Canine fear and aggression tend to go hand in hand, and often times ends with very sad and preventable results such as high euthanasia rates in shelters or a bite to someone who cannot read a dog’s body language. The term fear aggressive is simply not used enough out shelters, but any professional dog trainer will tell you that almost every single aggressive dog is acting in a sense of self defense due to a fearful emotion he is feeling, not because he is mean, angry, or a dangerous breed.
The difference between true aggression and fear are easy to tell to the trained eye through a dog’s body language. His body language is the only way a dog can thoroughly communicate his thoughts and emotions to humans, but so few humans, especially owners and pet professionals, seem to lack the ability to tell the difference! A fearful dog will hold himself lower to the ground, his head may be slightly dipped with eyes either averted or slightly aimed in your direction. His tail will be lower or more straight out, but his entire body will be stiff. It’s not uncommon for the dog to seemingly be trembling uncontrollably. Hackles, or the fur on the dog’s back, can be raised up in a sense of heightened arousal. He may growl, show his teeth, bark, and even lunge towards you. But this dog would rather that you left him a lone than be afraid of him. He is trying to tell you that what is happening is scaring him, and he feels like he needs to protect himself!
True aggression, an extremely rare thing seen in domestic dogs, will look different. His hackles will be raised and his body will be stiff, and he may bark, growl and lunge just like the fearful dog, but there are differences! Instead of lowering himself to the ground he will stand up straighter, his tail standing straight up and may slightly wag. He will look like he’s standing on his toes instead of the flats of his paws, and leaning forward slightly. He is telling you to back off because he is boss right now!
Both situations are equally dangerous, and neither warrant the euthanasia of an animal. These behaviors can be corrected with behavioral modification, desensitization, counter conditioning and simple trust building. Any breed, any size and any age of dog can exhibit either one of these behaviors and more often than not it is stress related!
If you are currently dealing with an aggressive or fear aggressive dog, don’t give up. There is a solution! To reach your end goal, though, of a relaxed and happy pet you must stay consistent, stay empathetic and try to imagine what the world is like through your dog’s eyes, and hire a professional dog trainer or behavior counselor.
If safety is ever a concern, such as a dog with a bite history or fear of biting occurring don’t try to correct your dog on your own. Using harsh methods such as yelling, hitting, punishing, crating or any other method will only make the entire situation worse. An aggressive or fear aggressive dog needs gentle training with trust building so that they will no longer feel they need to defender themselves.
Keep At It!
Don’t give up! No dog is beyond help, they just need the right help! Finding an adequate professional to help you with your aggressive or fear aggressive dog is easier than you may think! Using the Internet, you can search for trainers and counselors near your home! Keep in mind you need a trainer that uses only positive reinforcement and will not hurt or push your dog beyond his threshold. Armed with a great trainer, a positive attitude and love for your dog you will help him become a better pet!