by Dennis Fisher

This article is one of a great many articles written by Dennis Fisher about a very wide variety of subjects concerning different  dogs, such as obedience training, breeding, showing, health matters, training problems and other subjects.  All these articles appear on Dennis Fisher's websites.   Visit the site that has been set up specifically for German Shepherd Dog enthusiasts, or  if you interested in a breed   other than German Shepherd Dogs.


Aggression in dogs – especially when they are mature animals - can be a real problem.  It’s all very well to blame the owner, although this is frequently the root of the problems, but very certain strains within the breed are very much aggressive than others.  


It is possible that the dog you have purchased comes from  a particular line known to be aggressive.


This doesn’t mean that your task of training is impossible.  It does mean however, that you will have to put in a great deal more effort than would normally be the case.


Having said that, the owner of the  potentially aggressive dog has to accept responsibility for  curbing unnecessary aggression.  And it is unnecessary uncalled for aggression that we are talking about.  Of course if you are training for Schutzhund with your Rottweiler or German Shepherd you want the dog to bite and the harder the better.  But this is controlled aggression, which is quite a different matter.


Training  of a potentially aggressive dog should begin early.  Let your dog know very early that you are the leader of the pack. Let the  animal be aware that certain behavior is not acceptable.


 This doesn’t mean that have to be unnecessarily harsh with the dog. But by all means be firm. Be firm in your handling; firm in vocal commands, and firm in your reprimands.  Being firm does not mean that you have to shout – far from it.  It does mean however, that the dog has to hear steel in your voice.


I would always remind members of my training class of their school days.  I know from personal experience that there were many occasions when a teacher would walk into class and we would completely ignore him or her and continue making an awful racket.


The teachers would have to shout loudly to make themselves heard above the din. Contrasted to this there were certain teachers who walk into class, fold their arms and simply glare at us without saying a word. There would be immediate silence.


I would remind my class that there were similarities.  Of course I am talking about a long time ago, in the dark ages, when children had respect for teacher.  Nevertheless I believe that, even today, there are similarities.


Back to the question of aggression in dogs, that frequently starts when the pup with an aggressive streak – refuses to be dominated.


You have to take care with a pup of this nature to play in a  happy, but  controlled manner. Play with the pup by all means, but don’t tease the pup by slapping him on the face, either with your hand or a rag.  Make a sharp distinction between boisterous play and too much aggression on your part.

Watch the pup’s reaction very closely.   Listen to the nature of the growling. There is a distinct difference between playful, happy growling and really aggressive growling.



The pup will often bite your hand – often in play – but sometimes he oversteps the mark.  Reprimand quickly and sharply. Not with your hand, but with your voice.


 Let the pup know in no uncertain manner that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated. Stop playing and put him back in his kennel.   It is possible that your pup has no real intention to hurt you but don’t let him overstep the mark.  He must always respect you and know what is permissible and what is not.


It goes without saying that you should never lose your temper with your dog.  It is often very difficult not get very cross when there is bad behavior and complete disobedience.  But never overstep the mark yourself.


 If you happen to be in a bad mood at the particular time, rather leave training for another day.


When the dog is older and of course more powerful there is still a basic similarity in your training methods.  If you reprimand the dog the dog must be aware that you are  displeased.  But this  still does  not give you license to shout. 


There can be steel  in your voice even in a whisper.


When your dog is older, you have the advantage of the wonderful training mechanism – the training collar.   With restrictive correction you don’t have to use your voice at all.  You can prevent the dog from going something you object to fairly easily.


If the aggression is in the nature of fighting with other dogs and this happens in training class, this can usually be curbed in the following manner.


Make sure that your lead is made of a very strong, pliable leather that is easy on your hand.  If you have soft hand wear gloves.  Make sure that you training collar is long enough to provide the whip-like action when it becomes tight.


Warn the owner of the dog that your dog is lunging at in class,  what you intend doing.  Ask him to please  assist you by restraining his dog and allowing his dog to sit at his side.



Start walking from a fair distance away towards his dog; Try and have your dog on a loose lead with the training collar hanging loosely.  At a certain stage your dog is going to see his potential opponent and lunge aggressively towards him.


 When you are about ten feet away from the other dog  – at a critical point – suddenly turn; do an about turn and walk the other way. At the same time jerk the lead as hard as you can so that your dogs spins around. 


 You can accompany this jerking of the lead with a very harsh ‘NO!”  if you want, but often it is unnecessary.


Continue the same process about four or five times.  Your dog will soon get the message. He  soon realizes that what you are doing is  trying to trick him into lunging forward at the other dog.


 After three or four unsuccessful lunges that result in a very uncomfortable spin in the air, he is going to stop lunging.  When you do an about turn he is going to turn around and follow passively in the heel position.


Perhaps it may take a little longer for the message to sink in, but it won’t be too long until he realizes it is a trick on your part.  No ways is he going to be caught again!


One final word about aggression and that refers to your own dogs fighting.


The standard advice about fighting between your own dogs is to allow one dog to be the dominant dog. 


This advice is based on a certain amount of logic.  The general feeling is that dogs originate from being members of a pack and there has to be a pack leader. 


The logic behind this advice is that the dog that loses the fight will accept this situation and always submit to the dog that has established itself as the leader of the pack.


My experience has been somewhat different.  The dogs know that I am the leader the pack and although I never have reason to reprimand harshly, they know when I give a command I mean it.  There is no hint of my voice of a request.   On the rare occasions that my mature dogs have had a squabble I reprimand them both very firmly.  There is no victor.  And I never allow the fight to continue very long.


What usually happens is that the dog that has been getting the better of the fight stops immediately and walks away.  The dog that has been losing the brief encounter wants to continue the fight.  No ways is he going to stop at this stage.  He obviously says to himself: “Now it’s payback time”.   I make it clear to him that I am referee and my word is law!


As a result I have very little trouble  at my home with fighting even though quite a few males run loose.