Ask a trainer!
L.J. from Stallion Springs, writes, "What are some signs of aggression in dogs? How can I diagnose my dog's behavior as aggressive?"
Dear L.J., Thanks for your question!
First, a disclaimer:
While I am an experienced trainer, and deal with my own dog's issues that include reactive (and at times aggressive) behavior, I do not specialize in aggression cases professionally. I suggest that anyone who feels their dog might be exhibiting aggressive behavior seek help from an experienced, credentialed trainer immediately. These types of problems, left unchecked, do not resolve on their own; they get worse if they are not addressed, effectively managed and treated.
Secondly, dog owners should never attempt to diagnose their dog's medical or behavioral issues unless they are specifically trained to do so and/or have extensive experience and knowledge of the subject matter. When well-meaning pet guardians take matters into their own hands, (which often entails using punitive methods seen on popular TV shows or YouTube videos), things are likely to get much worse.
A dog parent's best bet is to begin with their regular veterinarian. This is to rule out any physical or medical reason for an abrupt and/or drastic change in a dog's behavior for seemingly no reason. If the vet determines the dog is healthy, he or she may then be able to guide you in the right direction with personal recommendations for trainers in your area.
Every case is different, as is every dog. It is important to realize that dogs exhibit several "warning" behaviors before they lash out aggressively (i.e. bite). However, to the untrained eye, these signals are subtle and often go either unnoticed or are misinterpreted. Obviously, if your dog has already reached the point where he or she has attacked or bitten someone (a person or other animal), it is best to seek professional intervention as soon as possible.
What individuals believe about training methods, and the methods they choose to employ, accept, and/or allow, are extremely personal, and differ widely from person to person. As you begin researching trainers in your area, you will inevitably be faced with a deluge of "arguments" from many (some fiercely opposing) schools of thought. As a trainer and dog guardian myself, who would lay down my life for my dog, my personal choice is to use science-based, non-punitive training practices to deal with aggression, or any other training related questions, and/or behavior modification needs you might deal with as a pet parent.