Our dogs have a way of filling our hearts and making our lives complete. But if they develop undesirable behaviors, they can become an annoying nuisance, or worse, a danger to themselves or others.
Although difficult dog behaviors like aggression, separation anxiety, and incessant barking are common, it’s important for dog owners to take them seriously by training their pups to become well-behaved members of the family.
It may seem unkind to give our loyal companions lots of rules, but the truth is, canines thrive with structure.
Also, keep in mind that when a pooch develops difficult-to-manage behaviors or annoying habits, they’re often rooted in fear and anxiety.
By training your pooch, you’re helping him manage stress, and when everyone gets along at home, both people and pets will be happier. And, don’t forget: Training can be fun!
Since dogs can’t talk, it can be tricky to figure out what’s going through their minds, and that’s where a professional comes in. We asked 169 dog trainers from around the world to give us their best advice on dealing with the most difficult dog behaviors, and they shared their tips below.
If you’re wondering how to work with a pooch that’s aggressive, has separation anxiety, or tends to bark nonstop, read on.
Why do dogs show aggression?
Like with most behaviors, the first step in managing dog aggression is to understand why he’s exhibiting this behavior, in the first place.
“Fear is the most common root of aggression,” explains Jody Karow of Go Anywhere Dog. “Fear is easy to install for dogs but can be very challenging to help them overcome.”
She concludes, “When we focus on helping our dogs past their fears, aggressive displays are much less likely to occur.”
Fear aggression in dogs is usually defensive, meaning that it’s a reaction to being triggered or provoked.
It can be caused by negative past experiences (perhaps with a person or another dog or animal) or lack of socialization. That’s because dogs who are not properly socialized are not used to being around different kinds of people (for example, young kids), other dogs, etc., and they are fearful of the unfamiliar.
Now, if you’re wondering how to socialize an aggressive dog, the best answer is to do so with a professional. If you attempt to bring an aggressive pooch around other people or pets without being properly prepared, it can easily result in a disaster.
It’s possible for dogs to be aggressive even when they’re not fearful. This can be a trained behavior, or learned, like in the case of a stray dog who acts offensively as a means of survival.
Aggressive Dog Breeds and Genetics
Some people think that there are aggressive dog breeds that inherently show this ugly behavior. The truth is, any animal can become aggressive under the right circumstances.
That said, certain dog breeds have genetic traits that make them more likely to become aggressive, especially if they end up with owners who don’t know how to handle them. These dogs need more structure and boundaries than others, otherwise, they will assume that they’re “alpha” dog.
“Sometimes genetics do play a role in a dog’s behavior, and just like with people,” says Melissa Vardy of Dog Training Now. “Most behaviors can be either corrected, or at the very least managed with the help of a professional, but people often want their dogs to be something they aren't. We frequently get asked if we can help a dog become a dog park or daycare dog ... Not every dog is a good fit for every environment, and that's okay!”
Remember that small dogs can be just as aggressive as big dogs. The major difference is that big breeds are stronger, harder to control, and can potentially cause more harm, so they’re more likely to receive a bad reputation.
Before adopting any dog, even a mutt, it’s important to do lots of breed research to see what kinds of traits will best fit your lifestyle. There are pups that tend to be mild-mannered, high-energy, couch potatoes, etc., and if their personalities fit yours, you’re less likely to deal with behavioral issues.
Aggressive Dog Behaviors
Aggression can manifest itself in many different ways.
There are lots of dog body language cues, and seeing a dog showing teeth, growling, displaying “whale eye,” or having raised hackles can indicate that he’s not feeling friendly and he should not be approached.
Some dogs are especially aggressive on-leash. That’s because they feel vulnerable; they may not be able to run or fight back to the best of their ability since they’re tied up.
Resource guarding in dogs can become apparent when a dog becomes protective over (what he considers) a high-value resource, like a toy, a treat, a bone, his food bowl, or even a human. It can lead to dangerous altercations, especially if there are children in the home.
If you’re wondering how to train a dog not to bite, resource guarding may be one of the main issues that need to be managed.
How to train an aggressive dog
No matter what triggers it, when it comes to aggressive behavior, it must be addressed, otherwise, someone is bound to get hurt eventually. As mentioned, it’s more complicated than learning how to stop a dog from biting, as that’s a symptom of the root cause.
But figuring out the source of the behavior, then creating a plan to modify it, is difficult to do, according to Sonya Wilson of Southpaws Playschool.
