illustration of troubled woman and dog

A huge number of dogs are put to death by people for their aggressive behaviors. While there may be genetic influences, aggression is nearly always not a result of abnormal or pathological condition in a dog. [1]

However dogs that react inappropriately are not considered normal by some behaviorists. Often with behavior modification, management and sometimes medical interventions, aggression in dogs can often be successfully and completely controlled. There are no guarantees, but there may be good reason to hope can improve.


This will make or break rehabilitating your dog. You must think long and hard about the effort you will need to put into rehabilitation. It will have its up and downs, but ultimately it will be immensely satisfying when you start to see changes. This can only happen if you are committed.  Remember, putting you down down in permanent. There are no resurrections.

Given that The Behavior Clinic at University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine has a very high success rate with great improvement in more than 75% of all aggressive animals; 90% of aggressive patients improve to the extent that the owners are happy to keep them, it makes the effort well worth it. But don’t kid yourself, owner compliance with the program is the number one critical factor in the success of treatment.

Dogs that bite will always have the potential to bite, and the work you do may just go towards managing the dog (see safety). But the problems that most people experience with aggressive dogs can be tackled.

In order to stay committed, you must be completely realistic about what you are in for. Let’s face it, it’s not the good times that makes us give up. You must be objective as you can about the negative aspects.

  • It can be hard work to learn new behavior or difficult to manage your dog’s aggression
  • We might get upset with ourselves, our dog or others when mistakes happen
  • We will get frustrated if our dog appears to back slide
  • We will get frustrated if our dog’s progress is not as fast as we hoped
  • We will have periods of mourning the loss of what used to be before we had this problem to solve
  • We may get frustrated with other family members forgetting or being inconsistent, or with them reprimanding us
  • Conflicts in the family may intensify during this time
  • We will want to enjoy our dog again, but feel we are “too busy” training
  • We might not even like our dog from time to time
  • We might feel guilty about not giving our dog the privileges he or she once had
  • We may not enjoy the attitude of our neighbors or others around us

But the best thing about making solid commitment to this kind of work, is that it eventually helps you enjoy your dog once again! You learn about yourself in the process. You relieve some of your dog’s anxiety and increase his or her well being. Best of all, you and your dog develop a strong and more satisfying relationship.

Here are some tips for staying committed

  • Expect that there will be highs and lows. Know that when you start, you will be very excited to begin, but once the novelty wears off you will have a dip in motivation. That’s ok and expected. It will end. As long as you get through the motivation dip, it will become easier again.
  • Consider joining a community where you can meet others in similar situations.
  • You can follow our Facebook Page. and other similar Facebook pages to get article and information in your feed regularly. Regular access information and tips can be motivating as well.
  • Keep a journal of your ongoing day to day progress.
  • Read training books!
  • Give yourself a break. That’s right! We all need breaks from time to time.
  • Identify which parts of working with your dog you want to avoid. Perhaps there is a different way to handle it. For example, going for walks can be tough if people keep approaching you. Perhaps there is a leash or shirts you could use that would communicate to others to stay away (check out dog aggression management tools for ideas).
  • Don’t train for long periods of time. Keep sessions frequent but short.
  • Examine if there are other things that you could be doing that will help with your training goals. For example, have a look at our multipart article on environment enrichment. A change in diet, exercise or even medication may be worth considering. Talk to a veterinarian who is knowledgable about behavior or who has access to a vet that does for more information.

Getting motivated when you don’t feel like it

Here is a surprisingly good way to do the things your are putting off. It works because it changes our thinking about it and it taps into the personal reasons of why it is important to us. Too often we’re focusing on all the reasons why we don’t want to do something.

Before you go through the process, ask yourself if there is anything about the activity that you are confused about. Often when we procrastinate it’s because we don’t understand something about it so we don’t know how to tackle it. If this is the case, find some new material to help you understand whether it’s seeking the advice of someone who has done it or teaches it, or read a book on it.

  1. Pick a small goal that you think you should accomplish. For example, perhaps you don’t feel like teaching your dog how to relax on cue
  2. Remind yourself that you don’t actually have to do anything you don’t want. No one can force you. This is important because the “shoulds” make us rebel sometimes. It reminds us of being told what to do by parents and bosses and other authorities. Reminding yourself that you get to make the decisions about what you do, puts the control back in your hands.
  3. Write down what is in it for you to do whatever it is you are putting off. What will you gain?  List all the personal benefits you can think of.
  4. Write down why these benefits are important to you. Once you have done that, as why what you have written down is important to you. Keep asking why until you get to the heart of it.
  5. Now pick a number between one and ten about how willing you are to make the first step forward. It could a two or a seven. It doesn’t matter along as you think it represents how you feel at that moment.
  6. Write down the reasons that you didn’t pick a lower number (if you picked one, write down what it would take to pick a higher number). Surprisingly, we don’t often pick one because there is often a little motivation to do it however minor.
  7. Now imagine the goal has already been accomplished. How does it feel?
  8. Now ask yourself: how ready are you to make the first step toward that goal?

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[1] Canine Aggression: Neurobiology, Behavior and Management, Ilana R. Reisner, DVM, Phd, DACVB, Friskies PetCare Symposium; Small Animal Behavior, 1998, (formerly appeared on between 1999 and 2007)


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