If you have a fear aggressive dog, you’ve most likely read plenty on the subject and tried several techniques to make it stop. You’ve probably also received plenty of unsolicited advice on how to alter your dog’s behavior. But what if you think you did everything right? Or in my case, what if your fear aggressive dog went through the same training as your well- behaved, non-fear aggressive dog who is now, at 11-years-old, the poster dog for sweetest dogs ever magazine? A puppy’s early experiences and inherited personality play a huge part in shaping his behaviors later on. I have a five-year-old fear aggressive border/mini Aussie mix whose anxious mother rejected him and his litter mates.
I first noticed Bleu’s fearful personality when he was just a few months old. We were playing with a dog at the park when a young girl rode her bicycle toward him. I asked her not to do it when I saw how scared he was. Unfortunately, I asked the wrong girl (or the wrong way). The more I asked her not to ride toward him, the more she did it. I finally picked him up and left the park, but that incident seems to have had a lasting effect.
Here are a few of the things Bleu is afraid of: children; bicycles; the mailman; the vet;
strollers; motorcycles; runners; dogs; people he’s never met; any loud noises such as fireworks and low-flying airplanes. We are actively working with Bleu to keep him calm(er). He’ll never be an easy going chill dog, but we want to give him the best life possible.
Here are a few things you can try to help your pup overcome fear aggression:
• Figure out what triggers your dog’s aggressive behaviors and find ways to avoid them as much as possible.
• Expose your dog to things they show fear toward. Start small, with one thing at a time. Show them the scary thing from a safe distance and reward them for not reacting with fear. Slowly bring the scary thing closer for longer periods while rewarding your dog with treats.
• Get your dog used to looking at you on command. This will help them look to you for cues on how to react. It's surprising how much they pick up on from us even when we think we’re not showing emotion. Most dogs can read their owner’s body language very well.
• Turn away from the scary thing and yawn. Staying calm can also help calm your dog.
• Exercise your pup. A lack of exercise and pent up energy can contribute to fear reactions. I did agility training with both my dogs. It's a great activity for dogs who need plenty of mental and physical exercise. A tired dog is a good dog.
• In severe cases of fear aggression, or when you anticipate a stressful time for your pet, such as before fireworks on July 4, New Year’s Eve, or a visit to the vet, medication can help reduce your dog’s anxiety. This should always be under veterinary supervision.
• Ask people who interact with your dog to follow your rules. People who think they know better than you are likely to reverse your dog’s progress, or get bit.
• When approaching a fearful dog, you should squat down, turn sideways, and avoid eye contact. Stretch out your open hand to them, staying low to the ground allowing them to sniff it.
• Provide them with a safe place they can hide when they’re afraid.
I would love to hear your experiences with fear aggression.