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 Dog Behavior Library

Methods for restraining fearful and aggressive dogs

 
Lowering fearful aggression
 
When the dog is in the hospital, be sure staff carries treats or cheerios to toss through the kennel or run door EVERY time they pass. Be sure the staff understands canine body language and communicates no threat to the dog using their human body language

The goal is use body language and food peace offerings to help the dog understand that everyone who comes by is a friendly cookie giver and NOT a threat. (If the dog has a veterinary phobia due to a past painful or stressful visit, medications may be indicated to give the dog comfort.)

Chances are that while the staff may not feel safe around an aggressive dog, the dog may not feel safe and believe the staff are going to harm her.  So if she can be lured into wearing the leash that would help. 

For staff safety, you can use large pieces of stiff cardboard as a block to an unexpected bite or to reduce the kennel area.

The goal is to change the dog's perception of contact as a good thing by offering treats and a chance to eliminate. Rotate the dog to a clean area using food so that you can clean an empty kennel.

 
Staff Study Topics for handling aggressive dogs in the veterinary setting:
Body Language
Use And Misuse Of A "Rabies Pole"

Why Restrain Dogs?
The definition of restraint is "holding a pet still thereby taking away his or her freedom" for a moment. The purpose of being able to safely restrain pet is to allow grooming, an exam or other procedure to be completed safely.

 
The most important criteria is safety for the pet, family, handler and pet professional. It is most helpful for the dog to learn as a puppy that any family member or friendly human can hold the dog still at any time, and the dog simply relaxes and goes with the program.

The goal is to have every pet enjoy gentle handling and to be able to distract him or her from possible pain with food treats, noises, blowing on or tapping the nose or spinning or pushing it along the table to divert attention.
 
If the pet is struggling excessively in the veterinary setting, it may be preferable to use Chemical Restraint (using tranquilization to reduce the need for forceful handling).

Restraining Aggressive Dogs
Aggressive dogs whether fearful or dominant are the most likely to bite. Only experienced handlers should handle them. Bite wounds result from an inexperienced handler who was too shy (or too overconfident) to call for help. Don't take risks, call for help if you have any doubt.

A difficult problem is getting an aggressive pet out of a kennel. Ideas for experienced handlers: Try to leave their leash on the pet, and tie it directly to the outside of the kennel If the leash is not attached and you need to get the pet out of a kennel, use a coat hanger to loop a leash over the head, or use a large towel over the head of small dogs. If in doubt, call an experienced animal handler.

The best way to learn to read dog body language is by observing an experienced handler. Chemical Restraint (tranquilization) may prevent a bad veterinary experience that would have made the dog even more difficult in the future. While the animal is sedated, you still need to handle gently to build trust.

Aggressive Dog Postures (Both Dominant And Fearful)

All aggressive dogs have one body language characteristic in common: the "frozen" or "statue" posture. When a dog freezes, it may attack without any other sign, so watch for the tell-tale frozen posture, then back off and call for help. With aggressive dogs (that may bite you), there are really two categories: Dominant and Fearful.

Dominant Aggressive
This usually occurs in guard type dogs who are not properly restrained and taught manners as puppies. The typical posture for the dominant aggressive dog is to try to make itself look as BIG as possible to intimidate its enemy. Therefore, these dogs will stand still or MOVE FORWARD. Other signs are ears UP and forward, tail UP, stance ERECT, and hair raised on their backs. They may give warnings like growls, showing teeth or barking. These pets bite to show that they are your boss.

Dominant Aggressive Dogs Who Have Bitten
A good general rule of thumb is this: if the family cannot muzzle their own dog, and if it is an elective visit, you should refuse to handle the dog until after they have had a session with a professional behaviorist who can teach them how to muzzle their own dog. Once the dog is muzzled, in the veterinary setting, consider chemical restraint. Once the dog is tranquilized, people can firmly but gently handle the dog, so that its dominant status is lowered in this context. The goal should be to build trust while reducing status so that the pet can be safely handled in the future. Recommend intact males be neutered to reduce aggressiveness.

