Sunday, 4 March 2012

Managing Your Reactive Dog

The Importance of Management
Anyone that claims or even subtly implies that he/she can get your dog "fixed" or "cured" of its aggression is trying to sell you on his services.

It is much more realistic to start with the idea that you may not be able to cure his aggression, but with proper treatment and training you may be able to control your dog's aggressive tendencies, and reduce the behaviour. This means that managing your dogs behaviour in order to prevent any possible "incidents" is essential.

Apply the management and safety planning according to what your dog reacts to.
Avoid what sets your dog off

If your dog growls when you pet him on top of his head, don't pet him on top of his head!! If your dog growls at others, keep him away from others.

Desensitization and other techniques may be needed for many aggressive problems, but you need to know exactly how to do this for your particular dog. Until then, there is no point is setting your dog off. That goes for any of your dog’s aggression problems. The more your dog lunges at your neighbour’s dog, the more you strengthen and encourage that response, and the more difficult it will be to undo that reaction. You must try to prevent all aggressive outbursts or situations completely.


Invest in a crate. If you don’t normally use one and feel guilty, reassure yourself that a crate is actually similar to a den, and dogs can eventually feel safe in there. Decorate it with blankets or whatever else will make you feel better about it. It is the ideal thing when you need a break from your dog or need to protect guests. However, it should not be used for more than a few hours at a time. Trainers who rely on excessive crating to "cure" aggression, could be relying on a psychological condition similar to "learned helplessness" or depression.

A crate ought to be a safe den for the dog. Ask guests to ignore the dog when the dog is in there. Otherwise, move your dog to room where children can’t open it. Put a sign on the door for adults. Don’t rely on a baby gate. Dogs have been known to jump them, or chew through them. The benefit of a crate is that you can have your dog in the same room with you. Note: excessive crating can cause more behavioural problems


If your dog is likely to bite you or anyone else who might have to deal with it at anytime, keep a lead on it, even in the house. See headcollars in combination with leads below. It’s possible to purchase lightweight cloth leads, and snip the handle so that it doesn’t catch on anything while your dog is allowed to roam free within your house. This will allow you grab the lead instead of its collar or its body if you need to pull your dog away from anything. It will allow you to avoid getting to close to those teeth. Note: Tethering of animals may expose them to increased stress and danger.

Muzzles, head collars and harnesses

If your dog is likely to bite, you should consider investing in a muzzle now. Don’t assume that your dog will behave appropriately with a muzzle, however. A muzzle will do nothing to prevent aggressive behaviour. A muzzle will only prevent a bite. You should also condition your dog to wear it so they feel comfortable wearing it.

A head collarmay be useful (ask your trainer). This is not a muzzle. Your dog can still breathe, drink, eat, even bite if not controlled, but it makes control easy, and it is easy to prevent a bite simply by pulling on the lead.

Harnesses will not prevent biting and if the dog is aggressive it could be dangerous reaching around the neck to fit the harness. However, it is good for dogs that pull or lunge and the no-pull front attach harnesses offer more of a humane control for dogs with short snouts, where head halters won't work or where the dog hates wearing a head collar.


Freedom (off lead activity)

Freedom is tricky. As humans we believe that our dogs should be free to roam as they please. We avoid using crates, leashes, etc. But ask yourself; are you avoiding the use of tools like those mentioned above because of guilt or laziness? If so, reconsider what kind of threat your dog poses to others. You will feel much worse if your decisions result in your dog causing enough harm to have it put down. Remember, if your dog is behaving aggressively, whatever is provoking the aggression is also stressful to your dog.

Sometimes dog-aggressive dogs benefit from having more exercise if they are the kind of breed that needs a lot and they are not getting enough. A dog aggressive dog does not need to make friends. If you want your dog to get running exercise, consider getting it a long lead, and taking it to an area where you will not meet other dogs, or walk your dog with a head collar and lead.

Similarly a dog that is aggressive towards people should not be free to growl or snap at people, even strangers. Don't take any chances. It’s far better to be cautious then to need to put your dog down because you thought it "might be okay".

  • Invest in muzzles and/or head collars.
  • Under no circumstances should you dog ever be given the opportunity to escape. If the door is going to be opened, always put your dog on a lead secured to something; put him in a crate or another room.
  • Ensure strangers coming to the house will not have to confront your dog however accidentally.
  • Make sure your garden fences and gates are well secured. If your dog escapes anyway, you will be held liable.
  • Examine any open space your dog is allowed to run in, and make sure there is no danger of anyone or anything accidentally coming into this space. Don't assume that is you are there you can ask people not to come in. Sometimes they will not listen or believe your dog is a threat. If you are at all unsure, use a long lead, and a muzzle.
  • Check your leads, collars, etc. will not break.
  • Never ever leave a young child alone with any dog.
  • Always keep your dog in another seperate area of your home when there are other people who may potentially get bitten.
  • Use a locking mechanism or hook on the doors of rooms and crates, where people cannot accidentally invade your dog’s space.
  • Children have been known to open the doors of dog crates even when asked not to, so it is best to keep your dog in an area where children are not tempted.
  • Children may gain unauthorized access to a fenced area where your dog is kept. Never leave your dog outside without supervision.
  • Get stuck in to training your dog so when your management accidentlaly fails (it probably will at some stage) your dog will be better equiped for the situation they may find themselves in.

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