Fear Aggression By Dogs Directed Toward People

One of the most frustrating experiences for a dog owner is having a dog that hates strangers with a vengeance. Fear-aggressive dogs are not necessarily aggressive to all strangers; they often single out certain types of people as particularly abhorrent. Men and children are the most common objects of this aggression, though women are certainly not immune.

Causes of Dog Fear Aggression That Is Directed Toward People

A pup that is destined to become fear-aggressive is usually underconfident around strangers from an early age. As strangers approach and enter the dog’s home ground, the pup will back up and bark at them and will flee to a safe distance if approached. Dogs that have been mistreated may become “hand shy” or agitated by the movement of strangers’ feet. As the pup matures, he gains confidence. He also learns, from strangers’ reactions, that a strategy of intimidation works, so he intensifies his repellent behavior. This learning accounts for the typical direction of fear-aggression toward people who are not comfortable around dogs. The dog perceives this uncertainty and capitalizes upon it. In the final stages of its evolution, fear aggression can be difficult to recognize as stemming from fear because the dog can develop confidence in his defensive strategy that he show little overt sign of his underlying anxiety.

How to Help Dogs with With Aggression Toward Peopl

As with all other fears, desensitization, a process of gradual systematic re-exposure to the fear-inducing stimulus, is the gold standard of treatment. This stepwise approach is usually carried out in conjunction with counterconditioning (training a different, more acceptable attitude and response and at each stage of the introduction process). Counterconditioning, which is usually accomplished using food treats in conjunction with a “relax” command, is not absolutely necessary but expedites the desensitization process.

The steps in the program are as follows:

Other Suggestions

Whenever a dog is behaving in a fearful manner he should be ignored. Both chastising words and reassurance reward the dog’s unwanted behavior with the owner’s attention. Punishment has the potential to increase the dog’s fear and worsen the situation.

P.S. The use of a head halter, such as Gentle Leader®, makes control of fear aggressive dogs a “cinch.” When fear aggressive dogs are well controlled around strangers, it is then a simple matter to arrange for the correct learning experiences: Basically, that good things happen when strangers are around.