Help! My Dog Has a Split Personality

Penny DiLoreto, CPDT-KA
It just doesn't make sense to most dog lovers that have reactive dogs in their family when their naturally loving dog will suddenly bite them or other dogs living in the same household. Animal behaviorists and seasoned dog trainers call this type of behavior re-direction.

Re-direction happens when the dog gets so worked up over an event that they don't know how to express their feelings. Think of it this way. You have a bad day at work, and when you get home, someone says something that makes you angry, and you retaliate by saying or doing something you wish you hadn't. That's re-direction. You are taking things out on the ones you love. Fear, frustration, or anxiety are the factors that cause most reactive dogs to redirect their frustration on others, other dogs, things, or people, yes, even on their loving owners.

The longer the dog remains in a state of frustration or anxiety, the more likely he/she will redirect on others. Some of the causes of anxiety in dogs include; Fear of strangers, children, cars, or anything that moves: separation anxiety, Loud noises like fireworks, thunderstorms. Being restrained, sometimes called leash aggression, fence aka barrier aggression. Barrier aggression can happen when two or more dogs are behind a barrier such as a gate, door, or fence and want to get to the other side. The excitement of getting to the other side can cause behaviors such as barking, lunging, and clawing at the barrier. This type of behavior can quickly turn to frustration, which often leads to barrier aggression, and they turn (redirect their frustration) on each other.

Being aware of your dog's environment and its history of redirecting its behavior to you or others is essential in overcoming this problem. Be proactive when you notice your dog(s) behavior escalating instead of reacting once the situation is out of control.

Training cues like Leave-it or Focus help draw your dog(s) attention away from the distraction and on to you. Keeping your distance when on walks and offering treats while your dog(s) are calm are also great ways to eliminate redirecting behaviors. Living with a dog that redirects frustration is stressful and dangerous for dog owners, especially if their dog is prone to shifting their behavior and biting them or others.

 I have great news! Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) works with you to help your dog overcome his/her feelings of fear, frustration, and or aggressive-looking behaviors.  Learn about  our Behavior Adjustment Training Course here.

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