It's a phrase that puts thousands of dog owners in the problems and liability business each year. They make excuses for aggressive behavior instead of doing something about it. They play doggie roulette instead of being responsible. They put themselves, their children and other people and animals in harm's way every day. And what's even more unbelievable, they live with aggressive dogs for years, always knowing that some day the unthinkable could happen.

When you have a child, your life changes and the education process begins from day one. You go into the prevention business. You teach your child acceptable behavior. You help him learn. You socialize him with other people and children. You make sure he has good pediatric care, a healthy diet, exercise and play time. And you provide lots of love, praise and affection. You know that if you hone your parenting skills, your youngster has a better chance to be happy and succeed in life.

When you get a pet, your responsibility begins from day one. Each dog is unique — a living creature that needs to be taught good behavior based on his temperament. He doesn't come with a diploma. His training can make the difference between a dog you can live with happily and one that is out of control and, in some cases, aggressive and dangerous. But for some strange reason, training is at the bottom of the list of necessary steps in raising a healthy, happy, well-adjusted dog.

Consider the following real-life examples. The puppy was 7 months old and attacked the other small family dog by clamping his jaws around the dog's neck. He could have killed him or severely injured the dog. When I asked about past behavior, the lady said the puppy had growled from day one. The pup had bitten members of the family several times. "But he doesn't do it all the time," she said. And what if the dog that was attacked had been a little child?

Another family has been living for years with two Schnauzers that are dog aggressive. Instead of modifying the behavior early on with training, the family lives a complicated lifestyle. They walk the dogs at night after other dogs have had their walks. They keep the dogs away from other animals. Because they avoided a solution early on, they live with danger and so do their two children. "They don't do it all the time," said the father.

And then there is the lady who called a couple of days ago. Her dog finally bit the UPS man. When I asked her what she meant by "finally," she said her dog has been growling and barking aggressively at anyone who comes to the door for years. "It's getting worse, but she doesn't do it all the time." Now she is really in the liability business. She doesn't want to spend the money to modify this behavior. Instead, she is leaving herself open to lawsuits and the loss of her homeowners insurance.

None of the dogs in these examples are big dogs. But living with an aggressive dog, regardless of size, is serious. Little dogs may not have giant-sized mouths, but they can do great harm. Ask a plastic surgeon who deals with dog bites.

So what can you do if your puppy or older dog is aggressive? There are a lot of variables and some simple rules. If your puppy growls, snarls, attacks, bites and barks aggressively, you need to consult a professional who specializes in aggressive behavior. If the type of aggression is not genetic, then early training can modify this behavior. Early training is more cost effective than waiting "because he doesn't do it all the time." If you wait, thinking it will go away, eventually the behavior cannot be changed, and you are forced to deal with the consequences.

If you adopt an older dog or have been living with an aggressive dog that is now older, training to modify the behavior may be possible. However, you should know that the dog should not be around children. Although the dog's aggression may be controlled after proper training and modification, your older dog can never be trusted, and you will have to live with requirements and restrictions.

Proper training by an expert who trains without abuse or intimidation is the only solution. For more detailed information, there is a special section in The Training Center at www.unclematty.com where you can learn a lot about the types and causes of aggressive behavior in dogs.

WOOF!


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