Dealing with Jake’s Insecure Dominant Aggression

Jack Aggressive copyI snapped this photo of Jake (a seven year old chow / shepherd / rat terrier mix) as he was barking and growling at me for moving without his permission. Jake was so aggressive that his owner had to physically restrain him before I was able to come inside for our session.

I asked how owners to place Jake on a leash so I could take him for a walk. One of his owners shot me a “are you serious” look as Jake was continuing to bark and lunge at me. After reassuring her that I was serious, Jake and I set out for a short walk.

Once outside, Jake relaxed somewhat. He stopped barking and growling at me and his body language wasn’t nearly as stiff. Sometimes removing a dog from the home and its owners can eliminate territorial or possessive aggression, and that was certainly the case with Jake.

Before we started the walk, I let Jake do some business in the front yard. On the walk he showed almost no aggression, heeled fairly well and didn’t need many corrections other than when he attempted to mark fences, shrubs and any other vertical surface we passed. I did not allow him to mark his territory to help keep him from any pack leader or dominant behaviors.

When we returned from the walk, Jake stiffened as we entered his yard. Once inside the house, he returned to a somewhat aggressive state, but not as intense as before. Still, it was clear that Jake wanted me to know that it was his home and his humans.

I left him on the leash but handed it to one of his owners. I showed her how to use the leash to disagree with Jake each time he showed aggression. Its important to disagree with a dog with good timing and consistency in any situation. While Jake’s aggression started suddenly (usually when i moved without his permission), it got worse as it continued. By disagreeing immediately, we can keep the dog from getting too excited or carried away. This also helps the dog connect the action or behavior with the correction and is an effective means of communicating rules or boundaries to a dog.

It took a dozen corrections or so, but Jake started to act out less and less the more that his owner disagreed with the aggressive behavior.

A big factor in Jake’s aggression is that he perceives himself as the pack leader. Changing this perception is critical in Jake’s rehabilitation so I suggested a number of changes to their day to day routine. I do most of this by adding rules and structure the dog is required to respect. I suggested they not allow him on the furniture, make him sit before letting him in or out of a door, eating in front of him before they feed him, make him keep a respectable distance from them when they ate, etc.

I also suggested they stop petting him or showing any affection unless he did something for them first. It can be as small a thing as sitting or laying down. But each time we require the dog to do something for them before he is given attention or affection, we define the leader follower structure in a way that changes the dog’s perception of its rank in the pack.

By the time we finished the session, Jake was laying calmly on the floor not reacting to any of the actions that set him off at the start of the session.

It will be vitally important for his owners to disagree with any aggressive or dominant behavior as soon as it happens as well as maintain the rules and boundaries we put in place. If corrected correctly and consistently for the next few weeks or months his aggression will continue to diminish as he starts to identify as a follower instead of a leader.

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