It is really hard as you watch your normally loving dog being labelled dangerous and mean; rather than understanding that they are reacting out of fear rather than aggression
Recent studies seem to indicate that fear aggression can possibly be traced back to their environment as a puppy. This is often the case for puppies that are isolated or mistreated in the initial weeks and formative months.
We rescued Olivia, our Great Dane, when she was 7 months old and now realise how much damage was done to her in those initial formative months. The fear aggressive behaviour in Olivia is compounded by her deafness and being partially blind (due to irresponsible breeding). Before owning Olivia, I had no experience owning a dog with fear aggression. I came to understand what exhibits aggressive behaviour. It comes when she is scared and can’t process the perceived “threat”.
It is sometimes tiring and very hard work having a fear aggressive dog. For example, a walk is not just a walk as you have to constantly be prepared and try pre-empting any possible triggers. This is especially challenging with bigger breeds. Olivia is a very striking, beautiful dog and people often want to approach her. I have to tell them to give her space and not to come near her. Some people choose to not believe me and continue to approach and then get a shock when she lunges for them. Some act offended or shocked that your dog is not friendly. Please respect other people’s dogs and don’t always assume that it is ok to just approach them. It is very important to teach your children to not just approach any dog but ask permission from the owner.
There is hope and good news for owners, fear-related aggression can be managed, and behaviour modified. If you have a fear aggressive dog it is best to get training from a professional dog trainer to try and correct the behaviour. I also found working with a vet that is a behaviour specialist was one of the best decisions. I would strongly urge you to work only with professionals with solid credentials and use modern, science-based force-free methods.
These cases normally take some time to resolve, patience is the key. Look for professionals that are willing to walk the journey with you. Maintaining stability, reducing stress and anxiety have been essential and we have worked hard to limit the triggers for Oliva. I have spoken to many owners of fear aggressive dogs and it is draining but in some cases these dogs wouldn’t stand a chance at life if they didn’t find owners that were willing to go the extra mile. Fearful dogs can live long and happy lives.