Fear Based Aggression: Conquering the Fear

This post is part of the series Working with Aggressive Dogs

Other posts in this series:

  1. Monkey, 8 lbs of Aggression
  2. Types of Aggression in Dogs
  3. Fear Based Aggression in Dogs

So you’ve got a dog with fear based aggression?  That’s no fun.  You always have to be on the lookout for signs of fear with your dog, before it turns into aggression.  Yeah, no fun at all.  But did you know you can work with your dog on conquering the fear?  Yes, you can.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a nice calm dog, that never let the fear get to the point of aggression?

What NOT to do while conquering the fear based aggression:

Although many people feel that all you need to do to get your dog to get over their fear is to bring the animal to the object or place that causes the fear.  Then to keep him there until he is no longer afraid. It’s called flooding, and you don’t want to do it.  It’s definitely not the way to go, if you want to work with your dog on conquering the fear.  More times than not it has disastrous consequences.  Imagine trying to hold back a dog that truly fears for his life.  And if you fail to hold him, you’ll have taught him to be even more afraid than he was.  You’ll also ruin the trust your dog has in you.  And that is not good, especially with a fearful dog.

What TO DO to conquer the fear based aggression:

Helping your dog with conquering the fear that causes his fear based aggression requires desensitization and counter-conditioning.  Or DCC for short.  While you’re working with your dog on the DCC program, you never want to expose your dog to the things he fears, unless you are in control of the presentation of them.

Instead you want to you want to begin by exposing you dog to the fearful stimuli one at a time.  Making sure that you are in complete control of the situation.  Once he conquers his fear of one stimuli, begin to work in small combinations.  Still in a very controlled manner, until the stimuli does produce the fearful response in your dog.  And always reward your dog for staying calm.

How to get started with a desensitization and counter-conditioning program:

Start by picking the situation that you most often have to deal with with your dog’s fear based aggression.  Analyze the situation, think it over from start to finish.  And break it down into steps.  Find the exact things that trigger your dog’s fear.  Watch your dog’s behavior to pinpoint the exact moment that his fear takes over.

At first, have the stimuli at a distance that your dog is aware of, but not close enough to really trigger his response.  Reward him for staying relaxed.  Then distract him him with some play, or commands that he’s already mastered.  Reward him if he focuses on you instead of the stimuli in the background.

Work first on the duration of having the stimuli at a distance, before working on bringing it closer.  When you’re ready to start bring the fearful stimuli closer, GO SLOW.  There is nothing more important to remember right now.  Don’t rush him.  You do not want to lose his trust, it’s really hard to get a fearful dog to trust you in the first place.  Losing it will make your life even more difficult.  And always remain calm.

Keep working with your dog on this until he can stay relaxed when the stimuli is right next to him.  Or as close as it’s ever likely to get, depending on the thing/place your dog fears.

Tips for the desensitization and counter-conditioning program:

Avoid any situations that lead to your dog’s fear based aggression during the program.

Never reach over a fearful dog.  Never corner one either.  Instead squat down, and turn your body sideways, as you call him to you.  Avoiding eye contact.  Stretch out your arm, palm up and open, nearly at ground level.

Never disturb a fearful dog while he’s sleeping.  Wake him from a distance, with either a command or other noise that doesn’t scare him.

Never comfort your dog when he’s acting fearful.  It only reinforces his fear.  Wait for him to relax before praising him.  If he doesn’t calm down.  Remove him from the situation, to his crate if possible.  And reward him for calming down there.

Never punish your dog during the desensitization and counter-conditioning program.  Harsh treatment or punishments will confuse him and make him lost trust in you.

Never leave dogs with fear based aggression (or any dog) alone with children.  Children are unpredictable.

Do not allow strangers to approach your dog.  Ask them to wait, standing still calmly and not making eye contact, while he approaches them.  If they wish to pet him, allow so only under the chin, but not reaching over the dog to do so.

Do your best to minimize sudden movements and loud noises.

Always try to remain cool, calm and collected.

There is no quick fix to helping a dog with conquering the fear.

Remember, not all dogs will learn at the same rate.  And fearful dogs can be challenging.  Time, patience and consistent work will help him to get better about keeping control of his fear.

This post is part of the series Working with Aggressive Dogs

Other posts in this series:

  1. Monkey, 8 lbs of Aggression
  2. Types of Aggression in Dogs
  3. Fear Based Aggression in Dogs

Continue reading this series:

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