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Is Your Dog Emotionally Scarred?

How to tell if bad experiences are making your dog fearful or aggressive -- and what to do about it.

The Aggressive Dog continued...

Recognize your dog's aggression.

What does aggression look like? “There are a lot of different signs,” Beaver says. “A dog that tends to lift its lip, growl, stare, raise its hair over its back, put its tail very high up when it’s not a normal position for that tail -- those are things that say, ‘I’m kind of getting angry here,’” she says.

Others give no warning, she says. “Some dogs show no signs, except that they lunge and bite.”  

Get help.

Because aggressive dogs pose the serious threat of biting, consider getting professional help, Beaver says. “You have to look at what’s setting it off [and] protect whomever it is showing these signs to.”

Your veterinarian is a good starting point for advice. If he or she can’t treat the behavior problem, a referral to a veterinary behaviorist may be useful.

Dog trainers can help, too, but there’s no licensing requirement, Beaver says. Most veterinarians know the trainers in their area, so ask them for recommendations, she says. If you use a dog trainer, she says, make sure that he or she uses “positive training, so they use reward, rather than punishment.”

That’s important, because many owners are buying into harmful advice that “promotes an adversarial relationship with dogs,” says Mychelle Blake, a dog trainer and communications director for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

Some people think, “the dog’s trying to dominate me, so I need to dominate back,” Blake says. “Oftentimes, as trainers, we get clients after they’ve been following what they’ve read on the Internet or what they saw on TV and ended up scaring the dog even more, and then the dog acted aggressively.”

Punishment can backfire.

“If you punish a dog that is showing signs [of aggression], the dog will stop showing signs, and then next thing that it will do is lunge," Beaver says.

For example, Radosta treated a dog that behaved aggressively toward other dogs. A trainer had told its well-intentioned owners to apply a shock whenever they caught him bristling.

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