Living with An Aggressive Dog

Living with Aggressive Dog / Aggressive Behaviors

Living with aggressive dog issues is not easy.  In my years of fostering, and now as a trainer I have seen more than my share of dog fights and dog bites to humans.  Though possible, it’s rare, that it is out of the blue.   There are generally many indicators of potential risk and many warnings from the dog – long before a bite or attempted bite occurs. These issues do not get better on their own. Left unchecked, they escalate.  Ignoring these behaviors is dangerous for everyone involved.   It is never easy.

If you are accepting the responsibility of living aggressive dog behavior who has the potential to bite (and they all do) or a history of aggression, there are many things to keep in mind.

These are just a few of my thoughts and discussions we will have with clients:

Body Language:

Get to know your dog’s body language. Understand it. Respect it. Listen to it.

Put your own body language, tone of voice and energetic presence in check. Learn to control your own anxiety, your own fear, and the energy you add to the equation. Learn to relax and know that your muscle memory and leadership will kick in when it matters (after you’ve practiced these skills many times, tested scenarios, and created many successes)


Obedience, Obedience and More Obedience.  Everyday.

Go after all the small skills will help the dog adjust to your leadership. If you can’t fix the little things, you stand little hope of fixing the big stuff or getting the dog to even hear you and comply when the stakes really matter.

Embrace your dog’s breed instincts and use those inherent skills for training, game play, and exercise.   Give him a productive outlet for energy.

Address underlying insecurities and fears through confidence building exercises, desensitization work or counter-conditioning work when needed.

Address highly adrenalized,  overly excited dogs – teach them relaxation techniques and lots of duration work to address their state of mind.   Arousal is the enemy.

Implement non-negotiable household rules.   Create structure and leadership.

Balance affection – noting that affection and freedom will derail your efforts far faster than structure and leadership will improve them. That’s not to say don’t love and nurture your dog.   Quite contrary – but it needs to be earned through working for affection, working for game plan, working for food, working for relaxation, and nurturing the changes you want to see in your dog. Spoiling and giving away everything to them gives them more authority than they should have.


100% Adult Awake Attentive Alert Supervision is required at all times dog is around possible triggers.   Visitors, Other dogs, In the Yard, etc.

Never leave a kid, including a teenager to be responsible for the dog. If the dog is not kid friendly, you may need to look at rehoming the dog.   If multiple dogs are not able to coexist together, one may have to be rehomed for safety of everyone involved.

Remember even adults don’t listen and will break the rules.

Crate and Rotate

It’s difficult but not impossible.   But you must give time to each dog to ensure they get plenty of exercise, daily training (feeding time is a great way to do this) and where appropriate leashed/tethered & muzzled for duration work during family time.

Not All Dogs Need To Be In Public

It may mean no one pets your dog and that there are no doggie greetings & dog friends.   It may mean all exercise happens at home in your fenced yard and the dog is crated when any guest arrives – or boarded when visitors stay for the weekend.   It may mean you can’t take your dog to PetSmart. It may mean for any outings or visitors that your dog must be muzzled. There is no shame in a muzzled dog.

Ideally, these things are temporary safety protocols for you and your dog to learn to work together – to practice experiences until new habits are formed.

Accidents Happen / Management Fails

Triggers are ever present.   There is no such thing as a child-free or dog-free environment.   They live all around us.   And as I have learned over the years – even adults don’t often listen to us when we tell them to leave the dog alone. We are all human and make mistakes in safety protocols.

Never say “just this once we won’t…… “

Don’t skimp on quality of your gates, crates and fencing. Secure them well.   Add zip ties to the crate wall structures and a leash clip or carabineer to the crate door(s).     Check your fencing weekly and after every storm for damage.

Add safety latches to interior doors when visitors or children are present.  Crate the dog for added safety.

Double check everything if a possible trigger is present.

Never leave children – even teenagers to be responsible for the dog(s).


Expectations after Rehab Training   (For our Clients)

Training can & does work. But it’s not magic. And it is unlikely to be permanent unless you continue the effort with consistency, structure, leadership and a new daily way of life.   Your goals must be realistic and your commitment must be ever present.   Diligence is critical.

At the core of the equation is an animal. Not a furbaby.   Spoiling your dog will not be helpful.

No training program can test every scenario.   But it can create a solid foundation of communication, obedience, calmer state of mind and better decision making.

Even the best new skills take a while to become new habits.   Work on on the skills and relationship with your dog everyday.    If you get lazy, regroup, reboot and tune-up as needed.

Before you bring the dog back – get the house in order.   Crates, gates, fencing, and any other safety protocols.   Prepare yourself for the new rules you need to put into place.   And prepare your dog to test you and challenge the changes.

If you have other dogs at home, work with them on the fundamentals while your dog is with us.   If you have children, spend the needed time educating the child for age appropriate interactions.

After your dog returns from training with us you must run a minimum boot camp at home for a minimum of 30 days to establish your own leadership with the dog and set the tone of the new rules of the house. Some dogs will take longer to overcome years of bad behavior.   You will be given an outline.

You must establish a confident leadership and set very clear rules and expectations.   You must set non-negotiable rules. And you must disagree quite strongly with any inappropriate demonstration of aggression… this may mean a very uncomfortable correction. For yes, this is a behavior we want to never happen again. We will discuss this in your go-home lesson.

When you go home, don’t rush into outings, visitors, or introductions to other dogs.   Follow instructions carefully. Implement the routine and structure you need. Build your new relationship with the dog.   Let him get settled at home before exposing him to any new stimuli.

Muzzle up. Read Body Language. Supervise.

If you are reintroducing your dog to another dog – take your time.   Follow the pack introduction guide on our blog, and slow down. There is plenty of time.

When timing is right – and that means the obedience with you is solid, the structure is in place and you have adjusted to the new way of life… then begin proofing skills at home.   Setup scenarios & run dress-rehearsals.   Follow the training protocols that have been taught to you.   Troubleshoot at each level of progress before advancing to the next.   If anything is questionable – ask for help.

Schedule time – actual reminders on your digital calendar to check in with your dog on his training and obedience. If we are doing our job well, you will forget your dog had behavioral issues – and may be lazy in your training.   Don’t.

Just like you need to keep your own health in order, you must keep your dog’s physical and mental health in order.   If he’s a working dog breed, you need to work him, several times a week. At minimum, you must run training drills often as a tune-up.   When the stakes are high you want muscle memory to kick in and take over for you both.   It won’t if the machine is not highly tuned.

I can lay the foundation – but your dog is with me only 3-4 weeks. It’s up to you to manage the lifetime.   We will be here if you need help with the tune-ups… but maintenance is up to you.

Accept the fact that this may be “as good as it gets”.   Meaning your dog may never enjoy young children or other dogs.   He may learn to tolerate, but not enjoy and that’s a recipe for disaster if you push to far.   If this is the case, consider boarding you dog when visitors are there.   

Our training is contingent on partnership with you.   It will only be successful with your commitment.

Hire a good trainer to help coach you — while you and the dog learn new skills together and to trust the process and the skills.