By far, the single biggest behavior problem I treat is aggression. For the sake of simplicity, let us define aggression as that which includes all acts that cause, and are intended to cause, injury and damage to people, animals, or inanimate objects. This aggression can be directed towards the handler and family members, towards strangers and outsiders, or towards other dogs and animals.
The subject of aggression, with its myriad causes and manifestations, is an extremely complex one. Each dog is unique - unique in its genetic make-up, and unique in the environmental experiences to which it has been exposed. Some of the most common forms of aggression include:
- Dominance related.
- Fear induced.
Most forms of aggression are multi-dimensional. Therefore, it is quite likely that more than one of the above will manifest itself in the aggressively inclined dog.
Indispensable to treating the problem is a thorough evaluation of the dog to assess its temperament and disposition, as well as an in-depth consultation with the owner to compile a case history.
This meeting will help to:
- Establish the root cause of the aggression.
- Assess the degree, or severity of the problem.
- Provide an explanation as to why the aggression exists.
- Present a suitable behavior modification program to address the problem.
Behavior modification may consist of nothing more than following the handling techniques and advice demonstrated and outlined on the day. In more serious cases, further follow-up visits to work on both the problem behavior and obedience training may be required.
Quite frequently I find it necessary to allocate a couple of hours to this initial consultation training session.
Should I be of the opinion that the aggression is of a form that will not respond to traditional behavior training techniques alone, as in the case of pathological aggression (believed to be due to a chemical imbalance), I will make a further recommendation to have the dog evaluated by the clinical behaviorists at UC Davis. I have worked with, and am currently working with, many dogs that have been prescribed medication for serious aggressive behavior, as well as other reasons. Of course, medication in-and-of-itself is not a panacea, but when paired with behavior modification training, it can yield results in certain cases.