Have you ever been walking your dogs and suddenly one of your dogs turns to the other and seems to attack him or her? This very well may be redirected aggression. Redirected aggression is not a behavior limited to dogs. As a matter of fact, if you Google the term “redirected aggression” most of the articles you will see involve redirected aggression in cats. However, this is a dog blog so, you guessed it, we are going to discuss redirected aggression in dogs.
What is Redirected Aggression?
Redirected aggression is a behavior whose definition is written right into the title. It is aggression towards one thing but acted out upon another. For example, you are walking your two dogs on leash and you come upon a cat. The dogs are aroused by the cat but since they cannot reach the cat, this arousal turns into aggression towards whomever is closest, in this case the other dog. It may seem as if the dogs are fighting when in reality they are simply taking out their arousal and/or aggression caused by the cat on the other dog. Another common example of redirected aggression is a dog biting the hand of the person trying to break up a fight between them and another dog. The dog is “redirecting” their aggression from the dog they got into the fight with to the person attempting to break up the fight. Redirected aggression may be difficult to recognize at first since it could be mistaken for dog aggression, leash aggression, or even aggression towards people. The next time you observe one of your dogs turn on the other, take a closer look to see what may have aroused them to the point of the redirected aggression. Did someone ring the doorbell causing them to become overly excited? Did they see a person they wanted to play with but could not get to them? Both scenarios cause a heightened state of arousal which is the precursor for Redirected Aggression.
How to Stop Redirected Aggression in Dogs
Now that you know what Redirected Aggression is, you may be asking how to stop this behavior. Behavioral Modification plays a huge role here. The first step in behavioral modification is determining the cause of the behavior. Once you determine the cause of the behavior, you may then work on modifying the behavior. Dogs tend towards displaying behaviors that get them what they want. Therefore, if you want them to stop getting overly aroused in the presence of a cat, you must provide a positive reinforcement for NOT reacting to the cat. Remember that if you allow your dog to chase a cat once, he or she will want to continue chasing the cat. Therefore, start by reducing the urge to chase the cat in the first place. When you see a cat, redirect by calmly walking away from the cat and by offering high value treats such as Blue Buffalo Duck Wild Bits Trail Treats, 4 oz (8 Pack) or Tylee 100% salmon treats if your dog remains calm. Remember, if you give treats when they are reacting, you will reinforce the bad behavior instead of reinforcing the behavior you want. Unfortunately, cats tend to dart off when seeing a dog and this quick movement is enticing to our canine companions. This means that you need to be on the lookout for what will arouse your dog, in this case, the cat. If you see the cat first, you can turn around and slowly walk away. If they get a glimpse of the cat and do not react, give them a treat. I regularly carry treats in my pocket for potential learning opportunities such as this one. Another method for reducing the behavior of Redirected Aggression is teaching them to sit and stay when they are in a highly aroused state. You start this at home by playing with them and getting them overly excited then giving them the sit and stay commands. Once you have mastered getting them to sit and stay while in this highly aroused state, you can try it outside in the presence of the cat. And, of course, if they sit and stay and do not react, you give them their favorite treat. It is important to remember that modifying behavior takes time. You cannot expect to positively reinforce the wanted behavior only a couple of times to correct the “bad behavior.” It takes time, patience, and consistency.
For more information about Behavioral Modification, click here: https://thefrenchiemamablog.com/2020/08/01/behavioral-modification-using-operant-conditioning-training-your-frenchie/