Q I just got a dog that was free. He is overly aggressive plus I think he was mistreated. He responds to me but is aggressive towards any males or anyone who comes to the door. He was also restricted to his kennel and he growls towards his food. I have never owned a dog before.
You may have saved a life. There aren’t a lot of people lined up to adopt pets with a history of aggression. Depending on an individual dog’s motivation to growl or snap, many respond well to gentle behavioral treatment from a consistent leader.
Animal abuse, like lengthy cage confinement, is a sad reality in our society but brutality is less common than you may think. Many nervous, reactive dogs are genetically fearful and hypervigilant, responding with defensive aggression to perceived threats like men, with our abrupt movements and booming voices. Women tend to move gracefully and speak in softer, evenly modulated tones. That can be comforting if you’re scared witless.
Many frightened dogs can slowly learn that unfamiliar people are OK. Keep this boy tethered to your belt with a six-foot leash. Say nothing if he growls or acts nervous – your response would only validate an emotional state we want him to abandon. Just lead him away from the “scary monster.” Ask your visitors to ignore him as they drop small bits of food for him to scarf up. Strangers who approach, lean over, reach for or stare at him would trigger more fear.
Make safety your first priority. A lightweight comfy basket muzzle will allow everybody to relax. A Gentle Leader head halter would be ideal for teaching your Nervous Nellie to redirect his attention toward you when he gets frightened.
Your dog is a scavenger by nature, like many of his ilk, believing that famine could strike anytime. Don’t buy the ridiculous notion that a dog learns to accept human leadership by having his food taken away. It’s pointless and dangerous. Dinner should be enjoyable. Feed your boy alone in a separate room so he can eat in peace. And don’t force him into a crate. He needs you to build trust with him, not dominance.
Dr. Jeff Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). He cares for the medical needs of pets at the Petroglyph Animal Hospital in Albuquerque (898-8874). Question? Post it on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by U.S. mail to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109. Unpublished questions may not be answered individually.