Owners often think the best approach to handle fear aggression is to make the dog face it.
Owners often put their dog in the situation that causes the fear, and their thought process is that it will help their pet overcome it. But this frequently causes terrible results.
People can override their instincts. In fact, civilized society encourages people to override their instincts in many instances. But dogs don’t function that way.
DON’T OVERWHELM YOUR DOG
If you take your dog and immerse him in a situation that causes him to fear for his safety or his life (though the fear may not seem realistic to you), you frequently do more harm than good.
This can teach your dog to be even more scared than he previously was. Not only that, but you have injured the trust he has in you.
PERSONAL (DOGGY) SPACE
A point to note is that a normal dog is usually not threatened if another dog is at least one and a half dog lengths away.
However, if your dog is fearful, his desired “bubble of personal space” may extend much farther than that.
DESENSITIZATION TO HANDLE FEAR AGGRESSION
You do need to get your dog used to whatever the threat is in order to help him overcome it—whether it’s other dogs, or children, or another trigger.
That said, it’s important do this in a manner that’s the complete opposite of immersion. Think of it like baby steps.
You want to expose your dog to a little bit at a time, so that he is never fearful during the process.
You can’t really override a dog’s instinct when it comes to this type of thing, so you have to kind of sneak around it.
CONTROLLED EXPOSURE TO HANDLE FEAR AGGRESSION
You want to expose your pet to whatever is triggering his fear, but in tiny little doses. Once your dog is okay with the small doses, you can increase the dosage little by little.
If there are multiple triggers, you will eventually introduce blends of triggers in small doses and work up.
You’ll need lots of treats to reward your dog for staying calm. And you’ll need to address two variables: distance and duration.
When you first start, have the trigger be far enough away that your dog notices it, but doesn’t feel like he has to escape or defend himself.
When he remains calm, have the trigger removed, and give your dog a treat. Then repeat the situation. Each time, allow the trigger to remain a second or two longer.
Don’t rush it, it will take time. Eventually allow the trigger to come closer. And truly adhere to the “baby steps” analogy here—slower is better than faster.
If your dog gets scared, you’ll have to back up in your training and start from a place that doesn’t scare him.
TRAINER/BEHAVIOR SPECIALIST TO HELP HANDLE FEAR AGGRESSION
It can be very helpful to have someone experienced show you how to do this, when to push, when to stop, what body language to look for, when to reward, and how much progress to expect over what period of time.
Don’t hesitate to hire someone help you, especially in the beginning.
You will need to abstain from settings that cause your dog to be aggressive while you’re working on behavioral training.
You’ll be juggling a delicate balance of training and trust and you don’t want to unintentionally undermine the trust your dog is putting in you.
Also be mindful of guests in your home during this time. It may be wise to put your dog in another room when guests come over.
And be mindful of leaving your pet unsupervised with children.