Easily three times a week, I am contacted by potential clients looking to resolve their dog’s human aggressive behavior. Most of the time it is not vicious bloodthirsty aggressive behavior, but the behavior is some pretty uncomfortable stuff like biting the neighbor, biting a relative, or even a friend. Frequently, the client will say “the dog just bit ‘So and So’ out of nowhere!” Dog bites are scary. I understand how it can all seem like a blur during the actual event. Honestly though, dog bites typically do not just occur out of nowhere. Unless a major medical condition exists, there is very likely a history of the dog behaving badly, and not having been given consequences for their bad behavior, for months or sometimes years before the client is actually willing and/or able to get the bad behavior resolved professionally.
When it comes to managing a dog with human aggressive behaviors, many dog trainers will recommend “death before discomfort”. The idea being that it is not fair, or humane, to correct the dog for bad behavior, so it is better for the dog to be euthanized than to live. These are the same people who recommend physically turning around and ignoring a dog that is attempting to bite you. I do not agree with that notion. Turning around is not correcting the dog’s real intention, and in my experience, turning your back on a dog intent on biting you is only going to get you bit in the ass. I believe that every dog needs structure and leadership. The degree of structure and leadership required can vary greatly from dog to dog. Like it or not we are all a part of the animal kingdom. In the animal kingdom, animals that behave dangerously are instantly corrected for their dangerous behavior. Without correction, a dog’s behavior can become unpredictable and flat out dangerous.
So how can you tell if you are raising a puppy to behave as a human aggressive adult dog?
- Your puppy nips and you do not correct the puppy for biting.
- When your puppy nips, you let out a high pitched yelp and back away from the puppy.
- Your puppy is allowed to chew various toys and non-toy items without being corrected and redirected to chew on something appropriate for the pup’s age and digestive tract.
- You do not crate your puppy. The puppy gets the free roam of your home.
- You let your puppy jump on your guests and nip at them at your front door.
- Your puppy is allowed to beg for food from anyone eating around the puppy.
- You play with your puppy by letting it race around your home excitedly, as it races from one game of tug to another game of fetch until the pup is so tired it falls asleep somewhere random in your home.
- Your puppy walks you, on a retractable leash, and harness.
- Your puppy eats table scraps, plus treats, plus your personal items like shoes, clothing, and furniture, plus anything on the ground it finds while outside as the pup is dragging you down the block, and again you do not interrupt the puppy from this behavior.
- When your puppy sees new people during your walks, you let it race excitedly up to random strangers, jump on the stranger and nip at the strangers legs, hands, or feet.
Does every nipping overly adrenalized puppy become human aggressive? No. There are plenty of pups who grow into chubby overly jumpy adult dogs which never progress even remotely into the spectrum of human aggression. It is the dog’s individual personality, as well as how the puppy is socialized, and trained which contributes greatly to whether or not the puppy will grow to behave in a human aggressive manner. Does the breed of the puppy matter? Nope. Not really. The breed can contribute to the owner either ignoring or addressing the problem though. For example, a family will live two solid years with a bratty mini-Aussie (also known as an American Shepherd) biting everyone in its path, but a family with a mastiff showing these pushy flesh biting behaviors typically gets the dog in for training by around one year of age. Small breed dogs get away with bad behaviors for much longer than large breed dogs.
Often, people will say, “my dog was fine until he turned two-years-old.” In my experience, the actual situation was that the bad behavior was considered acceptable or cute, until the dog became an adult dog. A strong adult dog intent on misbehaving, is suddenly not so cute anymore…
Once this human aggressive behavior occurs, the dog understands that when they choose to bite into flesh, they get what they want. The person they choose to bite screams, and backs off giving them the space they want to do as they please. The question at this point becomes can human aggressive dog behavior be interrupted and mitigated? The answer is yes. Human aggressive behaviors in dogs can be trained out of the dog….because the training requires the dog to hold other commands in lieu of choosing to bite flesh…BUT, trust me when I say this, if you have a dog willing to put teeth on flesh in the first place, that is the kind of dog which will always require a lot of structure. Daily commands like “place” and “down/stay” will be needed throughout the dog’s life to ensure the dog’s behavior remains predictable. Choosing to adhere to a training plan, and using the training tools daily will ensure the dog lives a good, long, safe life.
