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Working With Aggressive Dogs

I have worked with many aggressive dogs over the years, many were trained that way and many weren’t. The first consideration a trainer must make before doing anything with such a dog is that of his own safety and the safety of the handler.

You don’t start with questions, an evaluation or anything else. You start by making sure the dog is well restrained on a quality leash and collar. Then where possible fit a muzzle so that you can work with and assess the dog without concern for safety.

Once satisfied that all concerned are out of harm’s way, I like to have a good chat with the owner and try and establish the trigger that most commonly sets off the dog’s aggression. Now most people won’t know what that is but with questioning I can usually figure it out.

Once the trigger is established I like to ask for a description of the dogs body language, the position of the tail, ears etc, the tone of its bark. At this point I’m trying to establish the drive of the aggression, fear, dominance etc.

I like to do all this before beginning work with the dog so as I can decide how I can approach the dog and stay within the good side of it’s nerves at this point.

Now I would like to give you a step by step procedure to working with an aggressive dog, but it’s far from that simple. This type of work requires split second decisions and an experts touch.

Some key points to remember though. Whenever a dog shows aggression, medical reasons aside, it’s an action to get a re action. For example, if your dog fears strangers, and a stranger walks up to him, he might show many signs of fear that the novice won’t see, until the point comes when he shows teeth or barks.

The reaction by the stranger is to back off. Hence the dog got the reaction it was looking for. The dog quickly works out that all those early signs were useless in driving off the feared stranger, may decide to bypass them and go straight to aggression next time.

Now you have a dog that is aggressive with almost no pre warning.

Something that commonly happens after that is that someone known to the family, that is a self proclaimed dog expert ignores the dog’s attempts to drive him off and the dog elevates to a bite. Most people will guess the next step, the dog will bite more easily the next time.

This is just one reason that an expert will be necessary in diagnosing and treating aggression.

I have always found that there is one common denominator when treating aggression. That is obedience training.

Good obedience training gives dogs’ confidence and leader ship, leadership will help to correct dominant dogs and confidence helps those with fear based aggression. Although the methods used may be different for each type of aggression, the basis of most programs would be obedience training.

Many people feel there are all sorts of categories in which aggression should be put into. I like to use four categories in total. Fear based aggression, dominance based aggression, health problems, and trained aggression.

Fear Based aggression.

This is the most common type of aggression that most dogs suffer from. It is contributed to by lack of socialization, poor training, poor communication to the dog, weak nerves and many other reasons.

The aggression is a tool the dog uses to drive away fear. Dogs learn through experimentation how much aggression is required to keep them safe. Some succeed in avoiding fear with as little as their hackles up, others have needed to resort to biting to drive off the fear. No matter which level of fear aggression a dog has, it must be corrected for the dog to live in peace and others to live in safety.


Dominance is a very misunderstood topic, some have very unusual ideas about what dominance is. Simply put, dominance in a dog is a dog that places itself too high in the pack. Above a human member. Why this turns into aggression is that the human being dominated is often unaware of the fact and does something that has the dog believing that the human was making a challenge for leadership.

The dog through aggression attempts to fight off this attempt and you have a dominant dog battle.

Dominance is a part of every dogs temperament, whether you will have a problem with it will largely depend on how you perceive and raise your dog.

I often find people who treat their dog like the human child they don’t have or as a baby, end up with dominance problems in their dog.

They are way too soft on an animal and the animal takes advantage of that softness. Like fear aggression, it’s very important to get a handle on this aggression.

Health problems.

Often dogs can display aggression due to health problems. Dogs in pain can strike out in an attempt stop you from adding any more pain. More in depth health problems such as thyroid problems can have a dramatic effect on a dogs temperament.

When working with aggression, I never rule out health problems.

Trained aggression.

Training aggression into a dog should be the work of a professional only. Whilst you can teach a human how to spar in various fighting techniques, many times when dogs are being put through protection training, they feel they are in a real life battle.

Its essential that a strong foundation in prey drive is built before attempting any defence training, otherwise your building a fear aggressive dog.

General information.

If you have a problem with aggression in your dog, contact us for advice on treating it. Many trainers are capable of training some obedience into your dog, but few are capable of understanding aggression, and treating it without fearing your dog.

About steve-world

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  1. I have a 6 month old Nordenstamm Vasco (aka Rado). I am a DWD trainer. He attacks me from front, side or behind & some visitors. There seem to be many triggers incl. attention. Am doing withhold treat/toy & look at me-this works. He is usually very social with people but dominant at doggy parks with adult dogs. My fast moves are a trigger – bad in DWD! On the following UTube you can see how he attacks and I just try to move on.

    Your web sites are very very good- I just learnt about you.

  2. Hey Karin, I have 2 Nordenstamm pups here, including one from the V litter Nordenstamm Venom. I suspect your pup isn’t being aggressive but is making you a prey item. If this is the case ignoring wont work.

    These dogs are Malinois Royalty and I believe they are the best lines in Australia, but they do need some experience and knowledge of drive to handle them.

    There is no doubt that your Rado can accomplish DWD, just look at Angie Burke, but you will need to encompass some drive work and you may need some help.


  3. Hi Steve, Thanks for your quick response, I really appreciate it. Other trainers/behaviouralists whom I have contacted for help, did not mention prey drive. True, I would not call Rado aggressive. Great now to talk to an experienced Malinois trainer, I know they are like no other dog, even GS’s I have owned in the past. As another DWD Judge & Malinois owner said to me, you now have a Ferrari, not just a Mazda! ‘Tis a pity I am in SA & not NSW. So yes, please, I am asking for your help in drive work. Cheers Karin

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