Category: Dog Aggression To people we meet while out (including aggression to vets)

Solving aggression to people you meet while walking

Dogs attacking people when on the street is risky and worrisome

If your dog is snapping, snarling, biting and lunging at people you meet when walking then I am sure you are concerned.

The risk and chance of litigation and of Council action is profound and worrisome and you need to take immediate action.

When solving aggressive behaviour, your first step is to assess the risk. Once the risk is clear, then you need to implement the solutions that will reduce the risk as your first priority.

But it's also important that you determine the underlying reason for the aggression. Not all aggressive behaviours are equal and the more accurately you determine the reason "Why is it so?" the better your solution will be.

So the process you should follow is:-

  1. Assess your dog's problem first and in particular assess the risk
  2. Then implement the solutions that target the risks you identify in your assessment as your first priority
  3. Then re-assess your progress as times goes on to ensure you are getting to where you want to be.

Assessing your dog's aggression and the risk involved

Aggressive behaviour to people you meet when you are out and about with your dog is risky.

This sheet, Biting the Hand, goes into the risk in much more detail.

The risk of aggression that occurs to when walking your dog or dogs on the street depends on:-

  • The severity of the aggression
  • If people feel frightened or threatened by your dog
  • Of course, if injuries are occurring to people you meet
  • and if Council or legal action is being considered or has been actioned

While this information below is detailed, there is nothing better than receiving professional advice for problems as serious as this. You should not rely on this information alone to solve the problem you have with your dog. You are urged to consult with your own veterinarian who can refer you to a veterinary behaviourist. Alternatively you can contact us for personal advice if you prefer.

So with a big alert to the risk of aggression, let's get started

But why is my dog aggressive?

That's not an easy question to answer on a website but we will try.  A proper assessment will lead to a diagnosis and your own veterinarian can help with that, or we can help if you prefer - to do that start with this assessment form.

The most common causes of aggression your dog shows to people you meet are:-

  1. A fear-based response where your dog is suddenly scared by someone moving unpredictably near him or her - such as a jogger or cyclist suddenly moving past
  2. An anxiety disorder created from previous traumatic interactions with people (especially when your dog was a youngster). The concept of flight/fight response is relevant to this. Anxiety-based aggression often involves growling and barking vocalisations, lunging, your dog's hackles being raised and sometimes the 'showing of teeth'. Anxiety-based aggression often grows from fear-based responses.
  3. Predatory aggression particularly if your dog's aggression is directed towards people who move past quickly such as joggers, cyclists, skaters and happy, noisy, and running children. Predatory aggression is quick and often silent.
  4. Protective aggression where the dog feels the need to protect you from people who are approaching. However, protective aggression is just another form of anxiety.

There are certainly other causes of aggression to people you meet and sometimes there is more than one cause.

Behaviour Key

Following is a useful key you can use to ensure you examine all aspects of your pet's behaviour and the information below is gathered under the headings of this key.

To structure your solution to this problem, consider this useful key which will help you to ensure all aspects of your pet's behaviour are considered.

  1. Are medical problems relevant?
  2. Can your pet learn, and, if so, how can you teach it to behave?
  3. How is the problem best managed to help with a solution?
  4. Will medications or pheromones be needed for this problem?

Are medical problems relevant?

Many medical conditions can make aggression worse.

While pain-related aggression would not be a common cause of aggression to people you meet, it could be a feature if a person you meet goes to pat your dog in a painful area or tries to pick your dog up when it is in pain.

This would be particularly so for a senior-age dog with, for instance, arthritis.

Changes in vision and hearing can also cause aggression to people you meet because your dog may be 'startled' by the approach of a person.

Other pain-inducing conditions such as itchy skin and ear infections can make a pet 'cranky'.

Your veterinarian can advise on treatments for all of these conditions.

Now here's a job for you. If you are intending to ask the team at Cam Day Consulting to assist with the solution, or are being referred by your own veterinarian, we prefer pets to have a  health check and MBA blood test done before your consultation with us.

Ideally a thyroid function test is also useful especially if your feel the aggression is 'abnormal'.

Please ask your vet to complete those tasks before attending your referral.

How can you teach your dog(s) to be non-aggressive?

Teaching your dog not to be aggressive

Teaching a dog not to be aggressive to people you meet is not as important as avoiding people on the street.

It's safer to presume you cannot teach your dog to be well-behaved towards people and therefore avoid interaction - at least until you see you are making progress with training.

However, when it comes to teaching a dog to be non-aggressive, remember that dogs usually cannot learn when they are 'immersed in the emotion of the moment'.

