Aggression in dogs is dangerous and should be completely unacceptable to their owners. When I say aggression, I am referring to dogs that growl, snap or snarl at, or bite people. One of the challenges in dealing with aggressive behavior is that there is not much leeway when treating it.
If a customer’s dog was chewing on inappropriate items three or four times a week and, after several weeks of behavior modification, the behavior decreases to once a week, most would be encouraged and happy with that progress. However, customers will be far less accepting if, after training, their aggressive dog only decreases its attacks. The importance of quickly and successfully addressing aggression is further magnified if the dog owners have children.
Dog trainers who won’t work on aggression cases usually do so from a lack of experience and/or safety concerns. Customers looking for help for their aggressive dogs should be referred to an applied animal behaviorist or a certified applied animal behaviorist. They could also consider dog trainers who specialize in aggression.
As a pet professional, you could make a substantial difference in your customers’ and their dogs’ lives if you can offer advice prior to aggressive behavior incidents. It is extremely unusual for dogs to suddenly “snap” and exhibit aggression for no apparent reason or without warning. In almost every case, aggressive dogs will show numerous warning signs well before the behavior becomes a red flag for owners.
What kind of advice could you offer? Providing customers with information on how to recognize aggression warning signs and how to respond to them is a great first step.
Object Possessiveness: This isn’t running away with an item such as a sock; it is when a dog takes that item and then growls and/or snaps at the owner when she tries to take it back.
Treatment: Owners should stop any tug-o-war type games and contact a professional dog behaviorist or trainer as soon as possible.
Food Aggression: A dog growls, snaps or tries to bite anyone coming too close to its bowl or when it is eating.
Treatment: Young puppies less than 5 months old can be offered a handfed meal for at least two months. Any aggression should instantly end the meal. After 10 minutes, an owner can try again, and if it reoccurs, the meal can be skipped—only once, though. Many dogs learn to like eating this way and will more readily accept having the owners around during mealtimes. Another step owners could take is to calmly approach their dog as it is eating. If a dog remains friendly upon approach, its owner should give it a tasty treat and then walk away. Owners who do this once or twice during every meal will soon find the dog wagging its tail in anticipation as opposed to feeling defensive or acting aggressively.
Resource Guarding: A dog that is allowed to sleep on a bed, couch or chair growls or snaps at its owner whenever it’s told to move. A dog might also manifest the same behavior when asked to move if it is blocking a door.
Treatment: Owners should take their dog to a veterinarian to rule out any physical ailments that might cause a pain-elicited aggressive response. Once physical causes are ruled out, owners should stop allowing their dog on the furniture and immediately contact a professional dog behaviorist or trainer. Preventative measures include using positive reinforcement to teach their dog the “off” command.
As a retailer, you can help your customers who have aggressive-dog issues by referring them to qualified dog behaviorists or trainers, along with providing tips on how to recognize aggression’s warning signs. In addition, always remember to emphasize that canine aggression should never be taken lightly and treatment will most likely require professional help.