Mastiffs are large dogs bred for their loyalty and gentle nature. However, poorly treated mastiffs or those trained for protection or fighting can become aggressive. Aggressive behaviours include angry barking, teeth baring, growling and biting. The reasons behind aggressive mastiff behaviour are varied, but a dog that bites or snaps is a danger to people and other animals and could end up being euthanized. Training an aggressive mastiff takes time and patience, but the results are a better pet and a happier dog.
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Visit your vet to discuss how your mastiff is behaving. Your dog's aggression could have a medical cause such as pain. Your vet will do a thorough exam and perhaps blood work to rule out any medical problems. Have your vet spay or neuter your mastiff if it isn't already fixed. Sexual and territorial aggression is lessened in animals that are neutered.
Begin obedience training with a behaviour specialist who works one-on-one in your home. Teaching your mastiff to listen to and obey your commands shows the dog you are the dominant one in the relationship. Many aggressive behaviours stem from the dog being overly dominant. Obedience training helps break that dominance.
Reward your mastiff when it is not being aggressive. For example, if your dog remains lying quietly when someone walks through the room, give the dog a small treat and congratulate the dog. This teaches your pet that good behaviour gets rewarded.
Ignore your mastiff if it displays aggressive behaviour and then immediately reward the dog when it stops. For example, if the dog growls when you reach for one of its toys, turn your back on the dog or leave the room as quickly as possible. When it stops growling, give the dog a treat and congratulate it. This teaches the dog that bad behaviour gets it nothing, while good behaviour earns it a treat.
Praise your dog as much as possible when it is doing something good. If this means continually congratulating your dog every step of a walk, do so. Your mastiff needs to learn what you want from it.
Divert your dog's aggressive behaviour instead of punishing. For example, if your mastiff is aggressive towards other dogs and it begins behaving aggressively when it sees one on a walk, do not scold your dog. Distract your mastiff with a treat, turn around without acknowledging your dog's behaviour and walk the other way. Reward your dog when the aggressive behaviour stops.
Avoid situations that trigger aggressive behaviour in your mastiff - for example, reaching for its food. As your dog grows less aggressive, slowly incorporate these triggers into your obedience and aggression training. Through rewards for good behaviour and diverting bad behaviour you can desensitise your dog to these triggers.
Sign up for an obedience class when you feel your dog's aggression has decreased. The obedience class will reinforce your dominance and help socialise your mastiff. As a precaution, have your dog wear a muzzle during class.
Tips and warnings
- Professional help is strongly advised when training any aggressive dog.
- Never punish your dog for aggressive warnings such as growling. A dog that learns growling equates punishment will not growl any longer, instead it will just bite.
- Have your mastiff wear a muzzle. Even if your training is going well, certain cues can unexpectedly set off aggressive behaviour.
- Don't play aggressive games with your dog such as wrestling with it or tug-of-war. This only encourages the mastiff to attempt to exert its dominance.
- Keep the reward treats small so they can be eaten quickly.
- Keep all children and strangers away from an aggressive dog to avoid dog bites or attacks.
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