Aggression from dogs high in fight drive

Survival and self-preservation govern defense drive, which consists of both fight and flight behaviors. Defense drive is more complex than pack or prey because the same stimulus that can cause aggression (fight), can also elicit avoidance (flight) behaviors.

After they understand who's in charge, these dogs are terrific companions and protectors, great competition and show dogs, and a joy to own. As young dogs, they may start bucking for a promotion. You may see signs of aggression toward you when you want the dog to get off the furniture or in similar situations — when he doesn't want to do what you tell him.

If a puppy is allowed to grow up doing anything he likes and isn't given parameters for what he can and can't do, he'll assume that you're not strong enough to be the pack leader.

If you don't give your puppy strong, consistent guidance as to what he may and may not do, he'll develop a sense that you're a pushover. He'll try to take over. Full-fledged signs of aggression don't just suddenly occur. He'll give many warnings, from growling to lip lifting to staring at you. If you condone these behaviors and don't deal with them, your dog is on his way to becoming aggressive.

Buddy may also be aggressive toward other dogs. When meeting another dog, he'll try to dominate the other dog. The classic sign is putting his head over the shoulder of the other dog. The dog of lesser rank lowers his body posture, signaling that he recognizes the other dog's rank.

But when two dogs perceive each other as equal in rank, a fight may ensue. Left to their own devices, though, both dogs most often decide that discretion is the better part of valor. Both know that there are no percentages to fighting. They slowly separate and go their own way.

A true dogfight is a harrowing and horrifying experience, and most people prefer not to take the chance that it'll occur. Discover how to read the signs and take the necessary precautions by keeping the dogs apart. Dogs are no different from people: Not all of them get along.

Some owners inadvertently cause dogfights by maintaining a tight leash on the dog. A tight leash alters your dog's body posture, thereby giving an unintended aggression signal to the other dog. Maintain a loose leash when meeting another dog so you don't distort Buddy's body posture. And at the slightest sign of trouble, such as a hard stare from the other dog, a growl, or a snarl, happily call your dog to you and walk away. Happily calling is important because you want to defuse the situation and not aggravate it by getting excited. You want to switch the dog from fight drive into pack drive.

A female dog is entitled to tell off a male dog that's making unwanted advances. She may lift her lip, a signal for the male dog to back off. If the male doesn't take the hint, she may growl or snap at him. This behavior isn't aggression but perfectly normal dog behavior.


There can be a variety of triggers for aggression. Some of the more common ones are

^ Approaching the dog in a threatening manner ^ Hovering or looming over the dog ^ Staring at the dog ^ Teasing the dog ^ Telling him to get off the couch

^ Trying to take something out of his mouth (see the sidebar, "Taking something out of Buddy's mouth")

Taking something out of Buddy's mouth

Sometimes you'll have to take something out of piece of cheese or raw meat. As he reaches for

Buddy's mouth. It could be a chicken bone from the garbage or anything else inappropriate. Don't yell at him or chase him. He'll redouble his efforts to eat whatever it is. Try the "Leave it" command (see Chapter 8). If that doesn't work, try a trade. Offer him a fair trade, such as a it, of course, the chicken bone will drop out.

Remember: Never chase Buddy and corner him. Doing so destroys the very relationship you've been working so hard to achieve.

You can avoid some of these triggers altogether — like teasing him, staring at him, or hovering over him. Just don't do them. Other triggers, though, you need to deal with.


You have four ways to manage aggression triggered by fight drive.

Provide exercise and training

One way is to provide plenty of exercise and training. Exercise physically tires the body, and training tires the brain. In this situation, lack of mental stimulation gets the dog into trouble. Aim for two training sessions a day, each at least ten minutes long. If you keep to the same time schedule, you'll have a happy puppy.

