Is your dog aggressive with other dogs, people, or around certain triggers such as food, toys, or places (such as her favorite spot on the couch)? This article will help you learn more about aggression in dogs, what can cause it, a few key training tips, and the science behind a natural product, CBD oil, that may be able to help.
Before we dive in, it is important to note that dog aggression can be dangerous, and sometimes needs the help of a professional canine behaviorist to correct. Many well meaning owners may unintentionally make aggression worse either by misdiagnosing the root cause of the aggression, or by using outdated training techniques or “common sense” that can actually make aggressive dogs even more dangerous.
This article isn’t a substitute for professional guidance. This is particularly true if your dog could hurt other pets or people with their aggressive behavior. However, we do hope that it will provide you with a better understanding of this common behavioral problem and some of the best tools to use as you help your canine companion find a calmer way of being in the world.
Types of Dog Aggression
According to the ASPCA, there are 11 common types of dog aggression, pictured in the image above. Helping your dog overcome aggression always starts by developing a clear picture of what is causing the problem in the first place.
The outdated “dominance” model of canine psychology assumes that most or all aggression problems in dogs are caused by them being too dominant, or not submissive enough. However, we now know that dogs have complex social and emotional lives and that, more often than not, aggression is triggered by fear, insecurity, and anxiety.
Take a look at the 11 types of dog aggression above and notice that almost all of them (with the exception of pain induced and predatory) involve anxiety about a certain trigger. For example:
Territorial and Possessive: Anxiety about a place or a valued possession being threatened or lost.
Social: Anxiety about one’s place in the pack and the fear of losing status.
Defensive: Anxiety about an impending threat in response to a certain trigger such as being on a leash around other dogs or being approached by a person with newspaper in their hands.
Learning to recognize exactly what is causing your dog’s anxiety is usually the first step of any behavioral training program. Once that trigger has been identified, you can begin to “reprogram” that anxiety response using positive reinforcement, reconditioning, and desensitization techniques developed from decades of research in animal behavior and learning.
Aggressive Dog Training Tips
Never Punish the Warning Signs
The outdated “dominance” model suggests that all dog aggression is caused by dogs who think they are “alphas” and who insist on aggressively dominating everything and everyone around them. Unfortunately, these models of dog behavior are not only incorrect, they often do more harm than good. Trainers that use this theory often recommend “dominating” or punishing such dogs at the first signs of aggression such as raised hackles, growling, hard stance, baring teeth, licking lips, etc.
The problem with this is that all it does is make an already insecure dog feel even more insecure by adding a real threat of harm to whatever is triggering the fear in the first place. In addition, it trains them to stop giving warning signals that they are feeling anxious and threatened. Such dogs become more dangerous because they will eventually stop giving any warning of their fear, and instead, launch right into an attack when their fear becomes too much for them to handle.
Humane Use of Muzzles
While they look barbaric, muzzles can be an important safety precaution when dealing with dogs that have aggression issues. Make sure that you purchase basket style muzzles rather than the cloth kind, because they allow for better breathing. In addition, take time to acclimate your dog to wearing a muzzle in calm and familiar environments where fear triggers are not present, using lots of positive reinforcement.
Never muzzle one dog and not the other if dog-dog aggression is a problem. It can make the fearful dog feel even more insecure and expose him to serious harm should a fight break out.
Desensitization and Reconditioning
At the heart of most dog aggression training programs is a technique known as desensitization which involves exposing the fearful dog to a trigger that is very far away, so far that they are under the “reaction threshold” and then rewarding all calm responses with praise and food rewards.
Slowly, and keeping the dog under the reaction threshold, get closer and closer to the trigger while continuing to reward calm behavior. This is the “reconditioning” part of the training program. Over time, the trigger that was once associated with a threat becomes associated with reward. A dog that was once fearful of a trigger can learn to love it in good time with plenty of repetition and practice.
Where most well meaning dog owners go wrong with this technique is moving too fast. If a fear reaction happens, it can undo the progress made. It is better to stay well within your dog’s sense of safety for much longer than you think you need to than to go too fast and ruin the progress you have made.
Know When to Contact a Professional
Keep in mind that aggression in dogs can become a dangerous problem. If you have a large and powerful dog, or suspect that your dog may pose a danger to other people or pets, then it is advisable to seek professional help to make sure you properly identify the cause and have a well-designed training program to address it without making it worse.
All Natural Organic CBD Oil: Helpful for Aggression in Dogs?
Numerous research studies have demonstrated that cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, has strong anti-anxiety properties. This has been confirmed in both animal and human studies relating to multiple types of anxiety. It works in two important ways.
First, CBD oil reacts with the central nervous system to influence mood via the Endocannabinoid System. Its anti-anxiety properties seem to be improved with regular dosing which allows this system to build more cannabinoid sensitive receptors over time. Perhaps this is why, in addition to giving CBD oil for dogs an hour prior to a desensitization session, a regular daily administration of this natural hemp extract may help some dogs be less anxious in general, improving the effectiveness of training programs for some of our canine companions.
Second, it turns out that cannabidiol may also help the central nervous system “forget” the association between a trigger and trauma, the cause of many dog aggression issues. Scientists refer to this process as “contextual fear memory extinction.”
For example, if a dog was attacked by another dog when they were a puppy, that traumatic experience can be the starting point of a lifetime fear of other dogs that may manifest in dog/dog aggression. CBD oil, in combination with a well designed training program, may help dogs that have experienced trauma to overcome their fears by helping to undo the “hardwiring” of the memory of the initial trauma.
If you decide to give CBD oil a try, consider LolaHemp. Our organic CBD oil is a full spectrum hemp oil made just with dogs in mind. In addition, we donate one bottle for every four sold to a rescue dog in need – a purchase you can feel good about!