By Juliana Weiss-Roessler
The safest way to handle an aggressive dog is to seek help and rehabilitate the dog. People who rely only on aggression-proofing their home aren’t doing their dogs any favors.
In fact, many of the steps that people typically take to protect others from their dog, such as keeping the dog separate and locked up, can actually feed the aggression. And many methods can also make your dog seem scarier, making humans feel more afraid — anxious energy that will also contribute to your dog’s aggression.
It’s important that a consistent plan for rehabilitation be put in place by an experienced professional, and it’s crucial that all human family members be involved in the process. Every one of you needs to master your own energy, so you can eventually move past these potentially counter-productive safety methods with calm-assertive confidence.
But unfortunately a behavior change won’t happen overnight, so while you’re working on rehabilitating your dog, you do need to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that no one gets hurt. Here are a few ways you can keep other people, dogs, and animals safe while you go through the process.
Master your energy
It’s likely that you suffer from some of the same triggers as your dog by now. The doorbell rings, and it may be hard to tell who jumps to action first: you or your dog. Your energy is contributing to the situation and, in some cases, causing it.
One effective way to gain better control of your dog is to gain better control of your own emotional reactions. That doesn’t mean you can’t put your dog in a crate after the doorbell rings, but it does mean that you should do so with calm-assertive energy that lets your dog know that you’re the pack leader.
Double-check every possible exit
Most houses have several ways out: the front door, back door, and garage door. Every time you open one of these, it’s an opportunity for your dog to get out. Consider installing an additional dog gate at each entrance, or find a secure area in your home where you can put your dog when you need to go out or let someone in.
If you have a fenced-in area, it’s also crucial that you do a perimeter check for any loose boards or areas where your dog is trying to dig under. In most cases, you also want to invest in a sturdy lock for the fence gate — don’t rely on the normal gate mechanism alone.
If you live in an apartment or other residence with a single front door that opens directly into a common area, then it is vitally important that you create a psychological boundary around that door — one that your dog is not allowed to enter without your permission. Until you manage that, then secure your dog in another room when you have to go in and out.
Get a crate or kennel
Even if you have a room where you can put your dog away, it’s a good idea to have a crate as a back-up. In fact, place that crate in the secure room, and you’re now doubly protected.
When searching for the right crate, keep in mind that your dog should have just enough room to turn around comfortably. Many people make the mistake of buying a larger crate than they need, but you don’t want to give the dog room to pace, which is another contributor to aggressive behavior. Instead, think of it as a comfy den where he can relax.
And make sure your dog doesn’t just associate it with triggers for her aggressive behavior. Put your dog in when she’s relaxed, such as after a nice long walk, so she sees it as a place to go to rest and be calm-submissive.
Invest in a quality muzzle
While dogs can certainly cause damage by jumping up and clawing, it’s their jaws that pose the most serious danger. When shopping for a muzzle, you want to look for one that’s designed specifically for training an aggressive dog.
Cloth muzzles, like the kind that you might see at the vet or groomer, are not effective for an aggressive dog. They can still pinch you through the fabric. Plus, they restrict the dog’s ability to pant, so they must be used with supervision for shorter periods of time. Instead, you want a muzzle made from strong materials that still allows your dog to breathe properly.
But here’s something you may not have considered when shopping for a muzzle: how it looks to humans. Why does that matter? Well, it’s hard not to feel intimidated and anxious when confronted with a muzzle that looks like a little cage made of metal and leather. And if your dog is encountering that reaction while out and about, the unbalanced energy will make him more aggressive, not less.
The Funny Muzzle is just as strong as those “Hannibal Lector” varieties, but it’s also more welcoming. In fact, it may make people laugh or smile instead — a very different reaction than your dog is probably used to getting. Defusing the anxiety of other humans can mean a more pleasant walk and faster rehabilitation.
Get sufficient liability insurance
Unfortunately, no amount of preparation is totally fail-proof, so it’s also important that you’re ready to take financial responsibility if an incident does occur. Generally, your homeowner’s or renter’s policies will provide this type of coverage, but some specifically exclude dog bites, don’t cover so-called “dangerous” breeds, or have limits that won’t fully cover required medical expense. Other coverage options include a personal umbrella liability policy or a specific canine liability policy.
Introduce your dog to friends and family who aren’t afraid
Dogs pick up on energy, and if your dog is constantly exposed to humans who are afraid of her, she’ll pick up on those cues and become more aggressive as a result. Not what you want!
So find safe opportunities to expose your dog to situations that are more welcoming and people who understand how to properly interact with your dog, and aren’t put off by her breed if that’s a factor in your case. If the thought makes you anxious, don’t try it alone. After all, your negative energy will just contribute to the issue. Work with your canine professional to make it a reality. He or she can help you determine when both you and your dog are ready.
Don’t forget exercise!
Remember, keeping your dog cooped up all the time will actually make the problem worse. Dogs need regular exercise, or they’ll channel all that bottled-up energy into something else. In your dog’s case, that will likely be aggressive behaviors. Some safer options for exercise include playing ball or other games in the backyard, and walking during off-time in areas that aren’t busy, with your dog wearing a basket style muzzle.
The goal should be to get you and your dog exposed to more and more situations, people, dogs, and other animals, so if that’s not part of your canine professional’s plan, find someone else to work with you and your dog.
Want more information or to get your own Funny Muzzle? Now you can!