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First things first: aggression is not a “do-it-yourself” project. If your dog or cat has shown aggression toward people or other animals, it is critical to seek help from a qualified professional who can evaluate your dog and provide assistance with long-term behavior modification. If your pet has bitten a person or another animal, we recommend contacting one of the following professionals to schedule a consultation:
Terri Derr, DVM (612-360-7227)
Margaret Duxbury, DVM (612-624-0797)
In the meantime, the following guidelines can help in preventing further bites:
1. No contact with visitors. If you know visitors are coming, take your pet to another room where he will be unable to come in contact with them. If children will be present, we recommend a crate behind a locked door. Don’t assume everything will be fine because “he’s OK most of the time”.
2. Institute a “no petting” rule for now. Do not allow others, especially children, to approach your pet at all. If this cannot be guaranteed, keep him in his “safe room” as described above. This same rule applies when walking your dog: do not let others approach or pet him, even if he appears relaxed. If others disregard your request, simply walk away from them. Acclimating your dog to a basket muzzle will keep everyone safe in the event your dog is suddenly frightened (by a loose dog, a small child, etc.).
3. No punishment. If your pet reacts aggressively (barks, growls, hisses, lunges or swats), simply remove him from the situation. Take him as far away as necessary for him to calm down. Remember that any punishment – whether verbal or physical – might make the behavior worse, and attempting to “show him who’s boss” could result in serious injury to you or others.
4. The dog will be on-leash at all times while outside of the house or fenced yard. Dog parks, playgroups and other off-leash activities are not appropriate for dogs with a bite history. It is impossible to predict the dog’s response to other dogs and humans, and thereby puts them at risk. Focus instead on providing plenty of exercise in the form of leash walks, ball/Frisbee-throwing and similar activities. Mental exercises such as obedience training and tricks can also burn excess energy.
5. Do not leave the dog unattended outside. Dogs who lunge and bark at passing people and dogs cannot be allowed to practice this behavior, or it will continue to escalate. If a passer-by sticks his hand through your fence and is bitten by your dog, you will be held liable for the injury.
Please note that these measures are simply intended to prevent future incidents: they will not “fix” the behavior. Partnering with a qualified professional who specializes in non-violent methods is absolutely critical to living successfully with a dog who behaves aggressively.
This material is copyright of Animal Humane Society and can only be used with written permission.