Canine Aggression

Walking your dog can provide so many joys and benefits to both the owner and the dog itself. This includes the bonding between the dog and its owner during these dog walks and activities together.

However, many dog owners are unable to walk their dogs due to bad behaviour such as; pulling on lead, barking, aggressive behaviour, jumping, growling and even attempt to bite another dog or person.

Hundreds of people throughout Peterborough are biting on a daily basis, with injuries from minor to sever or even fatal. The causes for this can be varied from aggressive human behaviour (i.e. a person scream and waving their arms), to underlying issues such as fear of anxiety, note this is not usually a domination or control.

Research indicated that early socialisation (normally between weeks 6 to 12 until 6 months of age), will usually diminish fear factors that your dog may experience, aiding to reduce fear and aggressive response.

Unwanted behaviour during dog walking

Unwanted behaviour often occurs at early stages when the dog tries to reach other dogs or people. This makes the dog walks extremely difficult, then as time goes on the dog owner will try to control this behaviour by tightening the lead. This is also often backed by verbal and physical punishment.

These reactions from the dog owner amplifies a signal to the dog indicating that  impended approach from other people or dogs is a problematic situation. This then increases your dog’s emotional arousal on each occasion. Punishment to the dog will increase fear and anxiety to your dog, furthering tension whenever your dog comes into a situation.

Previous encounters on dog walks can also be a contributing factor such as being attacked by other dogs, lack of early socialisation, or bad encounters by other humans.

Dogs History

Knowing your dog history will aid a dog practitioner or dog walker to understand and diagnose a dog treatment plan. The following information should be asked:

  1. Dog’s earliest bad behavioural experience – including other dogs, pets, outside walks
  2. Previous correction programs – punishments, lead correction training, shock collars, physical correction
  3. Previous socialisation – taking the dog to a place where other dogs are can often increase bad behaviour from your dog so should be avoided.
  4. Areas where you experience the aggressive responses – locations, distance from person or other dog, the response of your dog

Reversing behavioural response

To prevent an unwanted behaviour by your dog you must offer your dog something alluring to reverse this bad behaviour. These rewards may include treats or play, whatever your dog finds more entertaining.

If you offer either of these rewards and your dog is still not responding, then the circumstances are too intense so the dog is too frightened or anxious.

To counter the level of anxiety the rewards must be intensified to a three level gradient.

  1. Treat A – table food
  2. Teat B – Liver or meat
  3. Treat C – Biscuits (either human or dog treats)

Treat A should only be used during training and behavioural conditions and not used during other periods.

Initial Dog Training

Any situation that makes your dog behave badly must be avoided during early training. As your dog keeps moving into these situations then he/she will respond badly more quickly each time. This will make it more difficult to reverse the response. We advise that your dog walks are kept to areas and timings which you are far less likely to encounter situations.

However, during your walks if you notice another dog or person, then you should immediately increase the distance between you and the object. Do not try to approach other dogs or encounters. By keeping your distance will help to reduce anxiety and bad behavioural trends.

Exercise before training on walks

Teaching the dog to look at you during commands such as; ‘look at me’ or ‘focus’ can be encouraged using the leader or head collar. These commands should be first done in a quiet setting when there are very little or no distractions. The dog should also be rewarded during eye contact. Your dog should also be rewarded when he/she shows signs of relaxation for long periods. As training increases then the dog should be rewarded intermittently when relaxation is achieved for long periods of time. The ultimate goal is to maintain eye contact with each other for several minutes, whilst your dog remains calm and relaxed.

A command to end the situation

Either a phrase or word such as ‘leave’ or ‘follow me’ and then turning the opposite way and walking away into the other direction. This exercise should be performed quickly and at ease. Food can be used initially to assist with the turn. This exercise should be executed in a quiet place without distractions to begin with.

The aim of this exercise is to teach the dog to leave and walk away on command.

Relaxed body posture

By maintaining calm with a relaxed body posture whilst the dog is performing its task encourages the dog to meet people or dogs with a calm relaxed manner. This begins when the person or animal is far away. This should be encouraged until the person or dog is nearby.

Increased control during dog walks

It is extremely important for the owner to gain maximum control of their dog during the dog walk. A standard lead is vital (avoid extendables, harness or head collars), whilst correctly fitted muzzles are strongly recommended. This will allow maximum control if you encounter another dog.

Training during the dog walks

Establishing control

A normal flat collar is recommended. Please don’t use a chain or choke collar as they will cause pain and discomfort. This adverse pain will associate the dog with pain during bad situations. Following the correct training will enforce positive behaviour during these situations.

Response Gradient

Your dog must learn to identify the gradient of command to response. Your dog must understand to learn which treat he/she will receive during different levels of stimulus. So when your dog sees a situation he/she will have a happy association to that condition.

Keep dog training simple

During the initial training try to keep to a pre-set distance with a high demand treat. Ask the dog to ‘focus’ (dog should look at owner), then feed the dog with treat regardless of how it reacts. If the dog remains calm when the stimulus is present then feed it with a grade B treat.

When the dog or person is becoming closer, then exit is required ‘let’s go’. This should be repeated several times if the dog’s behaviour is enhanced during approach. It is necessary to keep your dog calm and patient during the approach from the other dog. The distance should be slowly reduced so that the dog can learn to deal with this situation.

Avoid bad behaviour

To avoid bad behaviour the owner must not stay longer than the dog can focus. If the dog becomes oversensitive then the owner must take the dog away from the situation. The owner must also ensure that the stimulus remains to the correct distance during training i.e. not too close or far away.

If the dog reacts or is out of control then he/she will not respond correctly during heightened situations. Remember the dog will learn best when it is calm.

Reduce the training sessions

Whenever you finish a training session immediately reward the behaviour with a treat.  Even if the dog walks at ease but will not greet another dog, then he/she should be rewarded, as long as he/she remains calm.

Do not punish your dog

It is not possible to punish a dog’s emotion, fear, anxiety or aggression. When a dog is punished during these situations it can lead to many underlying consequences.

Owners cannot punish away an emotion, such as fear, anxiety, or aggression. When the pet is punished in these situations, it is being punished for the behaviour at the time, which can have several unintended consequences.


Any dog that shows an aggressive behaviour during its walks creates future welfare issues for the dog and its family members. Early socialisation with other dogs and people can help prevent these situations. If a dog is reactive then the dog must be removed from that situation. You should then slowly work to introduce that condition at a distance until the dog provides the correct response.