Two dogs playing aggressively outside in the grass.

How to handle bad behavior and aggression in dogs

Ignoring commands, breaking house training, fighting, and biting should always be taken seriously

Bad behavior in dogs covers a wide range of issues — ignoring commands, breaking house training, inappropriate shows of dominance and destructiveness, fighting, and biting — should always be taken seriously.

That said, whatever action you take should match the misbehavior. For example, if a grown dog is breaking training, a visit to the veterinarian first should rule out any kind of illness. A healthy dog that pees in the house may simply need a refresher course in crate training.

One good way to deal with bad behavior is to block it and replace it with another activity. If your dog is a chewer, don’t leave shoes lying around. Consider spraying nose-level temptations with bitter apple. Also, invest in safe chew toys. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations.

In some cases, pent-up energy leads to bad behavior. A brisk walk, running, swimming, chasing a tennis ball or playing Frisbee together are all good exercise and a tired dog is less likely to convert over-exuberance into aggression.

Warning: Danger!

“Is your dog friendly?” is a common question on streets and dog parks. Pet parents who can’t trust their dogs to be calm and submissive with strangers know better than to say yes. Because as sweet and placid as a dog may behave at home, he can turn into Cujo in public. And being on the other side of the leash from a canine delinquent can range from embarrassing to frightening.

According to the ASPCA, there are more than 10 types of aggression. The same article helpfully lists the sequence of behaviors that can lead to an attack. People with aggressive dogs should familiarize themselves with them.

12 do’s and don’ts

  1. Do acknowledge that as the leader of the pack, it’s your responsibility to teach your dog that aggression will not be tolerated
  2. Do accept that aggressive dogs pose a threat to the people they live with as well as to strangers
  3. Do be consistent about the rules you establish
  4. Do realize that some impulses are natural, such as chewing and pulling — although dogs can be trained to refrain
  5. Do keep your dog leashed in public
  6. Do anticipate explosive situations and keep your dog out of harm’s way
  7. Don’t look an aggressive dog in the eye and try to stare him down
  8. Don’t reward aggressive behavior with petting or treats
  9. Don’t hit or physically punish a dog — it’s not only cruel; it doesn’t work
  10. Do keep vaccinations up to date — a dog that bites and does not have a recent rabies shot may be euthanized in many states
  11. Do call your veterinarian or your local animal shelter for guidance on good sources of training
  12. Do find a private trainer if your method of discipline doesn’t yield results

By the book

If you want to know how the experts deal with specific behavior problems, consider picking up one of their training manuals. Good ones include:

“How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend” by The Monks of New Skete

“How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves” by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS

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