Dog Aggression and Help for Troubled Dogs

To begin, here is a great site for info on troubled dogs. This is Dr. Larry Meyers who teaches at Auburn and has practices in Birmingham, Montgomery, and Atlanta. Most everyone who has come through Auburn has either had his classes, or knows of him. He has helped tremendously with our dog Irving. 

I don't think any one person is especially good with aggressive dogs until they spend some time trying to become good at it. I had no clue what to do with the first aggressive ones I had. Here are the things I learned: 

  • Keep your hands out of the way. This protects caregiver and dog (they are frequently more afraid of the actual hands than the person - this is the case with our Jake) 

  • Give the dog plenty of space to do their thing without the caregiver interfering with them. Don't touch them unless invited to do so and do that to a smaller extent than the dog offers (if the dog wants you to pet them, do so, but not a big old petting, rubbing, scratching the belly, but rather a soft couple of strokes in whatever space the dog feels safe with (sometimes this is their head, their back, or their side - each one is different about this). 

  • Keep your face away from the dog's mouth.  That should be fairly obvious.

  • Don't get in a crate with a dog ;}.

  • Leave them alone while eating.

  • After a long time of getting them comfortable with the caregiver and their surroundings, start to slowly desensitize them to their fears.

  • During that time while establishing the dog's comfort level, the caregiver learns more precisely what it is they are afraid of. If they are scared of your hands, let them see your hands more. Maybe slather your hand in peanut butter and let them lick the hand while you wiggle your fingers (this is very scary!). 

  • Be very patient, careful, and above all else, gentle. If they bite you or scare you or misbehave, the correction should be quiet and gentle. 

Few dogs end up being aggressive toward people without a person somewhere having made them that way, so remember that they don't need more frightening experiences with humans and that their perceptions of human actions can be amplified. 

I think that the fear of men probably has a lot to do with a past abuse, but that patience and desensitization can work wonders. A great tool that you may use is Benadryl (1mg per 1 pound of dog or something stronger if the vet recommends it). The way I use it is to get the dog to take the drug, give them a little time (30 minutes?) to let it work, then introduce them to what they fear. If your dog is afraid of men, you could start with having him sit next to or near a man and do his commands (sit, stay, etc.) while in the presence of the man. Repeat this in the next couple of sessions. Then try it without the drugs. Next step may be to drug (or smaller amount of drug) and take it up a step - maybe have the dog sit in your lap or pet the dog while working on the commands (using the established commands helps them understand your control of the situation and gives them a comfort level in the pack hierarchy). 

You can gradually take the desensitization up until you get to the the point of having the dog on its back getting belly rubs with a relaxed demeanor. That is the goal. Once there, things should start to get better. The ability to have a dog submit to you by relaxing while you have them prone (especially if you can do this while messing with their feet and mouths) shows that they trust your role as alpha and that their comfort level is when they aren't going to be afraid of you or your family.

For dogs fearful of men, other things you can do are to get your husband's or son's recently worn t-shirts and put them in the crate (or wherever the dog sleeps) so that the dog really gets used to them. Have the parties that the dog is uncomfortable with be the ones that feed him and let him out. 

This isn't hopeless, it is just a matter of patience and time before Bo or whomever your dog is becomes the pet you want and ya'll become the family he is craving.

Donna Farmer

Birmingham Boston Terrier Rescue, Birmingham, AL

If I can help you with a specific problem, please email me at