How to Train Your Dog to Stop Attacking

Medium
1-8 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

You’re out on a walk with your canine pal, the sun is out and you’re enjoying a welcome hour of peace and quiet from your busy life. Then, all of a sudden, you’re pulled to the side as your dog lunges and attacks another dog. You eventually manage to pull him away without anyone getting hurt, but this wasn’t the first time and you fear it won’t be the last.

If your dog attacks others then you have a serious problem on your hands. First, there is the damage and injury he could cause to another pet or person. Then there is the risk of serious injury to himself and the hefty vet bills that come too. On top of that, there is also the risk a court will order your dog to be put down if he keeps attacking.

Defining Tasks

Training of this sort is never straightforward because you have to tackle the underlying cause of the dog’s aggressive behavior, which is usually fear. You will need to use strict obedience commands to assert yourself as the pack leader and take control. You will also need to take a number of steps to manage your dog’s environment, in turn reducing the chances of attacks.

If your dog is a young puppy he will probably be receptive and likely to respond to training in just a few weeks. If your dog is older and his attacking habit has been going on for years, then you may need months before you finally squash his aggressive behavior. Getting this training right though is essential, not just for the health of your dog, but also for other pets and humans around. You don’t want to end up with a dog who can’t be allowed near your own children!

Getting Started

Before the training campaign gets underway there are several things you will need. A secure leash will be required. If your dog is big and strong then a body harness will give you more control and reduce strain on his neck. You may also want to invest in a muzzle until his aggressive behavior subsides.

His favorite food and treats will play an essential part in incentivizing and rewarding good behavior, and a friend with a dog may come in handy. Once you have the above, just bring patience and a positive attitude and you’re ready to get to work!

The Come Away Method

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Step
1
Find a good spot
Find a good spot Secure him to a leash and take him to a quiet field or park, away from distractions. You’re going to teach your dog to ‘come away’ whenever you instruct him to. This way you can control him in a dangerous situation and call him away before an attack takes place.
Step
2
Get some distance
Let him roam around the field to himself to start with. Keep an eye on him though, you don’t want him to wander so far he won’t be able to hear you.
Step
3
Call to you
Firmly say ‘come away’ and call his name. To start with, he will need his name to be called until he understands the ‘come away’ cue on its own. You may also need to hold out a treat at this point to entice him over.
Step
4
Move back
As he runs over to you, take a couple of steps away to encourage him to come even closer. Once he reaches you, give him a treat and shower him with praise. It is important he gets the treat as soon as he reaches you so he associates the command with the treat.
Step
5
Practice
Practice this every day for 10 minutes. As he gets the hang of it, just say ‘come away’ and stop using his name. Also slowly reduce the frequency of treats as the weeks pass. It is also important that when you feel confident you practice in environments with more distractions such as parks and other public places. Keep up the training religiously and soon enough you will be able to call him away from any dangerous situation before an attack can take place.
Recommend training method?

The Desensitization Method

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Step
1
Go for a stroll
Place him on a secure leash and head out on a normal walk. You will also need a pocket full of treats, plus a friend with a dog. You are going to slowly desensitize him to situations he currently feels scared in, which lead him to attack.
Step
2
Approach
Slowly walk towards the other dog, holding him firmly at your side. Give him a treat and praise him as you get closer. You are showing him the behavior you want to see and the promise of food will gradually reinforce that. As long as he is calm, be sure to shower him with praise.
Step
3
Pull away
As soon as he gets aggressive, pull him firmly in the opposite direction. It is important you pull him away the moment he starts to attack. This quick jolt will signal to him if he behaves in this way he won’t get any say in where he walks.
Step
4
Close in
Use both the positive reinforcement and the firm pull every day and slowly decrease the distance between you and the other dog. Every few days you will see process and within a few weeks you will be able to walk your dog right up to the other dog.
Step
5
Add variables
Slowly introduce him to other testing situations and use the same steps as above. It is best to have him in a muzzle to start with, but soon enough he will be so used to getting close to other dogs and people that it won’t be needed.
Step
6
Follow through
The key to this training is the combination of the positive and negative reinforcement. He will quickly learn that if he wants food, that he needs to stay calm and before he knows it he will realize he doesn’t need to be scared anymore because all his experiences with other people and dogs have been peaceful!
Recommend training method?

The Avoidance Method

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Step
1
Head out
Secure him on a leash and with a muzzle and head out the door. You are going to avoid potential conflicts and ignore any bad behavior until your dog realizes he will get nothing out of it.
Step
2
Avoid triggers
If you see another dog or person, quickly pull him away. If you linger he may feel trapped and scared, leading to signs of aggression. If you move quickly out of the situation he will feel no need to get aggressive.
Step
3
Be the protector
Create space and use barriers. If you are in a situation where you cannot avoid close proximity with another person or dog, create a barrier. Dogs attack because they are scared. If you stand between both dogs, or walk on the side that separates him and a passerby, he will think you are the pack leader and that it’s your job to protect, not his. Walking the other side of a car is another easy way to create a quick barrier.
Step
4
Ignore, don't punish
Don’t punish your dog when he is aggressive. Dogs never respond well to punishment and training through fear. Instead simply ignore the behavior. By ignoring his aggression you are not giving him any attention, response or justification.
Step
5
Reinforce and reward
As he improves, praise him when he is calm and well behaved. If you are successful with the above steps, he will rarely get an opportunity to get aggressive. Over time he will stop attacking because it will no longer be a habit. You will have successfully broken the cycle of behavior. When this happens be sure to reinforce his calm behavior with treats and verbal praise. After many weeks you can then reduce the frequency of treats until they are no longer needed.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Lucky
Labrador Retriever
10 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Lucky
Labrador Retriever
10 Months

