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Ways to curb your dog's aggression toward visitors

Gray and white Alaskan dog sitting at attention on a green lawn.

Ways to curb your dog's aggression toward visitors

March 20, 2013

Q: My dog Tubby (a Shar-Pei/border collie mix) is great with the family, but when someone comes to our house he seems to be in attack mode. His hair stands up, teeth come out, and he scares people. He had a sister we had to put down because of aggression. How do we break this behavior?

A: It sounds to me as if you have a fearful/unsocialized dog that bites when he is faced with new situations that he doesn't know how to deal with. Unfortunately, this is one of the toughest behavioral problems to work out, but with a great deal of patience and understanding, and most importantly consistency, you can get him to break these bad habits.

Shar-Peis and Shar-Pei mixes can be loving, playful, fun dogs. They are lively and courageous. They are very strong-willed and can be stubborn, making training them a challenge from time to time. They are extremely loyal to their owners, and that is probably part of what you are seeing here.

To your dog when people come over, all of a sudden there are strangers that have invaded his territory. He is not sure at this point whether they pose a threat to his family, thus his aggressive stance.

Your dog is still relatively young (2 years), and I feel he needs a lot more socialization. You may end up with a dog that is a problem to visitors -- and a problem for you if he decides to bite someone rather than just threatening them. While a quick fix isn't available until you can resocialize him, you can let your dog trail a leash and give him a quick correction (a tug at the leash quickly and hard) and firm "NO" if he shows aggression toward any person who may or may not be on your property.

They are quick learners, so hopefully he'll learn quickly that this behavior is not acceptable.

I also think you will need to enroll him in an obedience class. Not because you want him to learn to sit and stay (although that's great too), but because this will allow him to interact with other people and animals in a safe and controlled environment where you don't have to worry about him biting someone.

In light of the fact that Tubby's sister had to be euthanized due to her severe aggression, it may be a better idea to find a board-certified canine behaviorist to help you evaluate him and give you ideas on how you can change his behavior. You can find one in your area through this website.

-- Answer from Lisa Lepak, a dog behavior modification specialist on JustAnswer.

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