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Frustration And Re-directed Aggression

Dogs need to learn how to deal with feelings of frustration so that they can calm themselves when they cannot have something they want. Since dogs spend quite a lot of their lives feeling frustrated in a human world, this is a necessary skill for life as a pet dog. Otherwise, they may behave badly when frustrated and may re-direct any resulting aggression onto those around them.

 

 

  • Frustration

Frustration and anger

Just like us, dogs  may feel frustrated and angry when they are disappointed and cannot have something they really want.  As children, humans have to learn to deal with these feelings so we can behave well to others around us.  We need to learn not smash things up or comfort ourselves by taking out any anger on those around us.  Dogs have to learn this too.  If they don’t learn it when they are young, they can grow into adults that get angry when prevented from doing what they want and may even redirect that anger into biting others.

 

Frustration can also be directed at inanimate objects, e.g.: a collie wants to chase motorbikes going past in car so bites chunks out the car’s upholstery instead, or a dog is excited by the delivery of letters and cannot get out to chase away the postman so bites at the letters instead.

 

Sometimes dogs can be aggressive to other dogs when eventually let off the lead due to the pent-up desire to play and release energy – go to ‘Aggression To Other Dogs’.

Some dogs are worse than others

Signs of frustration and re-directed aggression are more common in energetic dogs with a high desire for action.  It is also more likely in dogs that more readily choose the 'fight' rather than 'flight' reaction when confronted by something they don't like. 

 

Dogs that have belonged to indulgent owners as puppies are also likely to find being patient for things they want difficult.  Frustrated dogs are commonly found in homes where there is little time for the dog and, hence, stimulating events such as walks, trips in the car or disturbances in the home can cause wild excitement.

Helping your dog learn to deal with frustration

Read the section below about giving your dog enough exercise and play daily and put this into place first.  If you don't do this to begin with, you are unlikely to be successful.

 

Make a big list of the things your dog enjoys each day and order them from least to most valuable to him.

 

Begin with the thing at the top of your list (least valuable) and ask him to wait quietly and patiently before giving it to him.  For example, if he wants to go out through a door, ask him to wait.  If he doesn’t, keep the door closed and wait without speaking, looking at him or saying anything.  Wait until he has controlled himself enough to wait quietly without moving for 30 seconds, then open the door and let him out.

 

Once he can be calm over the least valuable thing, do the same with the next most valuable.  For example, if the next thing on the list is chewing an old nylabone, put him on the lead, throw the bone just out of reach, then hold on to him, ignoring anything he does until he is calm.  Wait patiently without speaking, looking or touching him.  Once he is calm, allow him to go forward to chew the bone.

 

In this way, work up through the things he values until you can easily ask him to wait calmly for the things he wants.  By doing this, he will learn how to deal with the feelings of disappointment when he cannot get something he wants immediately.  Once he has learned to do this, he will be able to transfer it to other exciting situation where he wants to do something but you want him to do something else.

Getting enough exercise and play

In addition to teaching your dog to deal calmly with frustration, make sure he is getting plenty of physical exercise in the form of off-lead running (teach a good recall so you can let him off safely – go to ‘Instant Recall’) and make sure you are playing sufficiently with him with toys (go to ‘How To Teach Your Dog To Play With Toys’).  Teach him control during play so he learns to control himself in exciting situations (go to ‘How To Control Games’).

 

In addition, teach him tricks and exercises to use up his mental energy and get him working for you.  This will also aid communication between you and teach him that there is another way to do things other than his own.  Go to ‘Trick Training’ and ‘How Dogs Learn’

Re-directed aggression

Dogs that redirect their aggression and anger onto other people, other animals or inanimate objects will be very focussed on whatever is triggering their arousal before the re-direction.  Then they may bite anything that is close without really looking at it.  The bite is usually very quick and done in the ‘heat of the moment’ when arousal and excitement is at its highest. 

 

If your dog does this, muzzling him prior to placing him in situations that arouse him will prevent injuries or damage.  Alternatively, avoid situations that make him aroused or excited if possible.

 

In addition, you need to treat the root cause of whatever it is that is causing him to become so aroused or excited.  If it is fear-based, you will need to desensitise and counter-condition (go to ‘Fear And Anxiety’).  If it is frustrated play, teach him to deal with frustration away from problem situations first by using the treatment above.

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