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Behaviour / Dog Behaviour Solutions / Aggression / Aggression to visitors

Solving aggression dogs show to visitors

When your dog attacks visitors to your home you need to take immediate actionAggression to visitors should be avoided as a first principle

 

If your dog is snapping, snarling, biting or lunging at your visitors it's not only very dangerous - it's a legal nightmare.

First principle - avoid the problem.

If visitors arrive - put your dog in a location where he or she won't get near your visitors.

With this form of aggression, there is significant risk involved and it's common for victims of aggression to seek legal action with your local Council or with litigation lawyers.

This is especially so if the aggression is directed towards children or elderly folk.  Removing your dog from visitors at least allows you more time to assess the problem and implement the targeted solutions below.


Below you will find a step-by-step, sensible, and science-based approached to this complex problem.

Follow the links but you really need to activate a membership to follow each link to the information that it points to.  If you have already activated a membership be sure to login before you browse the links below.

When solving aggressive behaviour towards visitors 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:- 

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

Below you will find all the information you need.

Note – to get full access to the information that follows you should activate a membership with PETHEALTH.COM.AU now.


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Table of Contents

  1. Assessing your dog's aggression
  2. Why is my dog aggressive?
  3. Are medical problems relevant?
  4. How can I teach my dog not to be aggressive to visitors?
  5. How can I best manage my dog's aggression?
  6. Will pheromones or medications help?
  7. Review of the process


Assessing your dog's aggression and the risk involved

Firstly, read this member's sheet, Biting the Hand, because that goes into the risk in much more detail.

The risk of aggression that occurs to your visitors depends on:-

  • The age of the victims (e.g. are children or elderly folk involved?)
  • How often visitors arrive, and whether you know they are coming or they arrive unannounced
  • The nature of your front fences and gates and the location of your entry door.
  • The severity of the injuries if any
  • And the breed and size of your dog

When it comes to the risk of injury, young children and elderly folk are most at risk.

Girlp and PupYoung children are at risk because 'kids will be kids' and will inadvertently do things that arouse, upset or hurt dogs and that's when aggression commonly occurs. When visiting children play with your own children, the activity of those children is usually joyfully intense but dogs often become anxious in such situations.

For a detailed discussion on the risks and benefits of dogs associating with children read this sheet - Friend or Fiend. This page (Kids and Pets) also deals with similar concepts.

Elderly folk visiting your home are at risk because they could have medical conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes or any condition that makes their skin frail, and because some elderly folk are on anti-coagulants that may mean injuries will not easily stop bleeding. That can be serious so be sure to read this page Elderly People and Savage Dogs.

 While the 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

 

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But why is my dog aggressive?but_why-graphic

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 may show to visitors are:-

  1. A fear-based response where your dog is suddenly scared by a visitor who may move unpredictably near him or her - such as someone disturbing your dog when it is asleep or suddenly waving a stick or raising a hand near your dog - even in jest. Such situations are very common with visiting children.
  2. An anxiety disorder created from previous traumatic interactions with people (and they may not have been visitors). 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 or harmful mistreatment. Visitors 'invade' a dog's territory so sometimes aggression to visitors is a form or territoriality or protective aggression. However territorial and/or protective aggression is just a form of anxiety. The ringing of the doorbell and the sounds of feet on pathways and entrance steps stimulate the anxiety of approaching visitors and heighten aggression.
  3. Predatory aggression particularly if your dog's aggression is directed towards people who move past quickly such as children playing. Rarely, predatory aggression is directed towards crawling toddlers when they are crying. Predatory aggression is quick and often silent so it's very dangerous.
  4. Resource-guarding aggression where a dog will aggressively protect a bone or a rawhide chew. Sometimes resource-guarding aggression occurs when visitors touch a dog's toy and occasionally dogs can resource-guard their favourite family members from visitors.

There are certainly other causes of aggression to your family  and sometimes there is more than one cause.  You should also read our blog on aggression for more information.

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Podcasts on Aggression

To listen to two hours of recorded Podcasts by Dr Cam on aggressive behaviour and its solutions please click here - membership is required.

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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.

Behaviour 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?

When it comes to aggression that your dog shows to your family, many medical conditions can make aggression worse.  It's important you know what to do. 

For instance, if aggression occurs when visitors pat, play,  handle, or move your dog, then pain-related aggression may be the cause.

