Aggression in dogs can take several forms. It can show up as the dog that guards his food, toys, or space. A fearful dog may show aggression as a defense mechanism. A dog may simply decide that he is in charge and use aggression to reinforce his rules. Whatever the form, an “attitude adjustment” is indicated. The Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF) program allows you to address the dogs aggression issues in a safe, humane, and non-confrontational way.
The first thing you must do is avoid circumstances that will elicit the aggression, at least for now. Also do not punish the dog for growling or snapping. Punishment may make the behavior stop, but it will NOT stop the aggression. It may, in fact increase the chance of serious bites.
The first step is to start changing your dogs attitude about its “place” in the household. It is very important that EVERYONE in the household understands and follows these rules.
1. Take away all of your dogs “things”…. food, food bowl, water, toys, treats,.. EVERYTHING! From now on they are yours–not his. He will no longer be allowed on your bed or any furniture. Keep a leash on him at all times, so you can lead him off the furniture without getting your hands near him.
2. Go back to basic obedience: practice sit-stays, and especially down-stays. If you have never done these with your dog before, sign up for an obedience class as soon as possible.
3. Four or five times a day make him do a down and then offer him a drink. If he won’t lay down, do not let him drink. Put the water bowl up and leave, try again in about 10 minutes.
4. Isolate the dog in a crate or block off a room away from the family with a baby gate. While the dog is isolated, no one should speak to, pet, or otherwise interact with him. Do this for a few weeks. You want the dog to do ANYTHING to be out with you. You want your dog to be thrilled to have any attention.
5. Feed the dog twice a day, making the dog do a sit or down before getting the food. Tell him to sit or down ONLY once. If he refuses to obey, take his food away. Wait 10 minutes and try again. Do this until he responds , then feed him. If your main problem is that the dog is food aggressive, then make it very clear to him that YOU control the food. Sit or stand holding his food bowl and feed him ONE piece of food at a time. Make him sit or down before EVERY piece of food. As his responses improve, gradually increase the number of pieces you feed him. If he growls at any time, go back to one piece. Over a period of weeks,slowly start lowering the bowl to the floor, but continue to feed the dog by hand for awhile, until he is comfortable with your hand in the bowl. The dog must be comfortable with ANYONE standing near him while he eats before you can resume normal feedings.
6. Gradually add privileges. At first he may spend 20 minutes with the family – remember he must do SOMETHING to be with the rest of the family (even a stupid pet trick will do). Do not go from isolation to full house privileges in a day.
7.Once the dog is allowed out for a period of time with the family, put him on a leash and tie him to ;your waist for an hour each day –where you go, he must follow. This reinforces your position as the leader.
8. Make your dog do “SOMETHING” for everything he wants.Want a cookie? Do a down. Want to go out? Do a Sit-stay. The dog must earn everything….play, food, water,a walk, coming inside, petting,…everything.
9. All play, petting, fun must be initiated by you. If the dog tries to get you to play, ignore him, when he gives up, you initiate the game. You also decide when the game is over, quit before the dog wants to stop.
10. For dogs that resent giving up toys, practice “trading”. Give up the toy…get a treat or another toy. Always reward surrendering an object. Make the dog believe that giving up something will get him something better.
Take each step slowly. As long as the dogs attitude stays good, then continue to add privileges. If he backslides, and he probably will, then don’t be afraid to back up a step or two until his attitude improves. Employing this program consistently gives you a good chance of solving aggression issues.