Can you recognize the warning signs of fear aggression before it is too late? The early signs can include:
- Licking the lips;
- Showing the whites of the eyes;
- Holding the ears and tail in a downward position instead of up. A dog who is offensively aggressive keeps his tail up;
- Wagging the tail appeasingly downward; (The dog is even more fearful if he holds his tail clamped to the body.)
[Dog Watch, Volume 17, Number 8, August 2013]
Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, Ph.D., diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Medicine and emeritus professor of animal behavior at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine says that dogs who were not socialized to many different people and experiences at an early age commonly exhibit fear aggression, as do certain breeds. Fear aggression usually begins as dogs start to mature – from six months to two years.
If you were unable to socialize your dog on your own or at a puppy kindergarten or if you have a shelter dog who is well into maturity, there are ways of overcoming his fear aggression.
Don’t punish a dog who exhibits the warning signs, because you will be confirming his fear. Rather, remove the dog before anything else happens.
Don’t overwhelm a fearful dog with new experiences to catch up on his socialization. Like everything in dog training, slow, steady, and increasing intensity is the rule. Special treats and gradual exposure beginning with non-threatening strangers can bring a fearful dog into one who is happy when strangers approach.
Begin by giving treats when your dog is with someone non-threatening – such as a child or small woman. Continue up the ladder of fearsomeness to dogs – larger women, clean-shaven men, and finally a bearded man. Give a treat different from what he usually gets and only in the presence of the stranger.
You may have to begin with a “stranger” (a friend) placed across the street, gradually allowing the stranger to approach closer and closer, always giving treats until the dog is comfortable. The stranger may have to carry a suitcase or swing a shopping bag until the dogs gets used to it.
If you can, start socializing your puppy in the formative socialization stage – until 16 weeks of age. “Early and frequent socialization in the form of a puppy kindergarten is the best prevention for fear aggression.” (Dog Watch)