How to Find a Good Dog Trainer for Your Aggressive Dog

Posted by Joey DiFrancesco on

black aggressive dog jumping and fighting with a brown aggressive dog teeth are out

If you have a dog with aggression issues, it may be time to consider hiring a professional dog trainer. The thing is, what to look for? Here at Lolahemp, we want to help dog lovers find the best resources to make sure their pets have the support they need.

Do any of these stories resonate with you?

She’s a sweet dog, unless you try to take away her favorite toy. 

He gets along great with everyone, unless he is sitting in someone’s lap - then he gets snappy. 

We used to enjoy the dog park, but after a recent dog fight, she has been very nervous around other dogs. 

He’s fine with other dogs in the park, but he is a terror when he meets other dogs on a leash.

white dog parking and pulling leash

When is it time to hire a professional?

As you can see, dog aggression takes many forms. This complex behavior has many potential causes, including: trauma, resource scarcity, abuse, neglect, poor socialization, phobias, and plain old personality. That being said, much dog aggression starts with fear or anxiety. 

Unfortunately, handling aggression with “common sense” can sometimes even make an aggressive dog more dangerous. Here is a prime example: If you choose to “dominate” your dog every time they give an aggression warning signal such as a frozen stance, snarled lips, or a growl, you may actually be training your dog to stop giving warning signals...without addressing the root cause of their fear and anxiety. Next time, the dog may go right to a bite when triggered...definitely not the desired effect! 

If you have been trying to help your dog deal with dog aggression on your own, and have noticed the problem is getting worse, then the odds are good that your best well meaning efforts may be getting lost in translation. A professional dog trainer may be able to help you gain new perspective on aggression issues, and help you develop a plan that will actually help your dog recover from the root fears and anxieties that cause this behavior in the first place. 

Which Dog Training Paradigm is Better for Aggression?

The popularity of some television shows which promote the “dominance model” of dog training where the solution to every problem seems to be aggressively showing your dog that he is well below you in the pack hierarchy has perpetuated an outdated myth about dogs. This myth is based on a few faulty assumptions. First, dogs=wolves (they don’t) and second, all dog learning can be boiled down to pack order (which it can’t). 

The last 60 years of careful scientific study on animal behavior has demonstrated beyond any doubt that dogs, just like people, learn from reward and punishment. Moreover, punishment is most effective if it is used sparingly and only after more appropriate behaviors have been significantly reinforced through judicious use of reward. 

And, when it comes to the fear and anxiety at the root of much dog aggression? Turns out that dominating your dog is almost always a form of punishment from their perspective...and it is punishing the response (aka the warning signs your dog gives to signal that he is feeling threatened), which actually increases anxiety and fear, further deepening the emotional response to the original trigger. 

Imagine for a moment that you are afraid of spiders. Let’s say when you see a spider, you show this fear by letting out a quick shout. Now imagine a well meaning friend is trying to help you get over your fear of spiders by pinching you every time you shout. Every time you see a spider and shout, now you get a painful pinch. Are you going to be less afraid of spiders? Probably not. In fact, you may even become MORE afraid of spiders since now you have the addition of a painful pinch associated with their presence. 

German Shepherd aggressively barking

What should I look for in a good dog trainer for canine aggression?

  1. Look for a trainer who specializes in dog aggression. Just because someone knows how to teach a dog basic manners and how to walk on a leash doesn’t mean they have the extensive experience to work competently on the complex and serious issue of dog aggression. 

  2. Look for trainers who use operant conditioning, sometimes referred to as a positive reinforcement based model. They are likely to use terms such as reconditioning and desensitization, two different processes used extensively in modern animal behavior research. While they may use some punishment, they do so sparingly and thoughtfully. And, it usually includes taking something good away from the dog (a toy for example) rather than applying direct punishment such as scare tactics or physical pain (especially when there are aggression issues present). 

  3. Look for trainers who start the process by trying to diagnose the specific anxiety triggers that your individual dog has, rather than trying to apply a one-sized-fits-all approach. Be prepared: They may also identify some of your behaviors that could be contributing to the problem and ask you to change up some of your typical responses in situations when your dog is triggered. 

  4. Ask for references and then contact them. A lot of pet owners may feel a little bit sheepish about calling around to talk to a few past clients, but it is perfectly appropriate to do so. After all, many people are desperate to help their dogs overcome debilitating aggression since whether or not to rehome their pet may be on the line. As a result, there are plenty of less than competent trainers out there capitalizing on this need. 

  5. Trust your instincts. If you narrow down you list and start to meet with dog trainers, and you get a bad vibe or sense that the person doesn’t really “connect” with your dog and her needs, then keep looking. As an advocate for your dog’s best interests, it is perfectly okay to be picky! 

            Should I use tranquilizers to calm my dog’s aggression?

            In the vast majority of cases, the answer to this question is no. The exceptions include situations where you know your dog may be dangerous to himself or others, and there is no other alternative. For example, some people do use tranquilizers to go to the vet if their dog is particularly triggered by this experience. 

            Tranquilizers for aggressive dogs have a major downside: They can interfere with the bite inhibition of your dog. Dogs learn through practice and play just how hard to bite to get the desired reaction. This valuable learned behavior can make the difference between a bite that breaks the skin, and one that leaves only a minor bruise. Tranquilizers can turn what was intended as a minor warning bite into an emergency room visit. 

            That being said, you may want to consider a natural product that may help calm your dog, without sedating her: Lolahemp organic CBD oil for dogs. 

            In fact, this hemp extract may even help with your training efforts by raising what is known as the reaction threshold, in other words, the amount or intensity of exposure to a trigger that makes your dog react with fear or anxiety. This gives you more room to reward calm behavior in the presence of a trigger, a critical part of any useful reconditioning program. 

            In this way, CBD oil may speed up a well designed dog aggression training program. Many professional trainers and dog owners alike have found it to be helpful in cases of dog aggression.





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