I got a harness for Lucky back then, and we never used it because he kept attacking me the first day I got it. I went to put it on him, and I tried catching him, and he kept attacking me aggressively, and when I did manage to catch him, he would start peeing all over the room to try to deter me.

He still does it, and now I have to risk choking him when he misbehaves and when I have to pull him back.

Today I tried again, but with a can of that dog behvior spray, to try to hold him down and put it on, but this time he wasn't affected by the spray.

And in all these cases, it seemed like he didn't show fear.

My dad can only put it on him since for whatever reason Lucky does, he lets my dad put it on him. I just got cut 2 times with big gashes on my arm and another 3 inch scar all from Lucky. Should I use the same method for the nail Clippers or should I consult an actual trainer?

My parents are still putting the workload on me even though they claim that theyvare doing something.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
466 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kien, It sounds like Lucky is very afraid of the harness and now associates putting the harness on with punishment, anxiety, and bad things. The peeing is definitely a fear response, not spite. The aggression also sounds like fear when it first began. He might use it now to try to get his way though. With you dad, the experience was a lot less traumatic because he didn't put up a fight so didn't experience anything negative from your dad, he just didn't like the harness, so there is less fear associated with your dad and the harness now. He also naturally respects your dad more just because he is the alpha male in the house in his view, so even though he doesn't like the harness and likely wants to fight it, he submits and accepts it. I would strongly suggest taking a lot of time to desensitize him to the harness like you are with the nail clippers. That is the way I recommend clients introduce harnesses initially, but few people know to start that way at first so you are not alone there. Because of all the fear associated with the harness, it will likely take a lot longer to warm him up to it. You will need to use high value rewards like real chicken to make the process go quicker. You will also probably be more successful if you switch to a harness or collar that looks different than the current one and start from scratch with a new harness or collar. You should be able to get him used to the current harness, but there is a lot of mistrust and bad experience associated with it, so expect the current harness to take him a lot time to get used to. If you introduce a new harness, use treats to warm him up to it gradually and tempt him to put his head through it. This normally takes a couple of weeks with a new harness, so you will need to use a collar or something that he is already used to for potty trips while getting him used to it, or have your dad leash him up. It certainly never hurts to hire a professional to help you in person. Most trainers will use rewards also to desensitize him to the harness. He will also likely allow a trainer to put it on him more easily than you because he will be more likely to automatically respect them like he does your dad, and because he doesn't have any negative bad experiences with the trainer. His respect for the trainer could help build his trust for you quicker, but be sure to be the one practicing with the harness with Lucky while the trainer is there, instead of just the trainer putting it on him, or it may appear that you are getting results but he still will not do it for you once they leave if you were not the one putting it on him when the trainer was there. For any type of aggression, it is always a good idea to get professional help and to start working on the aggression as soon as possible before the dog gets worse or learns that he can behave that way normally to get what he wants. It sounds like you could use help with Lucky's behavior and response toward you in general, and that the harness is just one area. Having someone there to see what you are doing and actually demonstrate things makes training much easier. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Brad
American Pit Bull Terrier
Nine Years
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Question
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Brad
American Pit Bull Terrier
Nine Years

My dog has an intense fear of sprinklers and it's miserable to take him for a walk around the neighborhood because he barks at and viciously attacks any sprinklers that we happen to pass by. He otherwise walks well on the leash, listens to commands. But with sprinklers, he goes berserk and there is no controlling him. It creates a dangerous situation, a few times he's almost pulled me down to the ground and he ends up looking like the dangerous pit bull stereotype (even though he's not at all that way). Sprinklers are a relatively new thing to him. He was a city dog, and about a year ago we moved to the suburbs. He is otherwise an obedient and easily trainable dog. What can I do to help him get over this fear of sprinklers?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
466 Dog owners recommended

