Here is my article on Fear Aggression in Dogs.
-Most aggression in dogs is fear based.
-Never punish a dog who is being fearful.
-Dogs only have fight, flight, or freeze as instinct responses.
-Some dogs genetically are much more prone to fear aggression.
-The most common fear aggression often begins during one of the crucial puppy imprint periods, around the time we are bringing our pup home.
A typical example of fear aggression would be a person walking their timid pup on leash, they see a stranger at a distance. The pup is fine at first, but quickly gets overwhelmed as the person rushes closer and then reaches over the pup’s head to pet them. The pup snaps at the oncoming hand, and the pup’s owner immediately apologizes to the stranger while petting the the pup saying “it’s okay, don’t be scared”....
In this scenario, the timid pup is on a leash so it cannot run- leaving their only choices of freeze and hope the person stops/retreats, or the fight option if they don’t. Dogs learn very quickly to do what benefits them, and then it often becomes habit.
Fear is by definition an emotion, so technically speaking we can validate - but not reinforce fear.
We can, however, redirect and reinforce the state of mind the dog is in- because dogs live in the now and learn by action.
People want to believe they are helping the fearful dog by comforting it, like they would a frightened child. The difference is dogs are not human children, and they cannot rationalize like humans can.
If we are in a worried state of mind when petting a frightened dog, they will pick up on our unbalanced energy. The petting will often be seen by the dog as praise, and we end up reinforcing the undesirable behavior they are doing at that moment.
By providing fearful dogs with consistently calm leadership and direction we will help guide them through their fears.
Training basic obedience, interrupting and redirecting their fear into a more positive activity, incorporating structure into their daily routine, and giving praise and reward at the appropriate time, dogs will learn coping skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Dogs can be socialized by just being near people. Other than by your Veterinarian and their staff, dogs don’t “need “ to be touched at all by strangers. Co existing comfortably around strangers and other dogs should be all that is expected.
If you do choose to allow a stranger to pet your fearful dog - have the person stand a few feet back, and allow the dog to go to them, instead of having the stranger charge right up and get in your dog’s face. This takes much of the pressure of flight or fight off the dog, as they now can visit on their terms, and build confidence from a positive experience.
ADVOCATE for your dog, this is an extremely important thing to do. Personal dogs are not public property.
Calmly explain your dog as fear aggression, and educate them on the subject. Often once the dog learns their human is advocating for them much of the reactivity stops.
Never touch a sleeping dog, startling a dog this way can easily cause or add to fear aggression. Call their name or whistle instead to waken the dog.
Absolutely no hugging of the fearful dog by a stranger. Being held tightly around the neck can be interpreted by the dog as a life threatening act, and they will respond accordingly. Many children are bitten in the face every year because of hugging another person’s dog.
Counter Conditioning the Fear Aggressive Dog:
Have a calm person work with you and your dog.
Let the dog go to them, instead of the other way around.
Have the person bend or sit down so they are not hovering over the dog, face the dog from the side instead of head on, and avoid staring directly into their eyes.
Instead of leaning over the dog to pet their head, have the person scratch under the dog’s chin or chest, this is much less threatening to a dog.
Reward the dog for good behavior, it will pay off.
Restraint training can be done gradually by the owner to help counter condition the dog by using the dog’s daily meals as rewards - the dog will eventually see hugging as more of a positive thing, instead of a fearful one.
For dog to dog aggression, please see my articles Two Dogs Meeting, Deterrents for Aggressive Loose Dogs, Structured Walks, Anxious/Nervous/Fearful Dogs, and training the OUT command- which is to fully disengage mentally from whatever the dog is looking at.
If you have a fear aggressive dog already, I would muzzle condition the dog so they are comfortable wearing a basket style muzzle until they are more at ease about meeting strangers. One bite can end a dog’s life, and be a huge financial liability for their owner.
More detailed dog training articles including Impulse Control exercises, the PLACE command, Bite Prevention, Muzzle Conditioning, Box Feeding, and Confidence Building exercises are available at my link below.
The site is open to the public and free of charge. ❤️🐺❤️
All of the above exercises are in detailed articles, plus one specificity on Lost Dog Recovery are available at my site below, which is open to the public and free of charge. ❤️🐺❤️
Kim Chappell is a dog trainer who loves animals and has created a Facebook page to address pet ownership and troubled pets.
About Kim Chappell
"All Basics - Dog Training was started because I wanted my friends and followers to have easy accessibility to my articles.
From puppy training to desensitizing and counter conditioning fearful dogs, there is something for everyone here. ❤️🐺❤️"