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Dog aggression – How to prevent dog aggression towards strangers

If you have a dog that growls or acts aggressively towards strangers, it's not too late to do something about it. But first, you should understand why your dog's acting this way. Your dog's ancestors were aggressive by nature. Living in the wild meant having to hunt for food, and defend themselves from other animals. It was instinct to protect their resources like food, mate and territory.

Fortunately, selective breeding over the centuries has minimized and refined this trait significantly. Even so, it's important to understand that by nature, all dogs are physically capable of inflicting serious harm. One look at those teeth and you know this is true! While aggression is part instinctive, there is much you can do to prevent it from becoming a problem in your dog. If (for some reason) this aggression does surface, there are definite things you can do to deal with the problem.

Although aggression in dogs comes in different forms, aggression towards strangers is one that is quite common. This type of aggression is stems from nervousness. If he becomes nervous around strangers, his instinct is to protect himself (and you) from the perceived threat.

Dogs that are nervous around strangers are pretty easy to spot. When someone unfamiliar approaches (a visitor, delivery person, or someone walking down the street) they will usually act one of two ways… Either they will sit completely still, staring hard at the new person, or they'll become agitated. They'll be fidgety, pace back and forth and bark or whine.

The reason a dog acts aggressively towards strangers is because he hasn't been exposed to a wide variety of people and places. As a dog owner, it's your job to be sure he learns that strangers aren't a threat. He relies on you to take him on outings where he can meet new people and learn about the world around him.

We call this process “socialization” – and it is, without a doubt, one of the most important things you should do with your dog. Socialization is best started as a puppy, and it should be done continually through your dog's life. It helps your dog learn about the world around him. He learns that new people, places, or other animals are not a threat. Exposing your dog to as many different experiences is vital to raising a relaxed and stable dog.

It's not enough to expose an adult dog to a crowd of new, unfamiliar people and just say, “Settle down, Roxy, it's OK”… your dog has to learn that it's okay on his own. That's what socializing does… it lets your dog learn this by exposing him to all types of people and animals: from babies and toddlers to teens and elderly, from people in uniform to people carrying umbrellas or riding bikes.

By starting as a puppy, these new experiences become “common place” to your dog. He learns that new people are friendly and fun which makes him more relaxed and at ease when he encounters strangers in the future

One of the easiest ways to start socializing your puppy is by signing up for a puppy class. These are sometimes called puppy kindergarten or puppy preschool. It is a series of classes specifically for puppies. Most are held at a vet clinic or another controlled indoor environment.

Puppy classes usually have 10-12 new puppies enrolled. It's taught by a qualified dog trainer and one or two assistants. Having more than one instructor is best – it gives you and your puppy more one-on-one time with one of the trainers. Puppy classes usually include information on puppy development and sometimes go into the basic obedience commands like sit and come.

This obedience work is a great way to start your puppy on the road to being a trustworthy and well-behaved dog, but it's really just a “bonus” to the real benefit of puppy classes… which are the play sessions. Several times at each class, the puppies get a chance to run around off-leash and play together. This gives them a chance to learn social skills in a safe, controlled environment. Playing in a group of unfamiliar dogs and people helps them learn how to interact with strange dogs and that they don't have to be afraid of people they don't know.

Yes, puppy classes are the perfect way to start socializing your new dog. But the job doesn't stop there. You'll want to continue taking him to new places so he can experience meeting new people in an unfamiliar environment. Just don't overwhelm him… start off slow, and you'll watch your new puppy blossom into a friendly and confident dog who is always happy to meet someone new!

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