Anger Management for Your Dog

By Phyllis DeGioia

Anger Management for Your Dog

Has your dog ever raised hackles at the letter carrier or growled at the neighbor’s kid? Untreated aggressive behavior in your dog can escalate to tragic consequences unless you take control. By treating domestic dogs more like the wolves from which they originated, trainer Jennifer McCarthy of Longmont, Colo. believes severe doggy behavioral problems, most notably aggression, can be solved. “I have a better success rate with this approach than with other methods I’ve used,” she says. “It’s a different mind-set on how to communicate with dogs.”

McCarthy’s wolf approach can help you to take control of your seemingly “angry” dog or prevent your pooch from trying to step over you in an attempt to become leader of your pack. “We can’t completely take aggression out of a dog since a dog has the capability for it,” she explains. “The difference is that your dog should look to you to make the decision of whether or not to be aggressive.” In short, you need to be the alpha dog in your pack.

Growl like Wolves
The concept came to McCarthy while she was conducting research at Mission: Wolf, a sanctuary located in the remote mountains of Westcliffe, Colo. McCarthy placed her three German shepherd dogs fence to fence with a female full-blooded wolf in order to document how the wolf’s behavior would affect that of her dogs. “When the wolf growled at my dogs, her meaning was profoundly clear,” McCarthy says. “Wolves only bark in fear.” She adds, “We’ve bred barking into dogs for guard use, but I growl at them like a wolf would.”

Along the same lines, McCarthy believes that it’s best to instruct -- and not ask -- your dog to follow basic commands, such as to stay, stop, move forward and so on. She even recommends growling instead of saying, “No.” Growling can be imitated with a deep, low voice that commands attention. If you want a dog to wait patiently for a treat in your hand, growl, she advises.

Of course, all growl and no approval would disturb anyone, including your canine chum, so McCarthy also emphasizes that you should frequently praise your dog when appropriate, such as providing your pet with a good rub down after it demonstrates good behavior.

Nip Aggression in the Bud
Like any true leader, alpha wolves take on more responsibility than anyone else in the pack. You can assert leadership by making the decisions with a calm, no-nonsense disposition. Imagine that your dog is like a kid in the backseat and you’re the driver. Take control by providing direction and don’t let it get away without listening to you. Dogs are hard-wired to vie for alpha if they think the leader isn’t strong enough. When you’re in control, your dogs are less likely to become aggressive or defensive.

Here are some other wolf-inspired tips to improve your chances of gaining the top dog spot:

  • Feed According to Pack Status As a dog owner, you need to establish your rank as leader. You can learn to do it in the same way McCarthy does by replicating the behavior of wolves in the wild, and this can even apply to dinnertime. Wolves usually run before eating, so exercise your dog before feeding. Feed multiple dogs according to their pack status because, after a wolf pack has hunted, the alpha wolf eats first and then decides which dog gets to eat and which has to wait. To do this with her own dogs, McCarthy first dishes out her canines’ meals. She then gets on the floor and growls at them to back off until she instructs that they can have the food. When she walks away, they’re allowed to eat.
  • Be Alpha and Don’t Baby Dogs, like humans, rest easier under good leadership. If you are a thoughtful, yet decisive, head of the group, you will help to reduce your pet’s stress levels, and probably your own too. “Anxiety often stems from confusion about place in a pack,” says McCarthy. She believes that the largest single cause of dog/owner problems is treating dogs like spoiled children. Instead, set boundaries for your dog and don’t praise lavishly for nothing. Reserve your approval for when they have earned it.
  • Be Decisive Being alpha is all about attitude. If you give mixed messages that you are the alpha in one context but not in others, your dog may show signs of dominancy, anxiety, fear, or aggression. McCarthy says to present yourself as confident but kind, fair but tough, loving but firm. Prove your leadership to earn respect. A true alpha never gets into a fight because the leader of the pack wouldn’t need to do this. Your dog sees your confidence and leadership as safety and security. If you assert your leadership through body language, attitude, and, yes, a little growling, your dog will understand.

Phyllis DeGioia is an award-winning writer who lives in Madison, Wis., with two rescued dogs and a cat. She has authored books on animal topics, is a member of the Dog Writers Association of America and serves as editor of Veterinary Partner online.

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Posted on May 6, 2011

Vo Glee says: Ahem, it's "German Shepherd Dog." That is the name of the breed.

Posted on August 8, 2009

lauren says: my golden/black lab has lately been growling at me when ever i hug him or get to close. i am getting scared to be around him and i'm not sure why he is doing this. When ever my family is around him he is great but when its just me he growls. My family has been starting to notice it when i hug him. i need help! how can i get him to stop.

Posted on March 6, 2010

Tiffany Wingotti says: I have a small dog that loves to bite , and scrach. He chews on anything he can get to , and harasses poor un-suspecting family members. Please Help , any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Posted on June 4, 2009

lois bouthner says: my silky terrier is usually a prety good dog.But there are times when she will either growl or bark at my husband or a sound being made by a appilance we have. She seems to be barking for no reason.e are both her with her and no one is there that she would feel treaten by. can you please help me? thank you

Posted on August 5, 2008

Abby says: It sounds like your dog may have an ear infection. If his ear seems more red than usual, you may want to take him a veterinarian. You can also purchase ear infection medicine from a pet store.

Posted on May 22, 2009

Jeff says: I rescued a 2 y/o male terrier and was told he was neglected and abused, when I try to pet or comb near his back legs or even go to pick him up to give him a bath you would think he is going to rip my hand off, the other times he is a great dog, what should I do to control this behavior and/or fear that he has. Thank you for your feedback

Posted on August 2, 2008

Mary Jo says: I have 2 Shih tzus' 10 & 5 yr., the younger pup just goes crazy when other dogs, cats, etc. come around. He doesn't here or see anything else. I've tried squirting with water, shaking a can of coins, a loud pitched bark monitor & collar. He has gone after dogs twice his size ie: a Rotweiller, Retrievers & so on. I think he is trying to protect me & his yard, b/c he is always "standing watch." Evidently he is not as aggressive when I am not!?!

Posted on May 9, 2008

George McFarland says: My dog holds his right ear lower than he normally does. When I try to look in his ear he will not let me. I need to know if he could have an ear infection or ear mites. What are the symtoms of each these?

Posted on July 15, 2008

susan says: My otherwise sweet-tempered boxer (2 yr. old female) is extremely aggressive toward other dogs, particularly when in the presence of my husband or I. Help. Thank you.

Posted on March 30, 2008

Robert zubik says: Anger Management for Your Dog Was a great peice of info and easy to understand I love it.When we really be in with the pack and understand them training and living with them becomes an awesome experience

Posted on March 31, 2008

Les says: Ever since childhood, I have approached my dogs like I'd seen wolf packs treat each other on the nature shows that I watched with fascination. I found my dogs both responded to and learned better when I'd 'growl' at them, treat them according to their rank in the pack, etc. I have continued to use this approach with my current 'pack' and the dogs that I continue to train for my friends and neighbors. They look at me like I've lost my mind sometimes, but are always amazed when their hard to train dogs do just what I tell them to do. I loved this article and will be providing copies of it to many of my friends as a sort of 'told ya so!' Thanks for publishing this!

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