The aggression recipe

Posted on July 1st, by Sean O'Shea in Training Tips. Comments Off on The aggression recipe

I was just doing a phone interview with a magazine in New Orleans (Gambit) on dog aggression. They wanted to know when issues would necessitate getting professional help. It was an important topic, and one that doesn’t get talked about much, so I was super excited to talk with them. As we were talking I mentioned that I’d love to talk about the causes – what precipitates and creates most aggression issues, as well as what to do to in case things have already taken a turn.

What is most often the cause of aggression issues? It almost always comes down to what is or isn’t shared with the dog – his or her environmental experience. Of course you can have genetic issues or severe abuse as causes of aggression, but to be honest, those are probably 1% of the reason for the aggression problems we see. So here’s a little list I came up with for the interview. I’m hoping its simplicity and clarity might help some folks better understand how aggression issues are typically created.

What creates aggression?

  • Permissiveness/allowing unwanted behavior
  • Too much unearned affection
  • Too much freedom/access to personal space
  • Too few rules
  • Too little accountability/consequences for poor/dangerous choices
  • Not enough structure/training commands
  • Too much doting and too little discipline overall


How do we fix aggression? We replace all the stuff that was missing that created it.

  • Tons of structure/training commands
  • Enforced rules
  • All access to freedom or resources is dependent upon our permission
  • Believable authority/following through
  • Calming exercises
  • Valuable consequences for poor/dangerous choices
  • Show the dog clearly what is and isn’t acceptable
  • Remove affection and freedom until earned
  • Leading your dog rather than just loving it

Most folks don’t realize that the above seemingly benign “moments” are actually the ingredients that, over time, allowed to stew and bake, and combined with a few of the other ingredients, ultimately create aggression issues. Most folks view aggression as something that just happens. But it almost never “just happens”. It’s almost always some combination of the above either being done or not being done. And it usually happens slowly and subtly. That’s why folks think it “just happens.”

If you’re having any aggression issues, take a look at the top list and see where you’re going wrong. And then look at the second list and get to work!

P.S. And before anyone gets crazy, the second list is as heavily weighted as it is in order to reverse the process already started. (Remember, we’re talking about dogs with aggression issues.) As dogs move through the process and improve, they can earn more freedom, more affection, more of the good, fun stuff.

P.S.S. If you’re dog is displaying any behavior that has you worried or scared, DO NOT try to tackle it yourself. Contact a qualified and experienced trainer.

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