Aggressive Animals, Dogs, Cats
Aggressive behaviors include growling, snarling, barking, snapping, hissing (cats), scratching (cats) or biting. Problem aggression is directed at companion animals or people who are perceived (by the aggressive dogs) as threats. Depending on which canine behavior professional you consult, canine aggression may be labeled as fearful aggression, protective aggression, possessive aggression, territory aggression, maternal aggression, pain aggression, impulse aggression (formerly poorly classified as dominance aggression), frustration aggression, predatory aggression, idiopathic aggression, and others.

Regardless of the animalís age, species, breed, or previous experiences, Howís Bentley experienced trainers and counselors have solutions for reducing aggressive behaviors

For additional information about our behavior modification services please visit Problem Behavior Solutions page.

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  1. Aggressive Animal Policy
*Due to the complexities of aggression, I ask clients with animals that exhibit aggressive behaviors to select a Full Session for the initial meeting. This means that clients with aggressive animals may select either a Full Session or the Jump Start. During the initial Full Session, no treatment takes place. Itís a consultation and evaluation.
  2. Early Warning Signs
Many clients contact me when their dogs reach social maturity (18-36 months). This is when problems that have been present for months evolve into dangerous and unacceptable behaviors.

Normal pups might initially be a bit shy or fearful of non-threatening, new situations, events and people, but they soon recover. Normal pups learn how to recognize a true threat. After a few exposures, normal pups approach daily situations with confidence.

Abnormal pups continue to exhibit shy or fearful behaviors, even after many instances of exposures. When fearful pups mature into adult dogs, they often choose more offensive responses.

If your pup or adolescent dog continues to exhibit aggressive or fearful responses to daily situations, expect the unwanted responses to worsen, not disappear, with age. Contact your vet for the name of a qualified professional.

As with human behavior modification, early intervention increases the chances for successful treatment.
  3. Aggression and Fear
Animals that exhibit fearful or aggressive responses perceive threats when there are none. It's important to note that animals who pick and choose which people or which animals to attack are not any more difficult to help than animals that attack every other animal or every strange person. In both examples the triggers are identifiable, but in one example some people or animals are not always triggers. The treatments are relatively identical in both examples. There are two schools of thought about treating aggression. You can either control the animal through intimidation or change the animalsí perceptions. Treating aggression by controlling the animal may be successful for some animal-owner teams Ė but it is not the path we prefer.

Quick-cure methods involve controlling the animalís behaviors with equipment, fear and intimidation. The success of this strategy is based on several assumptions. The initial assumption is that you have the motor skills and strength to physically control your animal. Next, we might assume your animal will always be wearing special equipment, assume you will always be nearby; assume you are constantly on-alert for subtle signals that the animal may become aggressive; and we assume you are willing to accept the side-effects of controlling via threats. In addition, controlling behavior via intimidation requires that the animal always believes you to be a superior warrior. This path of assumptions is littered with failures.

In order to help a animal with a fear or aggression problem, the petís inaccurate perception of danger associated with actions of other dogs, strangers, cats, children, et cetera should be modified so that the animal no longer perceives the approach, actions or presence of theses triggers as threats. Change the animalís perceptions and youíll change the behavior.
  4. Aggression - Treatment Overview
First Iíll conduct a Full Session. No treatment takes place during the Full Session. This is when Iíll observe the animal, talk to the family and assess the logistics of moving forward with treatment..

During the initial Full Session, weíll discuss a reward system and why your animal may or may not be motivated to change. Any reward system is useless without a clear method to communicate. Iíll teach you how to teach your companion animal a few "words" that provide constant feedback about the appropriateness of behaviors. In addition, Iíll teach you how to teach a few simple skills that can be used to help your dog focus on tasks that are incompatible with aggressive or fearful behaviors.

Next, Iíll teach you how to teach your pet to relax in non-stimulating environments. In addition, weíll discuss specific steps for managing the behaviors and the environment, diet and nutrition, obedience training, the significance of reinforcers, exercise, and more. All these topics are addressed during the first Full Session.

Once you have taught the animal to relax, youíll help your pet gain self control by practicing relaxation in increasingly more stimulating environments. In essence, youíll teach your pet how to transition from an excited state to a ďless-excitedĒ state. Youíll hold many ďpractice-relaxĒ sessions before your next session with our counselor.

When you and your animal are ready, weíll hold another session. This is when we carefully expose your pet to low levels of the triggers during many short cycles. During these cycles of exposures, youíll provide constant feedback and all non-reactive behaviors will be reinforced. As the exercise progresses, each cycle is adjusted so that the animal is exposed to a slightly higher level of the stimuli than the previous cycle. The target goal is for the animal to be calm and relaxed in the presence of the triggers.
  5. Aggression - Success Rates
Due to the complexities of animal and human behaviors, offering a guarantee that your animalís problem behavior(s) will be cured after one or many consultations or sessions is not realistic or ethical. About half the people report progress after the first Full Session. If the problem behavior is related to fear, anxiety or aggression, few people can learn all they need to succeed during one session. Most clients can learn the skills needed to help their animals after two or more additional sessions (after the initial session) with our professionals.

The level of improvement depends on many variables. Some of the variables are fixed, such as genetics and the length of time the behavior has been practiced. Other factors such as the animalís environment and the amount of time and effort the family can allocate to treatment are variable.

Cures always involve changes in how people currently interact with their pets- therefore clients should be prepared to open their minds to new concepts and be prepared to change their behaviors.

The animalís social, emotional and physical needs should be well-balanced if the plan is to succeed. Diet, nutrition, exercise, daily management, obedience training, environmental enrichment, and medical considerations are discussed during treatment.

If the triggers for aggression or fearful behaviors cannot be determined, the prospects for recovery are poor. In addition, the prognosis is poor if, during the treatment period, the animal is constantly exposed to triggers which elicit the unwanted responses.

If the triggers can be identified and the animal can be prevented from practicing and the program is executed properly, the prognosis is good.

In some instances we can trust the animals after successful treatment; however continued testing is always advised to make sure the animals are still with the program. In many cases, management is always required because the costs of failures are too great.

In addition to working with the animal and the triggers, there are other components to consider.
  6. Aggression - Limitations
People with animals that scare them or people with pets that are aggressive when the triggers are not identifiable are not likely to get good results. In many cases identifying the triggers may be difficult for the people but not for our experienced professionals. We use tools like aggression screens coupled with our experiences to help identify triggers. In some cases where the triggers are not identifiable, genetic and/or medical defects are assumed to be the causes. In such cases, treatment is not recommended.

If people do not follow through with their good intentions to practice and work hard, success is limited.

Sometimes the logistics of a particular environment hamper successful treatment. An example would be a family with one or more very small children or multiple animals. When multiple animals are involved in the environment, it is often necessary to teach all animals a few basic commands. In many cases, more than one animal needs behavior modification. The logistics of maintaining a safe environment for all family members and the reality of performing the exercises with each animal may prove to be overwhelming. Even though the family may be committed to success, the required amounts of time might exceed the amounts that are available.

For additional information about our behavior modification services please visit Problem Behavior Solutions page.


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