Dog Aggression Basics with Karen Chapdelaine CPDT-KA | Pupford
July 19th, 2023
Filed under Podcasts
Aggression is one of the scariest topics out there. And as a pup parent, it can be really difficult to know what is actually aggression and what is, well… a dog being a dog.
In this episode, I’ll be interviewing Karen Chapdelaine about some basics of dog aggression.
INTRODUCTION OF KAREN
I specialize in working with reactive and aggressive dogs.I have been working with dogs professionally for almost 6 years now. I am the proud guardian of an eight year old reactive German Shepherd named CJ.
CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed), DN-CET (DogNostic Canine Enrichment Technician), Fear Free Certified, AKC CGC Evaluator
CONNECT WITH KAREN
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OVERVIEW OF DOG AGGRESSION BASICS
If you think your dog is starting to show signs of aggression, consult a professional dog trainer.
Do not leave it up to chance, some random person on the internet, or any old neighbor who thinks they know what to do…
Find a positive reinforcement based trainer in your area who has expertise in aggression cases that can help you with your dog’s specific situation!
Karen specializes in working with reactive and aggressive dogs. She has been working with dogs professionally for almost 6 years now. She is the proud guardian of an eight year old reactive German Shepherd named CJ.
Karen also has acquired the following certifications; CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed), DN-CET (DogNostic Canine Enrichment Technician), Fear Free Certified, and AKC CGC Evaluator.
Defining aggression can be difficult because many of the “signs” of aggression can in some cases be normal dog behavior. But in most cases, you’ll see things like baring teeth, growling, biting, raised hackles, and other similar dog body language signs.
And on that note, it’s important to emphasize that what you might think is aggressive behavior is actually normal dog behavior. So again, consult a professional dog trainer!
Aggression can also be defined as behaviors used by your dog to help create space from situations that they don’t want to be involved in.
In most instances, aggression is fear based but sometimes there are cases where your dog just wants to inflict pain on another animal or person.
Whether your dog is being aggressive towards other dogs or humans, the signs and actions are mostly the same.
Dog to dog aggression is typically more common than dog to human cases.
As mentioned before, many ‘aggressive’ behaviors can also be normal dog behavior. So drawing the line can be challenging, just another reason why it is best to get a professional involved.
One common sign that the behaviors are aggression and not normal behavior is the frequency of the common things like snarling, snapping, raised hackles, etc..
In most instances, resource guarding is a completely normal dog behavior, especially in the beginning.
Of course, if it is something that continues to escalate and happen frequently, it can turn into aggressive behavior.
One thing that can help reduce resource guarding is to not get into the habit of always taking things away from your dog. Of course, it is important to train your dog how to be okay with something being taken away, but it shouldn’t be the norm.
When it comes to changes in our dog’s behavior, it’s important to rule out any medical issues first and foremost. Some dogs will start to exhibit some signs of aggression just because they have a pain or illness that we may not be aware of.
It can be difficult to know exactly why dogs become aggressive, but it’s important to remember that aggression is often done because a dog is uncomfortable with a situation.
Again, work with a professional trainer to help make more sense of your dog’s potential aggression.
First off, it’s important to take a deep breath and not start to blame yourself or beat yourself up over potential “bad” behavior.
Our dogs are complex creatures and there can be a lot of factors that lead up to aggressive behavior. It’s important to look at the whole picture! Did your dog step on a rock, did they get barreled into by another dog, were there other stressors in their environment, etc.
Although growling can be a piece of the aggression puzzle, it is also a very common behavior among dogs. It can actually be ‘polite’ behavior between dogs.
An important thing to remember about any dog body language is to look at the entire picture.
Raised hackles for example can be a sign of aggression, but it can also be a sign of over excitement. So again, you’ve got to look at the whole picture and not just one small moment in time.
Specifically you can see the commissures (think of the corners) of your dog’s mouth being pulled back very tightly. Additionally, their whisker beds will become very prominent and you’ll often see a change in their ears. For most breeds they will tuck back their ears and also get really wide eyes.
This can be a common sign of aggression or aggression about to occur. But again, those don’t always equal aggression, so you have to look at the whole picture.
First things first, you should get a professional dog trainer involved. If you think your dog is being aggressive, consult a professional.
Many trainers will start by brushing up on the basics of your dog training, how you’ve trained in the past, etc.. It is also a good first step to brush up on thresholds and start to understand our dog’s thresholds in their surroundings and life.
The biggest mistake pup parents make when it comes to aggression is trying to go at it alone. Again, get the help of a professional trainer who has experience working with aggression cases (do you see a trend here?)!
Above all, NEVER look for quick fixes. Those often come in the forms of punishment based training like e-collars, choke chains, etc. and will almost always end up creating more problems than the one you may currently have for aggression.
Quick fixes are NOT an option for aggression cases. Period.
Aversives (e-collars, choke chains, punishment, etc.) are not designed to teach our dogs what we want them to do. Rather, it just teaches them to suppress that behavior.
Over time if you suppress something long enough, it will likely come back in an even worse form because your dog doesn’t know what to do instead.
That is why focusing on teaching alternative behaviors can be so powerful for training your dog!
It’s important to remember that aggression and reactivity are NOT the same thing. While they can often work together and there can be some overlap, a reactive dog is not an aggressive dog.
And additionally, the way you should approach your training and plans for your dog will vary drastically for reactivity vs aggression.
With that being said, try to avoid putting labels on your dog’s behavior until you are able to get a full diagnosis from a professional dog trainer!
When it comes to aggression in dogs, it's so important to understand the signs to help keep you, your dog, and others safe. Want to learn more about your dog's body language? Check out our . And remember, if your dog is experiencing aggression, reach out to a trainer in your area to help.
Have any other topics you want to hear about next on the podcast? Let us know in the comments below.