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Q&A: What Can I Do About My Older Dog's Aggression?

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

If your dog is aggressive toward visitors, you should work to correct the problem immediately. Failure to do so could lead to expensive consequences.

If your dog is aggressive toward visitors, you should work to correct the problem immediately. Failure to do so could lead to expensive consequences.

How Do I Train My Dog Not to Be Aggressive Towards Visitors?

"Our lab/pit mix is 9 years old and has never been trained. I inherited him from my son, and he has grown to be very protective of me. I call him Poogie Boy. He's only been an indoor dog, and I'm 73 years old with health problems, so I am unable to get him out for exercise. Recently my son has started taking him out early in the morning before he goes to work, and he sure loves it, but the rest of the time he stays in with me. He's very loving, but I've noticed that throughout the day he becomes very restless, jumping from one chair to another and watching everything going on outside.

Unfortunately, when people come to see me, he barks at them (even the ones he knows), so it takes him a while to settle down to make sure he doesn't bite them, and then he has to check them out after they sit down. After that's done, everything goes well until they get ready to leave and then he turns into a dog that will bite—you just can't control him at all.

To avoid this problem, I have to take him to the back door before they stand up to leave, and they can't act like they are going to leave. He just doesn't want anyone to leave after they arrive, so this is really a big problem for me. He will become a totally different dog, becoming vicious and nearly attacking them!

I don't have any idea what makes him this way. I have had him for two years, and my son told me that he was the same way when he had him. He got him as a young puppy at 6 weeks old, but he never trained him in any way. I know he should have started when he was a young puppy, but is there anything I can do about this now?" —Florence

Tips on Reducing Aggression in Your Senior Dog

There are a lot of things you might do to make your dog less aggressive around visitors. I will outline them, but I realize that you may not be able to do all of them because of your health issues.

Make Sure He Gets Plenty of Exercise

Getting out of the house and going for a long walk several times a day is the best thing for a dog's mental health. Tired dogs have a lot less energy, sleep more, and are less likely to be aggressive.

He is a big dog and needs to go out for at least an hour three times a day. (If this is not possible, look into purchasing a dog backpack. You can add water bottles so that he becomes tired more quickly, but he needs to be walked twice a day at the least.)

Look Into Obedience Training

Poogie Boy is not too old to learn. When he is obedience trained, you will be able to put him in a down/stay next to you when visitors come over and he will not be allowed to get up and approach a visitor.

If he is not dog aggressive, there are inexpensive training classes at pet superstores, but you may end up needing to consult a professional trainer since he's an older dog. Please start calling around right away. This is very important and will be worth the investment.

Emphasize Socialization When Out for a Walk

Although he is past his sensitive socialization period, he should still be socialized with strangers when out for a walk each day. Some dogs develop a fear of strangers and will get over it if socialized enough.

Talk to your son about this and find out if there is a dog park nearby or somewhere else he could meet new people.

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Set Clear Boundaries

Jumping up on the couch is considered by some to be dominant behavior. That is now considered to be very controversial, but there are certain rules that you can follow that will help him behave better at home. Here are a few rules I would establish right away.

  • Stop letting him up on all of the furniture.
  • Feed him once a day when you have already eaten.
  • Only show him affection when you call him to you, not any time he demands it.

Establishing those rules will make him better behaved and may make him more willing to listen to the commands you learn at obedience training (like down/stay).

Enforce Time-Outs

This is related to boundaries. Some dogs start to think of the home as an area they need to guard and will threaten or even attack any invader, even when they are a visitor you have invited over.

One thing you can do is to call him over and send him to a separate area for a few minutes so that he is forced to be outside of your presence. Dogs are very social animals and want to be with us.

Note: This is not the best solution on the list, since it is possible that he will develop enmity towards visitors because of this; the best option is to get obedience training and tell him to down/stay as soon as someone new is in the room.

Try Using Calming Pheromones

This is not a therapy for his aggression towards strangers, and I do not want you to think it is. (1) What appeasing pheromones can do is help calm him during the day since you describe him as being very restless.

If your son can take him on longer walks and make sure that he is tired each morning, this may not even be necessary, but it is something you can try later if needed.

Keep Vaccinations Current

There is always the possibility that something can go wrong, so I hope that you keep Poogie Boy's rabies vaccination current. If he were to bite someone and it were reported your local animal control, they would take him in and put him in quarantine for at least 10 days.

Boarding at animal control can be expensive, and worse still, the visitor might decide to sue you.

Source

  1. Kim YM, Lee JK, Abd el-aty AM, Hwang SH, Lee JH, Lee SM. Efficacy of dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) for ameliorating separation-related behavioral signs in hospitalized dogs. Can Vet J. 2010 Apr;51(4):380-4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2839826/

This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Dr Mark

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