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If you have a German Shorthaired Pointer that is showing signs of aggressive behavior, you’re no doubt concerned. GSP’s are generally known as gentle, good-natured dogs that get along well with people and other animals. But on the rare occasion that’s not the case.
To help you out with your aggressive GSP, we’ve put together some tips and explanations to help you solve your dog’s aggression issues – and discuss if they do in-fact have a true aggression issue.
Why Is My GSP Aggressive?
Aggression in German Shorthaired Pointers usually has triggers or causes such as abuse, fear, incomplete socialization, an issue from puppyhood, possessiveness, maternal aggression, and frustration. Some behaviors learned as puppies can carry over into adulthood such as fighting for a toy or food.
Before we progress further, however, let’s establish if your GSP is showing true aggression or perceived aggression. In the majority of cases, it is perceived aggression that is the issue at hand, so be sure to diagnose the behavior before taking any action.
Signs of true aggression:
Growling – Stiff body
Biting or snapping
Stiff movements side to side
Tail raised or tucked – Stiff wagging movements
Stiff legged stance
Signs of perceived aggression:
Play growling – loose body, lots of movement
Low levels of resource guarding
Barking during play
Charging – followed by a play bow
It is important that you watch your GSP and know what the different postures mean. If you see an act of true aggression instead of just boisterous play, it’s time to jump in and break up the party before things go wrong.
To help your GSP get over their aggression issues, you will first need to figure out what the cause is. Unfortunately, your dog cannot talk so telling you isn’t an option. You will have to pay careful attention to their behaviors, which will tell the story.
Here is a list of the types of aggression your GSP could display:
Pain induced aggression
Redirected aggression (Frustration)
What To Do
Identify the trigger or cause
Triggers can be almost anything, so you really need to pay close attention to your dog’s body language. It can be simple like another dog or a stranger, but it can also be a lot more complicated, like a man with a beard, or someone wearing a certain color.
If you cannot find the trigger, or have trouble solving their aggression, then it’s best to consult a dog behaviorist and get professional help.
The first thing you should think about doing is to take your dog for a vet checkup. Some aggressive behaviors can be triggered by underlying medical conditions, such as ear infections, urinary tract infections, and dental problems. This is especially important if your GSP’s aggression is a new thing and has come on suddenly.
If there are no physical problems to treat, your vet will be able to give you some advice and point you in the direction of a good behaviorist.
It’s important to not attempt to handle an overly aggressive dog on your own, as it can do more harm than good.
NEVER use force or compulsion when training your dog. Using punishment to solve aggression is not only cruel to the dog but also very dangerous. In most cases dog aggression has a root in fear, therefor punishment will only escalate the problem and create an unstable and unsafe dog.
In some cases, dogs need medication to get over their aggression, in which case a veterinary behaviorist will be able to assist you without another vet visit.
Make sure you know what training you’ll be doing. Some behaviorists believe in prong and choke collars and other inhumane methods to stop aggression. You want to avoid all inhumane options like the plague. You need someone who uses positive reinforcement and proven methods of behavior modification without punishment.
Don’t try to treat severe aggression by yourself
Never try to treat severe aggression problems yourself. You might get injured or escalate the problem. The process of behavior modification is lengthy and you will have to make some changes.
Aggressive dogs are usually not re-homeable, so try your best to avoid this if at all possible. It’s also important that you avoid any situation in which you or anyone else can get bitten.
Owners of aggressive dogs have some tough decisions to make. If you do decide to go through with behavior modification then I salute you. Behavior modification isn’t the easiest route, but is definitely the most rewarding one.
Do not deny medication if your vet describes it for your dog. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes if you decide on behavior modification and unfortunately that means you might have to accept medication.
Think of it this way, if you were depressed or have uncontrollable mood swings, you would take medication to make yourself feel better.
Follow the rules given by your behaviorist
One moment of relaxed behavior can end in horror when it comes to aggressive dogs so always be on your toes.
Never blame yourself
Some say that if you raised your dog right, it would never have become aggressive. This statement is simply not true. All you can do is manage and try to prevent aggressive behavior. This is especially true if you got your GSP at a later age. You would have no knowledge of how your dog was treated in a past life. Any fear that was instilled in them when they were a puppy would likely be the reason for true aggression later on.
Aggression is usually not entirely curable, but you can contain and control if you are willing to follow the advice of a behaviorist.
Although we don’t recommend dealing with aggressive dog behavior without help, some owners want to see if they can solve the behavior on their own. If this is you, consider the NILIF (Nothing in Life is Free) method of training, which some dog owners have had success using.
German Shorthaired Pointers are generally such sweeties that you can’t imagine them having an aggressive hair on their bodies. Unfortunately, some cases exist where the puppy already shows aggression from a very young age. Sometimes this is due to genetics, but other times it is due to how they grew up.
Puppies often need to fend for themselves in the litter. When the litter is quite big, the pups will have to fight for resources. Puppies that always ended up being pushed away because they are weaker may develop aggressive tendencies to protect their food and toys.
A lot of GSP puppy aggression is due to social confusion, fear, anxiety, and a need to keep what is theirs away from others. If their aggressive strategy works, they will keep doing it to get what they want. It’s best to stop this behavior and teach them an alternative as soon as possible.
If you’d like a comprehensive guide to fear-based or anxiety-based aggression, be sure to read our post on this subject here.
Puppy socialization is vital for puppies displaying these tendencies. The socialization window is between 3 and 16 weeks, and is the most important time of your dog’s life. Be sure to take them into as many social environments as possible.
Food aggression, also known as resource guarding, is one of the most common aggressive behaviors in dogs, even the German Shorthaired Pointer.
This type of aggression can be learned even as a puppy and if not corrected immediately can lead to some serious problems. Resource guarding is dangerous, especially for kids that don’t know to stay away from the dog when it eats, or plays with its favorite toy, or has a favorite spot.
Resource guarding, fortunately, is also one of the easier aggression problems to avoid or solve. It is always better to prevent than to solve, so if you notice any aggression during feeding time or play, you should take action. If the aggression is severe, seek professional help immediately.
Follow the following steps to prevent food aggression:
Get your dog used to your presence by standing around during feeding time
Chuck a tasty treat every now and then
Stand close and talk to your dog while they eat
Hand-feed some treats once they finish their food
Touch the bowl and add some tasty treats to it
Lift the bowl up and chuck a treat on the ground
Repeat the whole process with the rest of your family involved
Growling can happen during play as well as be a warning. If your puppy growls when not playing, pay attention immediately. Make sure to never punish your GSP puppy for growling. This is their warning device to say “I don’t like this.” If you remove their warning device, they will have no choice but to move up to the next response: a bite.
Growling also happens a lot during play and you will start to notice the slight differences such as the tone and volume. The body posture of the dog should also be an indication. Make sure you know some dog body language so you don’t confuse true aggression with play.
Biting is not always an aggressive act. Most biting happens during play behavior but if biting goes along with the aggressive body posture described above, you should pay attention to it immediately.
Dogs will generally give you a warning before a bite occurs. It’s very important not to punish them for these warnings. Warnings can include growling, snapping without contact, and a very stiff body posture like described above.
If you see your German Shorthaired Pointer biting in an aggressive manner, then it’s time to seek the assistance of a dog behaviorist.
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Marie started HoundGames with her husband, Geoff. She is a life long dog lover and always wanted to start a business around dogs, and she's finally living out her dream. They hope to launch more products in the future!