That means, when your dog is lunging, growling and barking at a person when you are out and about, no amount of yelling, screaming or hitting will prevent them being aggressive next time.  Dogs don't learn like that. It won't work.

So, punishing your dog or dogs AFTER THE EVENT is a total waste of time.

It is usually not helpful to concentrate on punishing the aggression because in most cases that makes the aggression worse, especially as so many aggressive dogs are anxious anyway and punishment makes them more anxious.

So, solving aggression is best done in incremental steps that are successfully achieved 'before' your dog is aggressive.

To learn about using a reward-based technique you need to know about a process called the circle of rewards and the leave routine.

The Leave Routine is like a speed-teaching system that's created from reward-based cognitive therapies. It simple terms, it's a fun, game play routine where your dog learns that the human English word 'leave' means the dog-lish action of 'don't bite'.  But there's nothing magical about the word LEAVE unless you know how to use that to reward a targeted and defined outcome behaviour.

That's way too detailed to be shared here so follow the links in the paragraph before - they will open up a whole world of advice on how to teach your dog to be well-behaved in many situations - not just for aggression

Considering that your dog is aggressive while being walked, then you should also refer to this very important sheet Dreaded Walkies as it talks specifically about processes you can use to solve aggression while walking.

In that sheet you will read about the U Turn Technique and another precise process called the Perpendicular Pooch Routine.

You will find more details on the links above and from our team if you need to consult with us.

However, sometimes with aggression, teaching dogs to be non-aggressive is very difficult and extremely risky and particularly so because you don't know people will respond to your dog when you are out and about.

If your dog's problem is serious, we advise you to seek professional help from our team at Cam Day Consulting.

How is the aggression to people managed?

Management of a behaviour refers to those things you may do that won't solve the underlying 'emotion' that causes the problem, but stops the problem from occurring usually by AVOIDING it.

For aggression to people you meet - managing the aggression expertly is your most important task.

This article talks about managing aggression in detail.

To give an example, management often means keeping your dog away from people that you would normally meet on the street.

There are many ways of doing that but they include:-

  • walking in areas devoid of pedestrians, joggers and cyclists
  • walking at times when other people are not likely to walk
  • avoiding areas where people accumulate such as children's playgrounds and busy walking paths.

If your dog barks excessively at pedestrians that pass by your home, you may need better fences to stop your dog seeing passing pedestrians, especially if you are on a busy street.

Leads and harness for walking aggressive dogs

Attention to what you walk your dog on is also important. Some are better on head halters, some are better on collars and some are better on specially designed harness.

The use of muzzles is a debatable point but there are some advantages.

Before we leave the topic of  management of aggression - you may want to also read this article on managing aggression to veterinarians or to dog groomers who need to handle your dog closely.

Management of aggression is quite a complex manner and you will benefit from seeking personal advice from us on that.

Will homeopathic preparations, pheromones, or medications be needed for this problem?  

Some aggressive dogs cannot be calmed by training alone and need other 'agents' to reduce their anxiety. 

For low-level cases of anxiety that cause aggression the homeopathic preparation Homeopet anxiety relief may be beneficial.

Pheromones such as the Adaptil Spray or Collar can be useful for aggression on the street.

You will need to apply the Adaptil Spray to a bandana you place on your dog's neck at least 15 minutes before you leave. If it works, the effect will last for about 1 - 2 hours. If you prefer to use the Adaptil Collar, that can be used continuously for approximately one month.

What about medications?

While they are not always needed, for the right problem they can literally be life-saving. Medications used for pet behavioural disorders are true mood-modifying medications and, when used correctly, should have minimal to no side effects.

However, all medications are prescription-only preparations and you will need to see your veterinarian or the vets at Cam Day Consulting for the supply of medications.  Click here for more information on medications for pet behavioural problems.

A summary of the process

 So, solving aggression between dogs that you own involves the following:  

  1. Being aware of the risk involved and avoiding aggression at all costs to minimise that risk. Remember, people don't have to be injured for them to complain to the local Council and for your dog to then be declared a dangerous dog.
  2. Considering any medically-related problems such as painful conditions and having them treated as needed.
  3. Carefully teach your dog not to be aggressive by teaching your dog what he or she needs to know with the leave routine and then applying that sequentially to the problem - but don't rely on teaching alone.
  4. Considering if your dog needs calming with homeopathic preparations, pheromones or medications.
  5. Reviewing your success honestly to ensure you are progressing
  6. And seeking professional attention if you can't do it on your own.