How to Train an Aggressive Dog

Trying to train a dog with an aggressive attitude can be a frustrating endeavor, but it is one well worth undertaking. It takes patience both in terms of introducing new training concepts a little at a time as well as in repeating these concepts over and over until they become learned behavior.

As your dog adapts to their training, make sure they know that they are doing a good job by rewarding them with verbal praise, treats, or a favorite toy. If they are unsuccessful at a specific task, do not punish them with any physical contact or they will see aggression as a legitimate response for when things go wrong. Instead, correct their behavior by speaking to them gently and having them repeat the training.

Beginning the process of training an aggressive dog can start simply. When they react in a non-aggressive way in any situation, you can give them verbal praise and a reward like petting. This will start to reinforce that non-aggression gets rewarded. However, your aggressive dog will
also need to be trained specifically depending on where their aggression arises.

For an example, let’s say that every time your dog sees a can of food, they begin to growl. Perhaps they are reacting to some remembered resource shortages from their past. How can you train your dog to be less aggressive? When your dog’s possessiveness over certain items has become aggressive, have them practice “letting things go.” No, not in a therapy session, but in a training session.

At first give them a toy they may not like so much. After they pick it up, tell them to drop it and offer them a treat or a more favored toy. As you repeat the action, also repeat “drop it” until they respond to the word by dropping the item they are holding even without the reward. This training will help your dog become less protective over items that they showed possessiveness toward.

What about if your dog greets everyone with a bear hug, regardless of the visitor’s own enthusiasm? You will want to train them to be calmer as certain visitors like small children or grandparents may not handle such an aggressive greeting well. To handle this situation, you can teach your dog how to respond to “sit” by using a treat, holding it close to your dog’s nose, and then raising it over their head.

This action will get your dog to lower their backside down, but if it does not go all the way to the ground you can use your hand to ease it the rest of the way down. When their backside contacts the ground, say “sit,” and then offer them the treat.

Along with teaching them “sit” and “down,” you will also want to train your aggressive dog to greet visitors in other ways. Teach them to shake hands or high five instead. When you are training an aggressive dog you will constantly need to not only try to erase aggressive behavior but replace it with acceptable behavior.

Remember that as you train your aggressive dog, aggression can arise for a myriad of reasons. It can be territorial, fear-based, or conditioned into the dog over food or other resources. You will want to find the source of your dog’s aggression and then try to recondition them based
around those triggers or situations.

As you learn more about your dog, you can reintroduce triggers at lower intensities so they become accustomed to reacting to them in a less aggressive manner. Continue to reward them if they react without aggression but, if they react aggressively, move the trigger further away.

Learn more about caring for your dog with “6 Ways to Bond With Your Dog” and “5 Awesome Dog Bonding Exercises”.

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