sure the aggression isn't due to medical problems.

Find A Specialist

If your dog is showing aggressive behavior, it's important to seek help. A behavioral specialist can guide you through the training process, to help you keep your pup's behavior under control. Without the help of a behavioral specialist, it's possible to misjudge your dog's actions and unintentionally encourage his behavior to worsen or continue. 

Identify Triggers And Avoid Them

Do your best to identify what's triggering your dog's behavior. A behavioral specialist can help with this. Once you've determined what's triggering the dog to act aggressive, you can begin taking measures to control it. If possible, it's best to avoid situations that trigger aggression. If your dog is particularly aggressive, or these situations are unavoidable, consider purchasing a muzzle for safety's sake. (Source: The Truth About Aggression and Dominance in Dogs, Clinical Animal Behavior Service) A good muzzle that allows easy breathing like Baskerville Ultra Dog Muzzle might be a good choice.

Reward And Avoid Punishment

Negative reinforcement and punishments can actually encourage aggressive behavior, particularly fear-based aggression, and should be avoided. Instead, it's a good idea to focus on positive reinforcement and reward. This way, your dog can look at you for guidance instead of fearing punishment. Remember to reward your dog when he obeys a command and shows non-aggressive behavior.

Stella: Image by Greg Westfall., FlickrStella: Image by Greg Westfall., Flickr

Low Stress Situations

One training method includes teaching your dog commands in a low stress, no distraction situation. Find a room with little or no distractions that won't cause stress for your dog. Have him sit, and give him small treats to lessen possessive aggression and reward him for positive behavior and obeying. Gradually change the environment to increase distraction. This will help your dog get used to change and higher stress situations. Remember to be firm and consistent. If you have to take a step back to a lower distraction environment, it's okay. Try to move at your dogs pace. (Source: Possessive and Territorial Aggression in Dogs, PetMD)

Be Patient

Be extremely patient with your dog during the training process. It can be a long process, and dog aggression isn't always completely reversible. Most of the time, it can be controlled. Just remember that your dog is relying on you for a happy, comfortable life, and that it may take time for him to show less aggressive behavior.  

These tips should help you to teach your pup non-aggressive behavior. Remember to seek help from a vet and a behavioral specialist to help you through the training process for the best results.

Also Read: Signs Of Aggressive Behavior In Dogs

Additional Sources: How to Stop Dog Aggression, PetWave

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Sep 15, 2012
by Anonymous
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This article is really just

This article is really just rehashing old wives tales. Lousy.

Sep 16, 2012
by Anonymous
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I am surprised that these

I am surprised that these dated and mistaken ideas are still being posted. Viewing dogs as "dominant" (while most bites are related to fear/self-defense or defense of resources) leads to more conflict and aggression, a downward spiral that ends up with an injured owner and a euthanized dog (see this abstract by Herron et al There are more rational approaches to dog behavior, including aggression, available for anyone to read. Please also see We can do better for both dogs and their frustrated owners! -- Ilana Reisner, DVM, PhD

Sep 16, 2012
by Anonymous
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Wow, these concepts have

Wow, these concepts have been disproven many times over, including the idea that tugging creates or encourages aggression or dominance. Too bad this blogger is 25 years behind current dog behavior theory.

Sep 16, 2012
by Anonymous
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Dominance is not a synonym

Dominance is not a synonym for aggression. Sounds like "petlady" needs to go back to school. To repeat this type of information is the worst form of ignorance - willful ignorance. This article belongs in the archive with information about the earth being flat and the sun and other planets revolving around the earth.

Sep 17, 2012
by Savanna Y Lujan
Savanna Y Lujan's picture
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Hi all, I'd like to

Hi all,

I'd like to apologize for referencing some incorrect information in the original article. The article has been updated to include more updated information regarding dog aggression.

Thanks to everyone who provided feeback and comments. They were very helpful and I very much appreciate your sharing your knowledge with me and the other readers on the site.

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