Play tug of war

Another way is to expend the energy in this drive by playing a good game of tug of war. This game allows the dog to use up his timeframe of wanting to growl, tug, and bite. Instead of trying to suppress the behavior, dissipate its energy. The absence of an outlet for that energy, or efforts to suppress it, only makes matters worse.

Put aside ten minutes several times a week to play tug of war at the same time every day. Here's what you do:

1. Get a pull toy, a piece of sacking, or a knotted sock to use for the game.

2. Allow your dog to growl and bite the object and shake it.

3. Let him bring the object back to you to play again.

4. Be sure to let him win each and every time.

5. When he's had enough, or the ten minutes are up, walk away from this session with the dog in possession of the toy.

The game effectively discharges the energy and the timeframe in that drive. The game should be removed from regular training sessions and done when you and your dog are alone with no distractions. It's his time and his only. You'll be amazed at how satisfying the game is to your dog and at the calming effect it has on him.

Practice the Long Down

A third way to manage this type of aggression is with the Long Down (see Chapter 2). We can't emphasize enough the importance of this exercise. It's a benign exercise and establishes quite clearly who's in charge in a nonpunitive way. For dogs that express any kind of aggressive behavior, go back to this exercise and do a 30-minute Down, last thing at night, two or three times a week. It reinforces in your dog's mind that you're in charge. The Long Down and the tug-of-war game are simple solutions for the good dog that gets too pushy.

Use a muzzle

If your situation has reached the point where you're afraid of your dog, he tries to bite you, or you can't get him into the Down position, use a muzzle. You may also require professional help (see Chapter 20).

When you're nervous or anxious about what your dog may do if he encounters another dog or person, your emotions go straight down the leash, which can cause your dog to react in an aggressive manner. In a sense, your worries become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can solve this dilemma with the use of a muzzle.

A muzzle allows you to go out in public with your dog without having to worry about him. A strange thing happens to a dog while wearing a muzzle. After you've taken away his option to bite, he doesn't even try. It's almost as if he's relieved that the decision has been taken away from him. Even better,

A tug-of-war case in point

When we came up with this tug-of-war-is-good concept, we were teaching a class of students who were very advanced in their training. Many of them were training their second or third dog, and all were experienced competitors. They'd chosen dogs with a relatively high fight drive because they knew how well those dogs trained and how good the dogs looked in the show ring — bold and beautiful. But they had to live with the dogs' tendency toward aggressive behavior and always had to be careful in a class or dog show situation — when the dog was around other dogs.

For the entire eight-week session, they were told to put time aside daily to play tug of war with their dogs. By the third week, we already noticed a big difference in the dogs' temperaments. When together in class, the dogs became friendly toward each other, played more, and trained better, and they were perfectly well behaved when away from home.

it allows you to relax. On the other hand, although your dog acts differently, so will people you encounter. A muzzle should be a last resort and isn't a substitute for seeking professional help.

Using a muzzle is a simple solution to a complex problem. It takes the decision about whether or not to bite away from your dog and gives you peace of mind.

Training to a muzzle should be done slowly and gently because, at first, many dogs panic from having something around their faces. But with diligence, common sense, and some compassion for the dog, you can train him quite easily to accept it. Here's what you need to do:

1. Put the muzzle on your dog for a few minutes, and then take it off again.

2. Give him a treat, and tell him what a good boy he is.

3. Repeat Steps 1 and 2 over the course of several days, gradually increasing the length of time your dog wears the muzzle.

4. When he's comfortable wearing the muzzle at home, you can use it when you take him out in public.

In some European cities, ordinances have been passed that require certain breeds to wear muzzles in public. We've seen many of these dogs happily accompanying their owners on walks. They were well behaved and seemed to be quite comfortable with their muzzles.

Many owners are reluctant to use a muzzle because of the perceived stigma attached to it. You have to make a choice — stigma or peace of mind. Something else to think about: Suppose that your dog actually bites someone. When you have such a simple solution, why take the chance?

Dog Potty Training

Dog Potty Training

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