As a dog trainer, I sometimes get clients who are concerned about their new dog's aggressive tendencies. This can be a big concern, because it calls into question whether your new dog can normally interact with other people and dogs. A family may also be upset because they no longer feel as safe. They may also believe that the aggressive behaviors are a sign of bad breeding or a dog with psychological issues.
However, aggressive tendencies are often misunderstood, and it's likely not related to your dog's breed, nor is it because of psychological problems.
Often, what's happening is that owners are teaching or reinforcing aggressive behavior without even realizing it. It's critical to be aware that a puppy may be using aggressive behaviors as a way to get the desired outcome (by manipulating the owners).
An example of accidentally reinforcing an aggressive behavior could be: your puppy is on your couch, you try to get the puppy off the sofa and the puppy growls, and so you leave the puppy there.
What next happens is that the puppy grows up, and this behavior has become hardwired into adulthood. While it may have felt innocent or even cute when the dog was small and fluffy, the adult version of the puppy growling from the couch is now threatening and scary.
If you own a puppy, this is the best time to nip these behaviors in the bud, before they develop.
In a situation where a puppy is trying to control its owner through growling or acting aggressive, the best thing to do in such a situation is to pretend you are not even acknowledging the growl, and then you simply take the puppy off the couch. This way the puppy learns that growling doesn't work.
Keep in mind that most puppies out there are either trying to get some type of result from their aggression, or they have fear-aggression. You will very rarely encounter a puppy (or an adult dog) that is dominant-aggressive.
Below is a list of some of the common ways a puppy may appear to be aggressive:
Biting at your hand when trying to take a toy.
Biting or growling when taking away food.
Biting at your hand when putting on a collar or leash.
Aggressively rushing at house guests who enter.
Acting aggressive inside the crate.
Growling, barking or snapping if given a command.
Aggression toward other dogs.
If Your Dog is an Adult
Aggression issues are more complex for adults, and may require the expertise of an experienced trainer. The reason for this is that, unlike when your dog is a puppy, actual safety issues become a concern.
As previously mentioned, it's unlikely your dog is dominant-aggressive. More likely than not, if your adult dog is growling from the couch, you can just boot her off and treat her in the same way as you would a puppy.
However, in the rare event your dog has legitimate aggressive-dominant tendencies, then you must handle the situation more carefully.
Again, it's best to talk to a professional who can more quickly determine whether your dog poses any actual threat. It's not recommended to try to diagnose this situation by yourself.
Author: Nathan Schoemer
Editor: Cyrus Kirkpatrick