Hello Rebecca, Sprinklers can be a scary thing for a dog that was not exposed to them while young - they shoot out water, sound like a snake and come on suddenly. I suggest purchasing a kids' sprinkler where you can adjust the water so that only a trickle comes out or a full blast like the regular sprinklers. You are going to start with a trickle. Grab Brad's favorite toys or food and start by playing his favorite game near the sprinkle while it is turned off, or sprinkling treats within five feet of the sprinkler while it is off. Make a game of it and feed him his meals this way for a while. When he is completely relaxed around it, move the game or treats even closer to the sprinkler until he is relaxed there also. Next, turn the sprinkler on extremely low, so that only a small amount of water runs over the sides of the spout. Start as low as you can. Play a game with his favorite toy and sprinkle treats around it until he is relaxed about that also. Overtime you are going to gradually turn the sprinkler up a little bit more whenever he is completely alright with the current level of water. Do this until you can have the sprinkler on completely, full blast. Get ready to get wet at that point and spend some time in the sprinkler while tossing treats or a ball out of it for him. Slow things down if he starts to react strongly toward it. Expect this to take weeks or a couple months, not hours or days. Practice with your sprinkler in your own yard until he is completely comfortable with it. When he can handle that, practice in other parts of your yard and at friend's and family's houses in their yards with your sprinkler to help him generalize sprinkler being pleasant in other yards too. At that point, when he can handle your sprinkler in different yards, when you come across another sprinkler have treats or a toy with you on your walk and reward him around it when he is being good, to encourage his focus on you and not the sprinkler and to help him feel happy about being near it. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Atila
Rhodesian Ridgeback
3 Years
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Atila
Rhodesian Ridgeback
3 Years

Hi, we adopted my dog Atila almost two years ago. For the longest time he was a very shy and calm dog (wouldn't even bark or want to be alone). He is very aggressive towards other dogs and also began hunting lizards, chasing cats, killing possums and raccoons. I think the "want" to hunt prey influenced his aggression greatly. He seems to want to jump on us or attack whenever we show signs of embracing one another, when we use hand movements or when we laugh/scream loudly. He is weary of other strangers and doesn't like when they are on our property or when they have big machines (ladders, sticks, or lawn mowers) or when they're faces are covered. It is one thing to be scared of strangers but it has gotten to a point where he has attacked us several times. He doesn't like when we try to pull him away from animals, humans or things he is trying to attack and will turn to bite us. We have had to use a choke collar on him and are afraid this will provoke more fear and anger but we don't know what else to do. We would love any advice using positive training if possible. We truly think he is a great loving dog who has become part of our family but we cannot live in fear this way.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
466 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sofia, First of all he absolutely needs to be wearing a basket muzzle while his aggression is still an issue. This not only protects you but it also prevents him from learning that he can control things by biting - biting needs to become ineffective and no longer an option for him. A muzzle can be introduced positively though. To introduce the muzzle, first place it on the ground and sprinkle his meal kibble around it. Do this until he is comfortable eating around it. Next, when he is comfortable with it being on the floor with food, hold it up and reward him with a piece of kibble every time he touches or sniffs it in your hand. Feed him his whole meal this way. Practice this until he is comfortable touching it. Next, hold a treat inside of it through the muzzle's holes, so that he has to poke his face into it to get the treat. As he gets comfortable doing that, gradually hold the treat further down into the muzzle, so that he has to poke his face all the way into the muzzle to get the treat. Practice until he is comfortable having his face in it. Next, feed several treats in a row through the muzzle's holes while he holds his face in the muzzle for longer. Practice this until he can hold his face in it for at least ten seconds while being fed treats. Next, when he can hold his face in the muzzle for ten seconds while remaining calm, while his face is in the muzzle move the muzzle's buckles together briefly, then feed him a treat through the muzzle. Practice this until he is not bothered by the buckles moving back and forth. Next, while he is wearing the muzzle buckle it and unbuckle it briefly, then feed a treat. As he gets comfortable with this step, gradually keep the muzzle buckled for longer and longer while feeding treats through the muzzle occasionally. Next, gradually increase how long he wears the muzzle for and decrease how often you give him a treat, until he can calmly wear the muzzle for at least an hour without receiving treats more than two treats during that hour. You need to hire a professional trainer to help you. Work on the muzzle introduction first if you are able to so that he can wear the muzzle around the trainer as needed for their safety as well. Check out Jeff Gellman from SolidK9Training. I would suggest looking for a board and train program specifically for aggressive dogs that also includes several sessions working with you to transfer what he has learned. He needs intensive socialization, high level management, clear boundaries, structure, and confidence building. You need professional help. Please find a trainer who can come work with you in person, who is fully aware of his level of aggression so that they can take the needed precautions to keep them from being bitten also. Ask the trainer a lot of questions about their experience. Not all trainers are experienced with aggression. You also need a trainer who has worked with several types of aggression because he likely has some dominance issues, possessiveness, and prey drive, in addition to fear-aggression. You need a trainer that can address the different types. Positive reinforcement should definitely be a huge part of your training protocol but corrections will be needed here. They need to be done by someone knowledgeable though, who gains his respect mentally instead of simply over-powering him physically, this usually accomplished with obedience, structure, boundaries, and sometimes certain tools that help a trainer teach without having to get too close - to avoiding being bitten. Have him get used to wearing a basket muzzle and have him wear the muzzle during the day while free in your home. Feed him his meals in a crate without the muzzle on (he should be able to learn to drink while wearing it though if you use a basket muzzle but watch him to make sure he drinks). Have him sleep in a crate at night without the muzzle on. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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