Management is the first step in a comprehensive treatment plan for aggression and begins with identification and avoidance of triggering situations. Owners should be able to recognize signs of fear, anxiety, stress, and nonverbal precursors of aggression in their pet to help predict and avoid aggressive episodes; these signs include defensive postures such as pinned-back ears, lip licking, panting, wrinkled brow, gaze aversion, rapid blinking, wrinkled nose, crouched body, and tucked tail. Offensive postures include a high-held tail, leaning forward, direct staring, erect ears, and a tall, stiff body position. Recognition of body language is especially important when complete separation or management is not feasible.
When the target is an unfamiliar dog, locations such as dog parks, doggy daycare, and clinic and groomer waiting rooms should be avoided. At the clinic, owners can stay in their vehicle with the dog until they can be taken straight to the examination room. Triggering situations (eg, leash walking during high-traffic times, leash walking in areas in which other dogs may be encountered, guests bringing a dog to the home) should also be avoided.
When the target is unfamiliar humans, avoidance can include not allowing visitors in the home unless the dog is confined in another room, taking the dog on a leashed walk during low-traffic times and in locations in which a minimal number of humans will be encountered, crossing the street when others are approaching, and never allowing unfamiliar humans to pet the dog.
When the aggression target is a familiar dog or human, complete avoidance can be difficult. Conflict over resources can be avoided by feeding the dogs in separate confined locations and providing high-value bones, chews, or toys only during separation or confinement. Management of all resources may be necessary in some cases, especially if the owner is unable to effectively monitor or identify body language indicators, but can increase stress and may not be possible in all cases. Arousal, redirected aggression, and predation can only be completely prevented by separate confinement of the dogs at all times, as the inciting triggers are often random and unpredictable and aggression can be triggered quickly with few warning signs.
Owners should be advised against attempting to take a stolen or given object (eg, chew bone) away from the dog. Aggression caused by fear, handling, redirection, or social conflict typically includes a behavior trigger (identified during the behavioral assessment); avoidance of the trigger is paramount and training is needed, including cue-response-reward–based training (eg, training the dog to stay off furniture), systematic desensitization, and/or counterconditioning to physical handling or use of a collar, leash, or harness.
Other management techniques include basket muzzle training (see Suggested Reading), using baby gates to confine the dog, or crate training. Muzzling does not prevent aggression but can prevent serious injuries when aggression is triggered. Muzzling a dog that remains in a provocative yet avoidable situation should be considered inhumane.