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Note: This resource is intended to supplement clients who have worked with Chill Out Dog Training live and in-person, it is not intended as a substitute for in-person training or a comprehensive behavior modification guide. There is a lot of context that is provided in our sessions that does not appear here for the sake of brevity.

Tool set: Leash, Standard Collar, Back Attaching Harness, Muzzle, Pet Convincer (Air-Tool), E-Collar


Aggression is a complicated issue with many causes and variants of expression, but our protocols help you know just how to work through it so your dog can participate safely in the social world once again, or perhaps for the very first time.


What your dog is responding to is either a physical threat, an emotional threat, or in many cases both. Both types can be real or merely perceived.

A physical threat crops up in the mind when there is something in the environment that seems to be sufficiently dangerous (usually another dog or person, but not always). This is subjective, but by and large, the relevant factors aren’t terribly surprising: size, build, behavior, unfamiliarity, and similarity to previously determined threats all influence the perceived threat level. 

A purely emotional threat poses no immediate physical harm, but rather threatens the emotional state of the dog now or in the future. Emotional dysregulation is at its strongest when losing a resource that reduces or eliminates negative feelings. The degree to which the dog believes a resource is possessed and of value, the stronger the emotional dysregulation effect will be when it is taken away. Emotional discomfort, while not physically painful, is incredibly psychologically uncomfortable, and is, therefore, worth preventing, even at the cost of some physical discomfort.  It is also worth noting that a threat is rarely purely emotional in practice. Furthermore, not all resources are inanimate things (bones, food bowls, or dog beds), many are alive (other dogs and people).

There is one superordinate reason why a dog perceives threats where they do not actually exist: insecurity, an increased sense of likelihood, and susceptibility to both physical and emotional harm.

The missing piece of most behavior modification methods is what I call interruptive feedback. Interruptive feedback is an event, provided by the handler (owner or trainer), that checks a misbehavior during its loading or running phase. In other words, properly performed interruptive feedback is delivered in the moment, not after the fact. It differs from delayed feedback as there is no lag time between the behavior and consequence. This makes it more effective for two primary reasons. First, it’s easier for the dog to understand the connection between its planned or current behavior and feedback/outcome. The second, it eliminates the “payoff” (aka the perceived positive outcome) the dog receives when running the aggressive behavior to completion. To further explain, when we fail to provide interruptive feedback for aggression, the result achieved from the dog’s point of view, while imperfect even to him, is less costly than the presumed alternative, and so the tendency towards aggression is regrettably reinforced instead of reduced. Without interruptive feedback the cycle of aggression begetting more aggression is left to fester.


When we work on aggression, safety becomes a primary consideration. Yet, a paradox is created because we also must create teachable moments, situations where the dog is considering or acting out its aggressive behavior, all while preventing bite damage. The bigger, stronger, and more intent to harm your dog, the more likely a muzzle will be required during at least the first phases of the aggression elimination process. In cases with less dangerous, but still hostile dogs, a leash is often sufficient as a preventative measure. Your trainer will have given you guidance during your session as to what’s the best fit for your dog.

Interruptive feedback is in place for primary instructive reasons. It is also critical to safety because when it’s properly calibrated it will defuse the aggression immediately, eliminating the danger.

It is interruptive feedback, more so than leashes and muzzles, that allows the handler to safely operate outside the bounds of total avoidance and into the domain of triggers and temptations. This is the only place of real “education” for the dog, the developmental zone when it comes to aggression elimination.

The Path to Social Behavior

Like any journey, ours too has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Here’s what you can expect as your start to provide feedback for aggressive behavior. Please note that it is not unusual for a dog to skip over any of these steps or regress when the tempting situation is or becomes stronger, or for adjacent steps to blend features.

  1. Avoidance
    • Once a clear boundary is established the dog will start to avoid temptations because he believes the perceived threat (PT) to be a viable danger and doesn’t trust himself not to act out if too close, knowing that the cost of misbehavior is not worth it.
    • The avoidance is not due to the dog now seeing the aggression target as bad, it was already bad, but he’s realizing that acting aggressively is also bad. 
    • To reduce risk from the perceived threat (PT)  and the correction as the temptation comes into your dog’s awareness range, he will attempt to move away from it, rather than move towards it. 

This is an improvement because avoidance is a safer behavior than aggression, even though we haven’t overcome the misplaced threat. 

2. Displacement

    • The dog understands the issue is not distance.
    • But, the dog still does not trust itself not to act out if attention is placed on the perceived threat. 
    • The dog averts gaze and displaces his focus, often choosing to sniff the ground or looking off and away while the perceived threat is within his awareness range and danger zone. 

This is better still because the dog doesn’t need more space to maintain decent behavior, and this paves the way to feel more comfortable still. 

3. Tolerance

    • The dog understands that the PT can be safely left alone without being actively ignored.
    • The dog is not interested in the PT, still believing it to be a danger, but not one that’s likely to attack if generally left alone.
    • There is neither approach avoidance behavior, but the dog may venture a curious glance and even sniff the air the PT just passed through while preferring to keep some distance.

This is good because the dog is likely to come to see that the threat is highly contingent on his own misbehavior and the threat is generally unlikely.  This makes room for the dog’s natural latent curiosity about potentially positive interactions with the PT.

