Canine aggression: Getting to a good walk - Firstline
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Canine aggression: Getting to a good walk
When the nightly walk becomes a nightmare for pet owners and their dogs, it's time for veterinary technicians to intervene.


History and prospective prognosis

Assuming that underlying medical problems have been ruled out, the behavioral history along with any video of the undesirable behavior (including owner responses) are used to diagnose, develop management strategies, and provide the owners with realistic expectations of what might be achieved. While you may also gain information from observing the dog and its interactions during the consultation, the primary focus will need to be on these factors:

  • Interviewing the owner and reviewing video to get a complete and accurate description of the problem from its outset to the present
  • Asking how the owner has responded to the problem to date
  • Learning the dog's response
  • Understanding the dog's training background
  • Evaluating the dog's temperament
  • Understanding the owner and environmental factors. For example, if the dog displays fear aggression toward unfamiliar dogs and the owner lives in a building complex in which other dogs cannot be avoided, safety is an ongoing concern, and graduated exposure might not be practical. In addition, the ability and willingness of the person who walks the dog to be able to implement the program is an important consideration in safety and success.
  • Exploring the ABCs—antecedent (what precedes), behavior (a description of the behavior itself), and consequence of the behavior, including any change from the first occurrence to the present.

With respect to prognosis, the first question is whether the owners can effectively manage the situation to prevent injury. This also requires being able to identify each and every situation that might lead to fear or aggression, since if the behavior is not predictable then it cannot be reliably prevented. If the management and treatment plan is something the owners are unable or unwilling to implement, then improvement will not be achieved. Even if the problem is preventable and substantive improvement might be possible, the owner must have realistic expectations about what is achievable considering the dog's temperament, the environment they live in, and the underlying cause. For example, some owners may not be able to accept that their dogs will always require on-leash walks and will need to be kept out of off-leash dog parks. In cases in which owners are unable or unwilling to safely manage the aggression, relinquishing the pet may be necessary. In some cases, a suitable environment or home may be found in which problems can be effectively avoided, managed, or improved. However, the safety and well-being of people, other animals, and the dog in question must be the priority. Euthanasia is a last resort in cases where injuries have occurred and further injuries cannot be effectively prevented. In one study of dogs that were aggressive toward unfamiliar dogs, 76 percent could be around other dogs on leash outdoors after treatment.1



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