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Fear Aggression -By Angela DeLuca, ABC Certified Dog Trainer and Program Manager

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  Angela Peña, Director of Media and Public Relations
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Saturday, January 30, 2010 : 12:45:06 PM
Updated Thursday, August 18, 2011 : 11:24:12 AM
Fear in dogs is not an uncommon thing. This behavior could be caused by a couple of things. You will want to identify the source of the fear first. It could either be a result of specific breed tendencies, possible mistreatment, or a lack of socialization during the fear imprint period. You will also find a combination of these things in some dogs.

As the dog matures, you will see this behavior begin to become more intense. This becomes clear at around six months of age, or the beginning of the dogs adolescence. The sooner you begin the behavior modification, the better.

You will see the dog showing signs of fear towards strangers, other animals, and some objects. Some dogs will show the flight response, meaning running away from the things that he is fearful of. Alternatively, the dog may show the fight response, meaning he may try to go towards object instead of running away from it. The dog may show the fight response because he is trying to scare away the thing that it is fearful of. Some of the body posture that this dog will show would be pulling the corners of his mouth back and barking and growling while showing his teeth.

The dog may lunge at the object and get very low to the ground within seconds. The hair will go up from dog’s tail all the way to the shoulder blades. By doing this, the dog is attempting to appear bigger than the object, person, or animal he is fearful of.

Using correction on a fearful dog can be detrimental to his training program. This will only cause a deeper negative association to what the dog is fearful of. The dog is scared of these things; you cannot tell him to stop being scared. You will want to use all positive reinforcement training techniques with a dog who has this type of aggression.

You will want to start by determining what the dog’s triggers are. Is he scared of men, small children, or loud noises? Once you can identify what the dog is fearful of, and once he will react to you, you can work on the behavioral threshold. Determine the minimum distance the dog can be from the object without reacting. You will want to use the highest value reward, such as steak or chicken, when redirecting this dog. A head collar is also a great tool to use in this training program as it gives you much more control over the dog and his movements. This also puts the dog in a much more subordinate state of mind.

Our goal is for the dog to be aware of the triggers around him but not to react to them. As soon as your dog sees the trigger, you will begin feeding the very high-value reward, one after another. Do not give the dog a chance to redirect onto the stimulus. While the dog is still doing well and is still focused on you and the reward, begin to move the dog toward the stimulus, but only to a point where you know he will not act aggressively. You should begin doing this in small increments across a span of several weeks.

Once your dog is successful at seven feet from the stimulus, you can begin moving closer. For the next couple of weeks you will work with the dog at a distance of five feet. As time goes on and the dog’s confidence builds, you can begin working closer and closer.

Once the dog is comfortable being around strangers you will begin using them in your training. A great way to begin would be to have strangers toss high-value food rewards near the dog. Do not have the stranger approach quickly or look at the dog; she should just a toss of a treat and move on. If the dog does not show reaction to this, then you are making great progress and can continue to move forward. If your dog does react to the stranger, you will want to take a couple of steps back in your training and continue to build his behavioral threshold.

Remember to work on these exercises very slowly. By doing this, you will be much more successful. I know that when you see the dog succeed, you will want to see if you can push him a little further. I would not recommend doing this as you can overwhelm the dog. Once you are confident that the dog appears relaxed and can succeed, you can then move to the next level of training. If the dog becomes stressed, you can end the training session and come back to it at another time. I would recommend also doing something that the dog can succeed at, such as Sit-Stays or the Come cue, before ending your training session so that you are