As a dog trainer, and especially since I am working toward becoming an animal behaviorist specializing in aggression in the power breeds, I get a LOT of calls asking me what the owner can do about their aggressive dog. While there is no clear answer that will suit every situation, it usually boils down to environment changes and some type of behavior modification plan. However, EVERY time I want to say…did you know that there are ways you might have avoided all this drama/negative experience with your dog?
First, if you’ve had your dog since he was a puppy, just providing him with a LOT of positive puppyhood experiences and socialization and avoiding any potentially traumatic or damaging emotional experiences can go a long way in better preparing your puppy for a smooth sail through life. Socialization is the number one gift you can give your pit bull (or any breed for that matter), because regular socialization ( I mean throughout his life, not just during one eight week class at Petsmart) helps him gain confidence in various situations. Lessening the chance that he will be fearful of new situations, because he is regularly being exposed to new situations and hey, finding out everything is still ok!
In the case of adopting an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue, there are factors contributing to their behavior that you have no idea are there until after you’ve gotten him home. Your dog may have been through a frightening experience that is now causing him to react in an aggresssive manner out of the fear that has developed following the incident. You had no way of knowing this when you got him. But now he’s YOUR dog and thus, YOUR behavior problem to deal with.
Common sense will tell you that dogs with a history of being bred to fight will generally have a harder time learning to get along with others. If one of the main reasons that you want a dog is to be able to have him socialize with other dogs, choose a breed that does not have a history of dogfighting. Otherwise, if you do choose to own a pit bull, be prepared to WORK more with your dog than someone who may be getting a golden retriever.
The most imprintable time in a dog’s life to learn to get along with others is during puppyhood, between 4 and 12 weeks of age. During this critically important time, puppies that are part of a large litter can get practice with its brothers and sisters in learning about relationships: how to make friends and how to work out conflicts between themselves and other dogs. If a puppy never gets an opportunity to do this, and then encounters negative experiences only where aggression is involved, he will have a more difficult time navigating through life peacefully than a puppy who did have those important learning experiences will.
Later, in the dog’s adolescence, people are walking their dogs on leashes, which can frustrate a dog, since the natural way they would approach another dog in the wild would NEVER be straight on and face to face….but that is exactly how we humans force them to meet as we pass another dog being walked on a leash. This is when I get calls about leash aggression. Hmmmmm…..
Whatever breed you choose, please commit to giving the gift of socialization. It’s always best to start the dog young, but it is a gift to your dog and to yourself to work on this continuously throughout his life.