4 Steps to Train an Aggressive Dog
The majority of dogs I have seen suffering from aggression issues were poorly socialized during the sensitive socialization period, or, worse yet, they were not socialized at all.
I have seen many Rottweilers left inside until after 16 weeks of age because the owners were worried about their possible susceptibility to the Parvo virus. In recent years I have seen the same thing with Pitbulls, and in the region I live in some Fila Brasileiros are never let outside of their yards.
What is the only possible way that you can help these dogs? They need to get out and be exposed to new sights and sounds. The more they are taken out, the more likely they are able to get over their shyness and aggression. If you have chosen to work with an aggressive dog, however, there are some special precautions you need to take.
When walking him outside, around other pets or people, your dog should be muzzled if you cannot be 100% sure of your control. The muzzle needs to be secure but should be of the “basket” type to allow him to breathe comfortably.
Also make sure you always use two leashes when walking your dog. The second leash should be of the “slip” type, and even if you do not use it to control the dog it should be kept attached to your left wrist. The main leash should be held in the right hand at all times. If the main leash breaks, your dog will still be under control.
Take as much time training the dog in a confined area as is necessary. I am a fan of hand signals and expect all dogs I work with to respond to both oral and visual cues; dogs should learn all basic commands like sit, down, stay, and come. All aggressive come 100% of the time before being taken for a walk.
It is also a good idea to spend some time teaching the aggressive dog a safety word before he is ever walked outside of a confined area. There are no guarantees when working with dogs, but if trained properly this word will give you the best chance of calling your dog when he is in an aggressive mode.
Things to do before walking an aggressive dog
Attach two leashes
Use a basket muzzle
Practice/review all obedience commands
Teach a safety word
The safety word
What is a safety word?
A safety word is a special command that you can use when calling your dog. It is similar to the “come” command, but unlike that word it is rarely spoken during a normal session.
I use the safety word “touch”. When the dog hears this word and sees the hand command, he knows that he needs to come close to me and place his muzzle against my hand. I give the treat every single time, but only at that time.
If your dog responds to treats, the best way to teach a safety word is to say the command, give the hand signal, and give a treat every single time you call the dog with his safety word.
How was the safety word developed?
The first safety word that I am aware of was used when training seeing eye dogs for the blind. The word “touch” was given and the dog learned to place his muzzle against the blind person´s fingers. Even if the person could not see the dog when called, the touch allowed them to know exactly where the dog was at.
Using the safety word with an aggressive dog is different. When the dog is calm, he should be so accustomed to hearing the word that if he lunges, either at a person or another dog, the “touch” command should call him back and allow you to regain control.
This is the type of muzzle I use when working with an aggressive dog. It allows him to breathe normally during training, and after the dog has calmed down will even allow him to take treats for a more positive training experience.
Training the aggressive dog
Teaching and using the safety word.
When the aggressive dog is in his enclosed yard and going through his regular obedience training, start using the safety word. Every time you use the word, give him a special treat—do not give a treat erratically, like you would with most other commands.
Practice the safety word several times during the session, but always with the dog on a leash. The dog should never learn that it is okay to ignore this command.
When you take the dog out for his first socialization session, use the safety word even when you do not need it. (This is so that both of you will remember to use it.)
Is teaching a safety word enough to control an aggressive dog?
Not at all. All dogs, especially aggressive animals, need to be taught all basic obedience commands. As part of your obedience training, a safety word should be taught so that it is available in times of emergency.
Even though it is not enough, training your aggressive dog to reply to safety word should be an important part of his total obedience training. If you obedience train your dog but are still not able to control him, please seek professional assistance.
If he ends up biting a person or attacking another dog, he may end up being killed by your local judge. Prevent that by teaching him a safety word.
More About Aggressive Dogs
All dogs should be taught to obey hand signals. Make sure that hand signals are part of the normal routine when working with your aggressive dog.
Questions & Answers
My two-year-old pitbull is aggressive when people are walking towards me. What can I do?
There are several things you can try. The first would be to put your dog in a sit-down position everytime someone approaches. I realize you cannot do this if you're walking in a busy area. The second is to practice avoidance, but again this may not be possible where you are walking. You can also have people you know walk towards you and toss the dog a very good treat so that he sees strangers coming towards you as less threatening. This takes a lot of time, and you need to have a lot of friends that the dog does not know, but you have the best chance of him getting over this with this technique. If you want to do more reading on these training methods, I have an article at http://hubpages.com/dogs/dog-to-dog-aggression, but it is mostly about dog-to-dog aggression, which is what I see most commonly.
No matter what you do, your dog might get away from you someday, and if he bites someone, the authorities will take him away and may even decide to kill him. To avoid problems always walk him with a muzzle. Keep him in a good harness so that he cannot take off on his own.
© 2014 Dr Mark