Dominant Dogs Who Have Never Bitten
A relatively new option, is to fit these dogs with a Gentle Leader head halter. Even if they have never worn one before, it can be used as a restraint device. Pull the head up if the dog is misbehaving, and relax the pressure as the dog relaxes. The reward to the dog for good behavior, is less pressure.

As a last resort, sometimes heavy physical restraint (multiple people) works when the dog is dominant but not aggressive. When he feels there is no benefit in struggling, he will stop. If there is any indication it is becoming aggressive, stop and muzzle. If impossible to muzzle, and there's no other alternative, use a loop pole or pull the leash through a door jamb, and allow Dr. to administer tranquilization. If the owner can't or won't allow muzzle or chemical restraint, decline service and refer to a behaviorist, but do not risk injury.


Fearful Aggressive Dog Postures
Fear aggressiveness occurs in dogs who are genetically fearful or poorly socialized as puppies, or both. They are often inexperienced or had bad early experiences. They see handlers as feared enemies. The body posture is intended to make the pet look as SMALL as possible, such as backing into a corner. Other signs are tail DOWN, ears DOWN or back. These dogs may give warnings like growls, showing teeth or barking. Or they may not give any warning (except frozen posture) before biting. These pets bite in imagined self-defense because they think you are going to kill them.

Restraint Techniques for Fearful Dogs
First, try building their confidence. Get low, either crouching or on your knees. Face away from the dog, and offer your hand for sniffing. Talk in a high, happy voice. Ask the owner to give you the leash, then move behind you. If the owner is behind you, the dog cannot think he is protecting the owner. If the owner was the dog's source of confidence, it is now apparent the owner is on your side. Hold the leash about 1 foot from the collar, and pull it up to pull the dog's teeth up and away, then slip the other hand under his middle and lift him onto the table. Immediately try to reassure him while the owner stays back. Ideally, the dog will see you as trustworthy. When you have to give an injection, be sure to distract the dog with a cookie, or have your assistant hug the dog firmly.

This personality is similar to fearful aggressive, except these dogs have a high reluctance to bite (high bite threshold). The key body language difference is that these pets often quiver a tucked tail, roll over to show their belly, or urinate. These are all signs of submission. Go slowly since these dogs can have their confidence built slowly. Do muzzle them to give injections, because they can turn aggressive. If they can tolerate it, massage their body to build their trust.

One way to see if confidence is being built is to offer a tasty food treat (e.g., piece of doggy beef jerky or lump of canned dog food). How readily the dog will accept food is a measure of trust and confidence.

Friendly Non-Aggressive
These are the delightful dogs we handle most of the time. The key body language gestures are tail wagging and fluid motion (no "frozen posture"). In most cases they will approach you in a relaxed posture, often lick your hand and ask to be petted.

Restraining Non-Aggressive Dogs
This category of dogs can also be divided into two sub-categories: fearful and friendly.

Fearful Non-Aggressive
This personality is similar to fearful aggressive, except these dogs have a high reluctance to bite (high bite threshold). The key body language difference is that these pets often quiver a tucked tail, roll over to show their belly, or urinate. These are all signs of submission. Go slowly since these dogs can have their confidence built slowly. Do muzzle them to give injections, because they can turn aggressive. If they can tolerate it, massage their body to build their trust.

One way to see if confidence is being built is to offer a tasty food treat (e.g., piece of doggy beef jerky or lump of canned dog food). How readily the dog will accept food is a measure of trust and confidence.


Friendly Non-Aggressive

These are the delightful dogs we handle most of the time. The key body language gestures are tail wagging and fluid motion (no "frozen posture"). In most cases they will approach you in a relaxed posture, often lick your hand and ask to be petted.

The Golden Rule of Restraint
Do Unto The Pet The Way You Would Want Others To Do Unto Yours!

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