American culture is dog obsessed. Cozy, fluffy, loyal, and fun, these animals are everywhere on our social media feeds and in our homes. But if your dog, a typical cuddly dog, gets aggressive, this can come as a surprise. The reality of a snarling, biting dog doesn’t match the adorable pads we see on Instagram or the lovable companions strewn across tearful movies.

You are not alone if your dog is occasionally – or even regularly – aggressive, but you need to get assistance and find out what is going on before someone gets hurt.

Stand by the problem, but don’t be ashamed

When your dog first becomes aggressive, you have a problem. Dog behavior expert Christina Shusterich, owner of NY Clever K9, advises Lifehacker that immediate action is required the first time your dog trades and advises you to see a professional. Tips from eye-catching television personalities are not enough, and neither is attempts to “socialize” your pet at the local dog park.

If you don’t identify the cause and work with someone who knows how to deal with dog aggression, the problem won’t go away. You are putting yourself, other people, and other dogs at risk by downplaying the problem and insisting on getting your pup to the park. Be aware that someone could get hurt – including your dog – and there could even be legal consequences. Your landlord could force you to go out or a court could even order your dog to be euthanized.

It is imperative that you get to the bottom of the matter and seek help, but in doing that you are not minimizing what is going on.

“People will generally call me when the dog is feeling worse,” says Shusterich, who has been working on rehabilitating aggressive dogs for two decades. She regularly receives emails and calls from people who have been dealing with the problem for a long time but are still prone to downplay what was happening.

“When I get an email, I’ve learned to read between the lines,” she says. “’Sipping’ is biting, so that’s one way people minimize it. Another option is to just leave things out. You will say your dog is getting “excited”. You will use many such euphemisms. “

She said the majority of dog owners downplay their pet’s behavior or just lie, and that doesn’t help an expert figure out what’s going on – or prevent it from escalating. Shusterich makes it clear that despite what some high profile trainers might say on TV, a dog’s aggressive behavior is not the owner’s fault, so get that thought out of your mind. Get rid of your shame and embarrassment now. You didn’t cause that. (We’ll go into some of the factors that likely occurred in a minute.)

“Aggression is not debatable,” she adds. “According to your posters and actions – this has been investigated for years – this is an aggressive dog. There’s no way around it. That’s one of the first things I tell my customers. “

The other thing Shusterich tells you? “An aggressive dog is not the opposite of a good dog. Every dog ​​has aggression. Everyone has aggression. “

Find out what is causing the problem

“Dogs are not aggressive around the clock,” says Shusterich. “There are certain times when they are aggressive.”

She highlights resource conservation, stranger aggression, and leash aggression as three typical cases in which dogs can act. You can recognize aggression by your dog’s body language, which is not human, but predictable. Watch how your dog behaves, whether it stiffens and stares, stands on end, shows its teeth, or snaps its teeth in the air. Obviously, every bite is aggression, and Shusterich is well aware that a bite is a bite, whether it breaks the skin or not.

Your dog may not have each of these traits, and she notes that simply staring at it isn’t aggression in and of itself. Pay attention to stiffness and “the hard look”, for example when you are walking your dog and see another handler walking towards you. Your job is to be attentive and read body language, be aware of behaviors and postures, and report them honestly when you contact a behaviorist.

It is normal to give your dog an edge when in doubt or, like so many, minimize what you see. Check out other dog owners in your area. Pay attention to their body language. If they pull their dog away from your dog, what threat will they realize that it is not you? Is it “the hard look” or raised fur? Does your dog bar its teeth with the other pet? Aggression on a leash is especially common in urban settings, Shusterich says, so keep that in mind.

What to do – and not to do

We have already established that your dog’s aggression is not your fault. The real cause depends on a number of factors.

“There are critical development phases in a dog’s life [and] the most critical ones are when they are puppies, ”says Shusterich. “They shouldn’t be weaned until eight weeks, and up to 15 weeks is the time it takes to get them used to other dogs, people, sights, sounds, noises – anything. Then you fight the tide. It’s not that it can’t be fixed, but that time is over. ”

Shelters and stores can and will lie to you about how early a dog was weaned or whether the puppy was isolated in its formative weeks. Sometimes they don’t even know. Unless you were there when the puppy was born and saw with your own eyes he was suckled and properly socialized for eight weeks – aggression.

“Socialization,” says Shusterich, is “one of those Internet phrases that mean nothing”. Bringing an aggressive 2-year-old dog to a park won’t socialize the animal, but “will put the other dogs at risk and make the behavior problem much worse,” she warns.

“Why shouldn’t it? It’s not a socialization time. There is a way to fix that, but you need to use a technique called systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning, a proven behavior modification technique that is a science that has been around for a long time, “she says.

What you can do now

Aside from attempted socializations, Shusterich has heard of some ferocious methods that have tried to make their pets less aggressive, including using “a dog’s helicopter” or swinging around to show them who’s in charge. But your dog is not a threat to be violated; They act this way because of emotions, mostly fear and something that might have happened to them when they were puppies.

It should go without saying, but please don’t helicopter your dog. See a behaviorist and be completely honest about what is going on. You’ve seen all of this before, even if you haven’t seen it on social media with your friends posting about their seemingly well behaved companions. Nobody advertises if their pet is not perfect, but that doesn’t mean it’s unusual.

What you can do now is minimize the risk. Don’t force an aggressive dog to walk past another dog on the street. Keep a dog with stranger-aggressive behavior away from guests, even if the dog is whining or begging guests to see them. Do not reinforce the fear that your pet is already feeling in the situations in which it has shown that it is uncomfortable. It’s cruel to the dog, dangerous to everyone else, and a real burden on you.

You committed to this dog when you got it and don’t forget that. If you can’t afford a behaviorist or don’t want to be molested, don’t leave your baby in a cage all day or drop the chips where they can and give him the freedom to actually bite someone, which will result could cause considerable harm to that person as well as to the euthanized dog. If the aggression is greater than you think you will be able to cope with, be as honest about your own feelings and behavior as you are about the dog’s.

For a fee you can to give up Bringing a dog to a special shelter, and while losing his or her person can hurt your pet, it may be your best option when you’re not ready or able to do what needs to be done – and to pay for it. Don’t be selfish. Let this dog have every chance of a good life. If you live in an urban center and work long hours but your dog is aggressively on a leash, he may need to be in a place where he doesn’t need to be kept on a leash just to use the toilet. If there is no other way to resolve the problem, it is your responsibility to safely and responsibly bring them into the care of knowledgeable, compassionate people who can get them there.

As Shusterich says, a dog’s aggression does not disqualify it from being a “good dog”. Your dog needs help and guidance, a scientific approach from an expert, and all the love you can give.