Learned Aggression in Dogs

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

Dogs learn quickly, almost too quickly, how to get the things they want.  Unfortunately, if you have a dog that has aggression problems, with many of the different types of aggression, and it gets him what he wants, even just once.  It can quickly turn into a learned behavior, or learned aggression.

Dogs are learning every moment of the day, whether we, their humans, are currently working on training them or not.  I used to laugh at how quickly the new foster dogs learned where the treats are kept in our house.  Rarely did it take more than 24 hours until they knew when I was getting treats, just by the direction I was walking.  Unfortunately the things they learn on their own are not always what we would like to teach them.

Dogs, fortunately or unfortunately, whichever way you look at it, learn by association.  If something they do brings them a positive outcome, they’re going to do it again.  And it doesn’t take more than a few times before it quickly becomes a learned behavior.  If they do something that doesn’t bring a positive outcome, or brings a negative outcome, they won’t do it anymore.  Whining in the crate is a good example.  If you let your dog out of his crate when he’s fussing, he quickly realizes that fussing gets him out of the crate.  And it’s a hard behavior to stop then.  Or dogs that repeatedly tear through the trash.  If they find a piece of food, or something they find yummy, they’ll keep doing it.  But if your dog gets into the trash and doesn’t find anything good, or hurts himself on a discarded can or such, he’ll most likely not do it again.

Learned Aggression

Just like with anything else, they can quickly learn that aggression often gets them what they want.  If you’re working with your dog on getting over fear aggression, resource guarding, territorial aggression, etc.  using the desensitization and counter-conditioning, or any other method, and you mess up just once or twice and give him what he wants when he’s being aggressive, it can teach him to be aggressive anything he wants said thing.  It becomes a learned behavior.  And that is a bad thing.  A very bad thing.

So you need him to learn instead that his aggression gets him nothing.  No attention, no treats, no playtime, etc.

This is why it’s so important to be in complete control of the situation when you’re working on desensitization and counter-conditioning with your dog.  And why you should take it slow.

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

 

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