Seven ways to prevent “surprise aggression” with your dog

People kill people a LOT more often than dogs kill people.

But dogs do bite, they accidentally scare people, they make mistakes. And sometimes, about 8 times a year in the U.S., they kill. Beyond the obvious (confine your dog, don’t let them run wild) or the things you probably could have done but it’s too late now (such as choose a beagle instead of a mastiff), here are some things you can do now to help prevent accidents.

1. Give your dog lots of opportunities to blow off steam with physical exertion. Fenced in yard, dog park, on dragged long line(only when he is alone, can’t do that around other dogs, or anywhere animals could tangle together), dog daycare, vigorous games of tug, sports training: if your dog is showing anxiety and building up steam, you really need to find safer places and ways of letting him run and socialize. Walks aren’t enough.

sweet old dog sleeping

Even a sweet old dog can make a mistake if a toddler trips over her.

2. Give your dog plenty of time alone to rest and recover from social interactions, don’t allow social opportunities to go on for hours. Put the dog away during all the excitement of arrivals and departures, let him come out and visit for 1/2 hour, then he can chew on his bone in his crate while you party on.

3. Use positive reinforcement, rather than punishment, to teach dogs. Dogs don’t like being choked or pronged or kicked. Punishment stresses animals and makes their behavior much less predictable than dogs trained using reinforcement.

A ten minute visit is great! Quit while you’re ahead! The dog shouldn’t be forced to have a LONNNGGG visit.

4. Choose natural food with 20% protein, not super high protein crazy-making formulas. Dogs evolved on human garbage. Dogs are more relaxed on lower-protein diets.

Children are walking a dog in a crowd

It’s never a good idea to have untrained children walking a dog! They can frustrate the dog and they can’t control the dog. It’s amazing accidents don’t happen more often.

5. Be aware of the times your dog gets “frustrated” and focus your training and management plans on reducing frustration. Give your dog a nap when life is busy. I usually crate my busy dogs from about 11 am til 1 pm. Dogs need naps. Don’t let your dog get over-tired, as tired dogs make mistakes.

Many people misunderstand canine facial and body language.

Dog training classes help people understand canine body language and facial expressions.

6. Evaluate your expectations of your dog and yourself. Why do you have a dog? What do you want from your dog? Are your expectations reasonable?

7. Is your dog giving you some warning signs? I’ve conditioned dogs to relax and accept wire basket muzzles, and that makes socializing much safer, but most people won’t use the muzzle consistently. Is your dog really the right dog for your lifestyle? Be fair to yourself and your dog. Dog ownership is supposed to be a joy, not a burden. If you can’t fence in a kennel, train the dog, spend a little bit on dogdaycare and classes, give the dog what it needs, maybe someone else can. That’s not only best for you, but it is best for the dog.Dogs playing

About Jenny Ruth Yasi

author, sailor, animal trainer,rally, agility and freestyle competitor, owner/proprietor Whole Dog Camp, now located in Freeport, Maine. For 31 years we lived on Peaks Island Maine. Now we are sailing with our 2 dogs in the Bahamas, and will return to Maine in 2017
This entry was posted in Behavior Science, and Signal Training and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Seven ways to prevent “surprise aggression” with your dog

  1. Boy…we are right inline with training, dog handling thoughts/ideas Jenny. Thanks for writing and sharing this. Melinda


  2. Bart says:

    I am sorry but I was expecting something more. My Westie is just fine around people and kids, until something unexpected happens. Then he reacts aggressively. He spent two weeks with my 5 year old grandaughter, day in and day out. But one day she came skipping happily into the living room, squealing with delight about something. This surprised the dog and he ran over and nipped her leg. Totally unexpected and unstoppable once he was in motion. now he s banned from family vacations. I am considering a muzzle but would prefer a reliable behavioral intervention.


    • With dogs who bite, 99% of the time they may behave perfectly. Bites are pretty much ALWAYS a surprise, and they ALWAYS happen when something unexpected happens! The problem is the expectations! I expect dogs to be tempted to chase and nip at moving children or vehicles, so I supervise closely to prevent that. A muzzle or a crate or a leash or better supervision: those are all extremely reliable behavioral interventions. It takes years of good management for a dog to become well-trained. Training is never as reliable as management. People make mistakes, and animals make mistakes too. This article is not about muzzle training, but I have articles and videos on that in other locations. Teaching a dog to love a muzzle is half the battle, and it’s an article in itself.


  3. You can also cut your dogs balls off if he is really aggressive. Most male dogs become a lot calmer when you snip off their gonads.


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