4. Approach/Curiosity

    • The dog feels secure enough and motivated to better understand the PT, and so he carefully experiments with moving closer to get more information.
    • The PT truly poses no danger when approached in good faith and the dog learns that approach and even interaction (often initially kept brief) are safe and perhaps beneficial. Positive social interaction provides natural rewards (i.e. acceptance, security, and understanding) in social mammals.
    • We see the dog looking at old PTs with curious non-hostile expressions, more sniffing of the air, and a general inclination to move towards a more in-depth investigation. It is also not uncommon to see some regression to aggression, or any of the above steps as closing proximity can cause unfamiliar responses from the PT itself and reignite more insecure responses from the dog.

Despite the potential for minor temporary setbacks-backs, tolerant/friendly approach behavior is where the dog truly can discover the positive in the old PT and overwrite negative or neutral feelings.

5. Acceptance/Play

    • The dog feels fully confident and safe. He’s at ease around people and dogs with good intentions, no longer misperceiving threats, and generally good at staying out of unnecessary conflict.  This is generally what we want.
    • The dog will approach new dogs and allow himself to be approached by other dogs. He’s comfortable when other dogs approach him at speed and dogs who are more unsure of social interactions themselves.

Standard Protocol

Here is your general playbook for working through aggressive behavior. We’ll cover planning for safety, determining productive exercises when to provide feedback, what to do after stopping aggressive behavior, and what to do when the dog does not respond.

  1. Prepare
    1. Muzzle the dog if he is dangerous. Use an environmental barrier, such as a fence, or employ a tether if working on resource aggression or if the dog can’t be muzzled.
    2. Double check that the interruption tools are prepared for use (A good cartridge in the air tool, charged batteries for the E-Collar system, and a well-secured leash/collar/harness if in use.
    3. If the dog is food motivated, prepare a treat bag.
  2. Determine your dog’s Developmental Zone
    1. Know your dog’s perceived threat awareness range and at what distance your dog is likely to both begin to fixate on the perceived threat (PT)  and the distance he’s likely to become aggressive.
    2. Consider additional factors about the PT  that contribute to the dog feeling threatened and responding, such as:
      1. Size and build – The bigger the PT the larger the threat. The more powerful the build, the more potent the threat.
      2. Behavior – Any act that may suggest future hostile action. Behaviors like skittishness, a quick or pushy approach, and loudness are the main threat signals.
      3. Unfamiliarity – the more unknown something is the more potential for harm it possesses.
      4. Similarity – the more alike a new PT is to one deemed threatening in prior encounters, the more threat will be perceived.
    3. Consider situational factors such as tight spaces (pedestrian bridges and elevators) as well as the dog’s arousal/hype/stress level. The tighter the environment, and the more amped up the dog, the more challenging the situation.
  3.  Provide Interruptive Feedback
    1. Closely observe your dog for shifts in focus (eyes and ears), facial expression, and body language (creeping low, standing tall, hackles aka mohawk, stiffness) as you approach perceived threats. We want to detect clues that the dog’s intent towards the PT has become hostile.
      1. It can be difficult to determine if the dog is merely concerned (allowed) or if they are hostile (not allowed). 
      2. If unsure, you can wait and see, provided the situation is safe to do so, or if the situation is a higher risk you can issue a non-compatible command, such as “out,” “leave it,” “let’s go,” or “come.” If the dog fails to respond to the command after half-second, you should provide a correction with our E-Collar or feedback tool.
    2. Once hostile intent has been determined or an act of aggression is starting, it is time to provide interruptive feedback to correct the attitude, planned behavior, or performed behavior.
      1. It is best to provide feedback just before the offence or just as the inappropriate mindset is engaged.
      2. We should not provide feedback after the act is over. The only thing we can do afterwards is coach the dog away and require compliance with given commands.
  4.  Post Feedback Guidance
    1. When interruptive feedback is effective it is time to coach the dog towards an acceptable replacement behavior.
    2. Initially, this is walking away from the PT and releasing it from the dog’s focus.
    3. As the dog begins to perform avoidance and release well, you can ask for more subtle, yet, appropriate replacement behaviors such as non-avoidant composure (no avoidance, no hostile mindset, no aggression). This is harder as it requires more self-control from the dog. Asking for a sit or a down, without increasing the distance does this well.
  5. Reward and Reset
    1. When the dog is not aggressive or advances to the next stage on the path to social behavior (see above), we want to reward (praise, treat, allow for avoidance or curiosity).
    2. After, if there are more good practice opportunities, set up another attempt at advancing towards social behavior.
  6. Troubleshooting Failing Feedback
    1. It is possible for interruptive feedback to fail so the dog may persist in the misbehavior despite receiving feedback. This usually means that at least one component of a productive feedback moment was off.
      1. Situation – you could be working too close to the PT or in too tight of a space. Always start by adjusting this variable first.
      2. Timing – could have been later than ideal or the correction came in too soon when the dog was merely concerned, not hostile.
      3. Level – the level could be too low to cause an interruptive response. Some dogs need higher levels to work through high motivation moments.
      4. Post feedback guidance – the post feedback guidance strategy might need to be avoided at this stage. Attempting composed exposure too soon can cause the dog to persist in or reengage the aggression.

In summary, ease up the situation, use a higher level correction sooner (you’re almost certainly waiting too long), and then attempt to have the dog walk away. Contact your trainer if you are not seeing improvements as this is a bit of an art as well as a science.

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