(1) Proper socialization - The key word here is “proper” socialization. Introducing a dog to other dogs, people, environments and the world at large is crucial to improve their coping skills. Dogs who are stressed by their inability to handle what or who are around them only have a few choices on how to react. And, sadly, one of those is aggression. Never force your dog to interact with someone or some thing they find frightening. This is called flooding and is a very dangerous tool to use during training, which can cause serious fall out behaviors. Make socialization fun and a positive experience.
(2) Dogs that are ill are more likely to show aggression - Ear infections, arthritis, tooth inflammation and more can cause your dog’s ability to cope with his environment to lessen. Injured or sick dogs are also more likely to feel threatened and more likely to react with force and aggression. Make sure your dog is healthy and feeling good to avoid aggression caused by illness. Make a yearly visit to your vet and if you notice illness, see your vet immediately.
(3) Know your breed - Recognize that certain breeds are less tolerant of children, chase and nip at fast moving objects, require extensive exercise and training or do not like to be held or picked up. Ideally, you should know your breed before you pick a dog for your family. However, even if your family already has chosen your dog, designing training and exercise programs around your dog’s breed traits can help prevent aggression. Mixed breeds should be watched for their natural tendencies and their training and exercise should also be reflective of their personal needs.
(4) Obedience work - A well trained dog is a safer dog. A dog that responds to commands such as Sit, Leave It and Off is safer to the community at large and able to work as a team with their owners. Dogs who have no leash manners or basic obedience skills are more likely to suffer with issues regarding self control and body language and react inappropriately to stress. Investing time in your dog through training can pay off in huge rewards. Dogs can start formal training as young as 8 weeks, so do not delay.
(5) Games we play - Avoid tugging with your dog and never teach your children to play tug with a dog. Rough games, such as wrestling, should be avoided, as should any games where your dog is allowed or encouraged to act on aggression or predatory actions. Any game that teaches your dog to place their teeth on humans should be off limits. Playing fetch, agility or hide and seek teach your dog skills such as self-control, appropriate human play and proper problem solving skills.
(6) Proper exercise - A tired dog is a good dog. Properly exercising your dog prevents many types of aggression, that are a result of bored dogs creating their own games/exercise. Fence/window aggression, for example, is not an issue for dogs receiving proper mental and physical exercise as the dogs have no need to run fence lines or run from window to window in the home, barking. Exercising a dog both physically and mentally can be achieved with fetch and stuffed Kongs, for example.
(7) Address behavioral issues - As a responsible dog owner, you are obligated to address any and all behavioral issues your dog may be dealing with for both the safety of your family and the community at large. Behavior issues are a symptom of what your dog is struggling with internally and helping ease your dog’s stressors will help prevent him from showing outward aggression. Set an appointment with your veterinarian or local trainer if you notice concerning behaviors.