“Fear-based behaviors can get worse if the wrong techniques are used or if they are misinterpreted,” she warns. “It is so important to know what is really affecting the dog before trying to modify behavior. It's like a doctor's diagnosis--the wrong diagnosis can actually cause harm.”
David Levin of Citizen Hound agrees. “It's highly unlikely that dog-dog or dog-human aggression is going to change without a lot of change in your life,” he adds. “The skills required to combat it are simply too advanced for most owners, and often they don't have access to the types of training environments or setups that it takes to be effective.
How to Socializing a dog to prevent aggression
Trainers say that socialization is key, but if you’re wondering how to socialize an aggressive dog, the answer is with the guidance of a dog training professional. Unfortunately, this should not be attempted yourself, again, because a person or pet could get seriously injured.
The good news is that you can prevent aggression issues by socializing your pooch at a young age, if you get him as a puppy. Make sure he meets lots of different people and pets, and make sure he has positive experiences (if he gets traumatized, it could result in unwanted behavior down the road).
Have friends come over to play with him and give him treats, and invite their well-behaved companions, too; then, your dog will learn that making new friends is really fun!
“I think socialization is one of the most important behaviors to work on,” says Alan Baldwin of Legacy Dog Training LLC. “ A dog who is not socialized properly can exhibit a variety of issues to include aggression.
He continues, “When a dog is not socialized properly to people, [he] can become mistrustful of strangers. A dog who hasn't been properly socialized to other dogs can exhibit barrier aggression, where they snap, bark and growl at a fence and pace back and forth.”
He explains another potential problem. “Leash aggression can manifest through a lack of socialization. Lack of socialization can also cause a lack of confidence or manners when the dog is put into a group of new dogs.”
Dog Separation Anxiety
Dog separation anxiety is a common issue, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to address. Not only is it heartbreaking to know your pup is stressed while you’re gone, but he can also get destructive by chewing things like furniture or shoes, urinating on the carpet, or getting into the garbage can.
This is another case where it can be difficult to pinpoint the underlying cause, and a misinterpretation can easily make matters worse.
“Separation anxiety can be one of the most challenging issues for owners to address,” admits Sue Brown of The Light of Dog. “It’s often difficult for them to find a starting place since the behaviors display when the owner is gone. A professional with experience in this area can be invaluable.”
April Lott of Wigglebums Training adds, “Many owners do not understand that this problem necessitates that a dog not be left alone until they can gain the coping skill necessary to be alone without stress.”
It’s always best to consult with a professional if your pooch’s anxiety is severe or if he could hurt himself (for instance, if he’s a chewer or gets into things, he could ingest something dangerous).
But in mild cases, there are a couple of simple tricks you can try that could provide a dog anxiety solution:
- Play relaxing music or a podcast or audiobook while you’re gone.
- Don’t make a big deal about leaving (don’t coddle, say goodbye, etc.).
- Take your dog for a walk or have a play session before you leave to burn excess energy.
- “Practice” by leaving your dog home alone for short periods of time, then gradually increasing the length of your absence.
- Consider hiring a dog walker to break up long days alone or take him to dog daycare if he likes playing with other pups.
- Give your pooch a high-value reward when you leave, like a special treat; just make sure it’s not something that could be a choking hazard, like a rawhide bone.
Incessant Barking in Dogs
When you have a pooch, some dog barking is to be expected, but it can go from adorable to obnoxious when it becomes incessant.
By now, it should come as no surprise that the first step in learning how to stop a dog from barking is to figure out why he’s doing it in the first place.
Some reasons can include:
- Demand (they want something)
Again, misinterpreting the reason behind the behavior can make matters worse if you want to stop dog barking.
Angel Wasserman of Paws In Training shares a perfect example. “I once received a call from a potential new client,” she recalls. “Her friend (an existing client) gave her the training protocol I issued to address her dog’s barking.”
She continues, “The protocol didn’t work for her dog and she wanted to know why! The ‘why’ was because her dog was barking for a different reason then the other client’s dog. When we got to the root cause of why the new client’s dog was barking, we were able to apply the correct protocol for her problem.”
So, if you want to know how to train a dog not to bark, he must be evaluated on an individual basis by a professional.
We consider our pets part of the family, and training them to be well-behaved members of the household can mean the difference between living in chaos and living in harmony. When your pooch knows how to behave appropriately and understands what’s expected of him, you’ll be able to peacefully co-exist -- and, believe it or not, he’ll be a lot happier, too!
When it comes to properly training your pet, especially with difficult dog behaviors, hiring a professional trainer is key. They can help you pinpoint the issue, communicate with your companion, and modify his behavior so the two of you can form a bond that’s stronger than ever.