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Fear Aggression

If you've been growled at or bitten when trying to put a collar on a dog, or even after making a sudden movement, the dog may be reacting out of fear aggression.

Fear-induced aggression can be distinguished from dominance-based aggression by body language. Gary L. Clemons, DVM, notes that fear-aggressive dogs typically display submissive body language (ears back, often flat against the head; avoiding direct eye contact; lowering the head and body; tucking tail between the legs; even submissive urination). Sometimes they roll over to expose their bellies. They hate to have their feet touched, don't like to be groomed, shy away from hands -- and may lunge when people approach or turn away. They are likely to bite when frightened or feel they are in a situation from which they can't escape. Fear biters tend to bite and lunge in an attempt to control a situation.

The roots of fear aggression can be severe physical or verbal punishment at an earlier age. Or the dog may have been kept outside and/or tethered on a short chain and frustrated--or taunted by people. Genetics can also play a part; some dogs who haven't been abused, according to Cornell's Katherine Houpt, VMD, will react to a frightening stimulus such as a large, unfamiliar man.

Helping a fear-aggressive dog:

* Use positive reinforcement to train the dog. Reward appropriate behavior with treats, praise and petting. Earn and build the dog's trust.

* Don't punish a dog for bad behavior. Instead, use humane, properly executed corrections.

* Don't reward a dog for aggressive behavior (this includes cooing, cuddling and petting in an attempt to soothe).

* Avoid reinforcing dog's fear with your own anxiety.

* Remember: fearful dogs don't like surprises. Establish rules and order to help the dog adjust, and make sure everyone in the house follows the rules.

* As with dominance aggression, the person needs to become leader of the pack.

* Open the dog's crate door from the side vs. leaning in.

* If the dog is aggressive to one person in the household, retrain. Until the problem is overcome, the only person who will feed the dog, give treats, pet, walk or play with the dog will be the one to whom the dog expressed aggression. Let that family member be the one the dog must depend on for positive actions. When the dog displays negative behaviors, have another family member take the necessary corrective action. During the retraining period, other family members should avoid interaction with the dog so that the feared person can be the dog's center of attention, says Houpt. When the dog obeys a command, the handler should praise and give a treat to the dog. Retraining can take several weeks.

* Dr. Nicholas Dodman suggests that treatment include: exercise 20-30 minutes or more a day, a nonperformance ration diet, training with a head halter, as well as desensitization and counter-conditioning.

* Anti-anxiety medication can speed up retraining, says Dr. Dodman. Pharmacotherapy options include propranolol (Inderal), fluoxetine (Prozac), and buspirone (Buspar).

Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET) PawSupport