The Humane Society defines aggressive dog behaviors as “growling, baring teeth, snarling, snapping, and biting.” I never would’ve guessed my 7 lb teacup poodle would fall under that category. He has the face of a teddy bear and loves people but would bark at any dog that crossed our path. For a solid year, every walk with Cooper was an education in dog aggression.
*Please note that every situation is different, this is an account of the experience I had with my aggressive dog. As always consult with a dog trainer that specializes in aggression and use your instincts as a pet parent when coming up with a plan for your fur child.
Something that excited me about having a dog was being able to walk him. There is a walking trail in my community and there isn’t a better walking buddy than a dog. I had no expectations of what would happen when Cooper and I walked out my front door but I quickly found out he didn’t like other dogs. From a distance, Cooper saw a dachshund and started barking up a storm. My little guy went from Jekyll to Hyde. From that point forward I put a lot of thought into where and when we walked.
I looked at the clock in the morning to determine what time to leave knowing when my neighbors walked their dogs. I would see dogs in the distance and turn around so we wouldn’t run into them. I had hope that one day I could walk him without looking over my shoulder. My first attempt at getting training for him failed because he was too aggressive. He couldn’t be in a regular class and it was difficult finding a trainer within my budget who specifically dealt with dog aggression. I read about types of aggression in hopes of at least understanding him better and felt like his was fear based. In his mind, he should attack before being attacked. I found the book Help for Your Fearful Dog: A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Your Dog Conquer His Fears by Nicole Wilde to be a great resource.
It didn’t make sense for him to be protective already, he was pursuing those he felt were threats and he didn’t appear to be provoked by the other dog. He was particularly aggressive with big dogs. He had no issue getting in the face of a gentle giant and wouldn’t back down. I don’t know his history but that behavior made me wonder if he was bullied by a larger breed in his former home.
I was hopeful that having him neutered would calm him down and over the long run I’m sure it did, but I didn’t see a difference at first. Other FurMom’s would say “it’s just a walk, let’s go,” no one seemed to understand just how aggressive he was. He was so friendly with people so he didn’t help my case at all.
One late night I had Cooper off his leash and as he was trotting back to the front door he saw one of the neighborhood dogs. I held my breath and went to pick him up when I realized he wasn’t barking. I covered my mouth because I was in shock but also happy. The neighborhood Westie was a peaceful pooch and never went after him in any way so I guess Cooper decided to conserve his barks. There was my glimmer of hope.
As time went on he calmed down a lot and although still suspicious, we were able to walk side by side with a neighbor dog. We happened to run into them on an evening walk. Cooper still wanted to walk in front of his new “friend”, but I was just happy he wasn’t barking.
One sunny Saturday an off-leash poodle ran up to Cooper as if he’d just seen a long-lost relative. This dog was as hyper as any dog I’ve ever seen. I picked up Cooper for a moment because the hyper pooch startled me. Once I realized he was friendly and Cooper wasn’t reacting, I placed him back on the ground. This dog kept wanting to play and all Cooper could do was stare. He actually looked confused by this dog who desperately wanted to be his friend. The dog eventually gave up on Cooper and ran back home, but I was once again happy to see a different side to my little guy.
I tried my best to be a good leader for him and earn his trust but I also believe meeting the owners of our neighborhood dogs had helped. If he knew they would be nice to him, it would improve his relationship with their dog. I never read this anywhere, it was just something I saw over time. A neighbor Mom watched Cooper approach her dog to say hello and she earnestly asked, “I’ve never seen him so calm, what did you do?” He is the talk of our dog Mom community. All I could think to say was, “I love him. He knows now that I am his Mom and that I will protect him. I doubt he ever had a stable family before.”
After seeing gradual improvements in his behavior, he started running up to neighbor dogs to say hello. He now wants to play with his perceived former “enemies.” I almost cried walking back into the house. I’m sure part of the hurdle getting over his aggression was me. I probably held on too tight out of fear he’d lunge at another dog and also not knowing the demeanor of an approaching dog. The last thing I’d want is for him to hurt another dog or for him to get hurt.
He is now very social with people and dogs alike. It is incredibly heartwarming to see and makes me so proud. Stressful walks are a thing of the past, they are now relaxing and a happy occasion. Our path has been a unique one. Whether you find an aggression trainer or take the time on your own, just never give up. The results are worth the wait.