Common conditions such as arthritis, painful ear conditions and even itchy, painful skin conditions can be relevant.Aggression can be caused by medical illness

Such conditions need to be properly diagnosed and effectively treated.

If aggression occurs suddenly and for no obvious reason, then disorders in various organs, including the thyroid gland are rare but potential causes.

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

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 you feel the aggression is 'abnormal'. So, please ask your vet to complete those tasks before attending your referral.

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How can you teach your dog to be friendly to visitors?  

Teaching a dog to be friendly to visitors is important, but, depending on the type of aggression your dog is showing, it's complex and potentially dangerous so you need to be cautious.

Use what follows as a general guide but it is much better to seek professional advice from your Veterinarian or by contacting us - this assessment form is the easiest way of doing that.

The KISS principle of teaching dogs not to be aggressive

Rule # 1:-  Replace the aggression with a 'good behaviour' and precisely reward that behaviour when you get it.

Rule # 2:-  Repeat Rule # 1 until the aggression reduces or extinguishes altogether.

However, when it comes to teaching a dog to be friendly, 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, no amount of yelling, screaming or hitting will prevent them being aggressive next time.  Dogs don't learn like that. It won't work and it will make the aggression worse. 

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 aggresRewarding good
behaviour stops aggressionsion is best done in incremental steps that are successfully achieved 'before' your dog is aggressive.

Considering that your dog is aggressive to visitors, the best process is:-

  1. Teach your dog a reward-based leadership routine. We use a routine we have named the circle of commands and another called the leave routine . They both result in a precisely measurable outcome behaviour called the Laser-lock Sit.

  2.  Then, with visitors who are comfortable around dogs, and with great caution, you can show your visitors how to achieve the same outcome behaviour with your dog.

Another benefit of  the Leave Routine is that it is like a speed-teaching system. In 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 such as the Laser-lock sit.

You may also like to refer to this sheet which tell you how to Talk Like a Dog! and more generally to a huge section of Pethealth.com.au on dog training techniques.

 

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


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How is the aggression best 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 visitors - 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 your visitors in those situations that cause aggression.

There are many ways of doing that but they include:

  1. Not allowing your dogs to have ANY access to your visitors at all.

    This means many things but in simple terms you need to have a place you can put you dog when visitors arrive. We often call this the Polar Bear Principle because managers of Oceanariums where Polar Bears are kept do not allow their visitors near their Polar Bears due to the risk.

    BUT - that Polar Bear enclosure is a rich environment which caters for the animal's needs. That's what you should consider with your dog.

    That requires more description so contact us for more advice but you should also read about our No Bored Dogs Routine which deals with such detail.

  2. Managing your gates and doors expertly to stop unexpected entry of visitors

    There is much to mention here but most of it is common sense. What you don't want is for your visitors to get within tooth range of your dog.

    Locking gates is a good start but we can also advise on the use and supply of various motion sensors to detect the movement of visitors to give you advanced warning that a person is arriving.

    This article gives more information on fences and gates.

  3. Be cautious with social gatherings

    Social gatherings such as the Saturday Barbeque are a proven arena of problems for pets. Aggression is very common when you have groups of visitors gathering in your home.

    It's another big area so please read this sheet called When Dogs Attack.

There are many other examples.

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

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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 and to create a safe state for all. 

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

Pheromones such as the Adaptil Diffuser may help for aggression to visitors by filling your home with a calming maternally-derived dog pheromone.

 


 

What about medications?

For the right problem which has been professionally diagnosed, medications 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.

They can be quite effective if the aggression to your visitors is based on anxieties or from an inability of your dog to control its own moods.

Are they always effective?  Certainly not.

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 to access a member's file for more information on medications for pet behavioural problems.

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A summary of the process

 So, solving aggression to visitors involves the following:  

  1. Being aware of the risk involved and avoiding aggression at all costs to minimise that risk.
  2. Considering any medically-related problems such as painful conditions and having them treated as needed.
  3. Carefully teaching 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.

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DISCLAIMER Any form of aggression involves risk.  Your most important duty is to manage that risk effectively to protect other people, other dogs and other animals from risk. Risk is also manifest in that the Council could take action to declare your dog dangerous and there is the risk of litigation and injury claims if your dog hurts a person, another dog and another animal. Never presume an aggressive dog is cured and manage the dog for life to ensure that injuries do not occur. Be particularly careful and vigilant if aggression is directed towards children, elderly people or people who are convalescing from illness or who are on medications.

 

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