So how can you STOP raising a potentially human aggressive puppy before it is an adult dog?
- Your puppy nips you? Correct the puppy for biting. I recommend a collar and leash be on your pup whenever the pup is out of its crate. Puppy nips, calmly correct with the training collar and leash.
- When your puppy nips, you simply correct the pup. Do not squeak, do not lecture your pup, and do not back off. The pup needs to know, it will not get space for biting and biting is not acceptable behavior. If you notice your puppy is very excited and nipping a lot, your puppy probably needs a nap. Overstimulated, tired puppies behave badly.
- Never allow the pup to chew various non-toy items without being corrected and redirected to chew on something appropriate for the pup’s age and digestive tract. -Pups can ingest dangerous items quickly which pose a health hazard. Puppies need to be supervised. If you cannot keep your eyes on your pup, put the pup in its crate. Saves you some damage to the fancy Gucci bag you just purchased, and the expensive veterinary bill to remove said Gucci bag from the pup’s intestines.
- Cate train your puppy. The puppy should never be allowed the free roam of your home. When your puppy is not in its crate, put the puppy in “place”.
- To prevent the puppy from developing a habit of jumping and nipping at your guests put your puppy in “place” or in its crate. “Place” is great for most pups 3 months and older. The crate is always an excellent option until the puppy calms down. Once the pup is calm, then your guests can pet the pup. (The idea here is that petting a calm puppy reinforces calmness.)
- Your puppy is NEVER allowed to beg for food from anyone eating around the puppy. -Again, put the pup in “place” or the crate during meal time. Bad habits start early.
- Play with your puppy in a structured way. You begin the game, and you end the game on your terms. Put the toys away, and put the pup in its crate for a nap. Puppies require frequent naps.
- Contact a local trainer if you are looking for assistance on how to properly heel with your puppy. No retractable leashes. Why? Because your puppy will be out ahead of you in short order, making unwise puppy-like choices. No harnesses. Harnesses encourage pulling. Don’t believe me? Go watch anyone being dragged down the street by their dog wearing a harness. Unless you’re training a husky puppy for the Iditarod, a harness should be completely avoided.
- Do not feed your puppy table scraps. Use treats minimally, calories will add up fast, and the more you feed your pup, the more unpredictable their pooping schedule will be. Additionally, fat family dogs do not live long healthy lives, they have major health ailments including diabetes, joint pain, back issues, and other digestive issues. Lean dogs live longer, healthier lives. Keep your home tidy “puppy proofing” is a real thing…your personal items like shoes, and clothing, should be put away so the pup cannot access them. If your pup wants to chew your furniture, use “place” or the crate to mitigate that chewing drama. Correct the pup for attempting to chew random stuff on the ground during your walk. The idea here is to have a calm structured walk. Not a frantic adrenaline filled race around your neighborhood.
- When your puppy sees new people during your walk, ask that your fiends or strangers, ignore the puppy, and calmly correct your pup for any attempts to jump and/or nip at the friend or stranger. They can pet the puppy when the puppy is in a calm state of mind. -You will get what you pet.
If you already have an adult dog, that is struggling with human aggressive behaviors, I highly recommend contacting a balanced dog trainer before your dog’s behavior worsens. Make peace with the idea that your dog’s bad behavior needs to be physically corrected. Calm leadership of an actual dog training professional, will lead your dog out of this awful learned behavior. Schedule a board and train for the dog, and then do your level best to sincerely follow the dog’s training plan. Become as educated as possible on how to properly and safely use the training tools supplied by your dog trainer. Stay in contact with your dog trainer even after your dog arrives home from the training experience. Seek additional help if you feel you need it. Hospital bills, lawsuits, homeowners insurance rates are really expensive. I am not pointing that last part out to be funny. These are real consequences to allowing bad behavior to spiral out of control.