How to stop ankle-biters
That’s what many people call toy dogs. What can you do if your lil’ luv muffin suddenly goes aggressive on your new significant other, your kids, or your friends’ dog?
Growling, baring teeth, growling or biting people or other dogs is not only frustrating and embarrassing but potentially very costly should the victim’s lawyer get involved.
What Causes Aggression? Dog biting problems
Step one is finding out why your dog goes ballistic around other people or dogs. I’ve anthropomorphized these common aggression situations to give some light clarity on what your dog may be thinking
Fear is the #1 cause of aggression. For whatever reason, he perceives a person as a threat. It could be anything: how the person approaches the dog, their tone of voice, what they’re wearing, their scent… anything. Mature adopted dogs often have a history you don’t know about, and what can seem like an irrational fear to you – like fuzzy slippers – can be a traumatic memory to the dog.
Certain people just aren’t dog savvy. They don’t know that abrupt movement can startle a dog, or they don’t know how to safely approach a dog and think that just because they brought their dog to your house, the two will get along like BFF’s.
It’s up to you to step in and say to someone, “My dog is very shy, and here’s the best way to approach her.” A dog will generally try to leave the situation if she feels threatened and will only bite if she perceives there’s no other way out… generally. Don’t take the chance.
In the dog’s mind: Omygosh omygosh you’re coming at me kinda fast with a raised hand, you’re gonna smack me, that’s gonna hurt, I don’t want you to hit me!
What you can do: never, ever, ignore your pet when it’s around other people or their dogs. See the situation from your dog’s point of view. You are responsible for your dog’s behavior and if your pet is giving off danger signals, it’s up to you to be aware of them, intervene, and remove the pet from the situation or control it.
Dominance Stop biting puppies
Aggression is one way dogs establish dominance over other dogs, but it can also be directed at people, including the owner. If a dog thinks he’s in charge and feels his dominance is being threatened, he’ll try to stay top dog:
- If you try to approach the food bowl, remove him or her from the furniture, restrain him, or correct him
- If another dog in the home steps out of line. Usually this is determined by the context.
In the dog’s mind: I’m the boss. You’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing, She-Who-Feeds-Me! Bad human! (or) You may be the boss dog outside, but I own the couch and you know it! Get away!
What you can do: be aware, and be the alpha with a zero-tolerance policy for aggression.
- Praise your dog(s) well, quickly, and warmly.
- Correct fairly, quickly, and let it go.
- Act like the top dog, with tough love. Dogs understand their place in the pack, and what’s acceptable or unacceptable but they’ll challenge your leadership if you show weakness.
- Establish a pecking order among your dogs: the top dog gets fed/paid attention to first, and so on down the pack (you can go by age); this is non-negotiable and they’ll soon learn their place in the pack.
Possession Aggression (Resource Guarding)
Possession aggression occurs when a dog becomes possessive about food, toys, your bed, the yard, or even you. This is a survival tactic. If a new pet, boyfriend or girlfriend enters the picture, the dog may snap at whomever she perceives is getting too much attention (and potentially resources like food) from you.
In the dog’s mind: Why is this ugly beast suddenly hanging out with us? You’re my human. I don’t want to share you.
What you can do: do not force your dog to give up the resource he’s protecting – rather, teach him that his “treasures” are safe around you and around others. Introduce treats as a way to give your dog a good reason to relax. Present the treat, command her to “drop it” (release the treasure), and let her have her thing back. If she’s protecting you, or jealous, slooooooowly get her to associate your new friend with treats and special attention.
Illness or Pain
If a previously chill dog suddenly becomes aggressive, it may be caused by pain. Dogs are incredibly stoic, but they may lash out if the pain gets bad enough. Disease or injuries can cause her to become fearful if you touch an injured area or she feels threatened because she can’t save herself (even from well-meaning, loving attention).
In the dog’s mind: Owowowowowow that hurts! Don’t you come near me, I’m hurt, I’m vulnerable, you know I can’t run away and you have that “I want to poke around on your body” face!
What you can do: a vet can determine if your dog is in pain.
Boredom and Frustration
If a dog is frustrated at not getting something, or she’s under-stimulated and bored, she may use aggression to get her way because even negative attention is attention! If your dog is constantly denied what she wants, she may snap at you if the frustration becomes too much. This type of aggression is usually seen in dogs who spend a lot of time alone, especially in confined spaces like crates, on chains or in small enclosures.
In the dog’s mind: I wanna go say hi to that dog next door but they never let me! I’m bored! – I’m all alone! – I’m a pack animal! – I just wanna go say hi!
What you can do: Spend more time with your dog, and while you’re together, make sure she’s the center of your attention and that it’s clear to her you’re the boss.
Leash aggression occurs only when a dog is on-leash. He’ll lunge or bark aggressively at other dogs while on-leash, but he’s perfectly fine off-leash. Being restrained while meeting new dogs is unnatural. Off-leash, dogs approach each other from the side. An approach from the front (head-on) is an aggressive position that they didn’t choose (because they’re on-leash).
In the dog’s mind: Oh no!!! Oncoming brute! I’m stuck! Help! I can’t get away from this in-my-face brute that’s staring me down and wants to kill me! I must attack and make the brute go away!
What you can do: watch for signs of stress like flattened ears, tucked tails, raised hackles and panting. Manage the situation by keeping your dog a comfortable distance from other on-leash dogs. Tell people, “My dog isn’t good with other dogs on leash” and go around them in an arc. Don’t punish your dog, she’s on red alert, but do reward her for non-aggressive behavior so she starts associating oncoming leashed dogs with good things.
Protective aggression can occur if a dog is protecting her territory or her puppies.
In the dog’s mind: INTRUDER!!! It’s coming right for us! It’s gonna kill us!
What you can do: Give mother dogs their space, and never allow your dog to display aggression toward visitors. Soothe them with gentle restraint and calm words, and reward friendly behavior. Remove them from the situation if it’s too much for them.
Once a dog learns that aggression works, he’ll keep using this tactic. This can be a slippery slope! If you feel it’s going in the wrong direction, get help from a dog trainer. Don’t feel like you have to go it alone if you feel the situation is out of control!
The best tip of all? Be aware! Your dog talks to you all the time through body language. Get to know your dog’s danger signals, and stay calmly and compassionately in charge in situations where your dog is stressed or acting out.
Do you have an aggressive or Ankle Biter Dog? Please share your stories and comments below!