Can you really retrain an aggressive dog?

Can you really retrain an aggressive dog?

Health & Safety

It is every dog owner’s worst nightmare-their dog inexplicably attacks another dog, bites a person or otherwise displays an unacceptable level of aggression that could potentially be dangerous. Knowing how to cope with this problem and of course, ensure that other dogs and people are protected is something that most dog owners are not prepared for, and interim measures such as muzzling the dog or not letting it off the lead is only a short-term solution, and one that not all dog owners are happy with using.

In this article, we will ask the hard question of whether or not you can really retrain an aggressive dog to the extent that you do not have to worry about the safety of other dogs or people when they are around, and some of the elements that you will need to consider if you intend to try. Read on to learn more.

Can YOU retrain an aggressive dog?

When we ask the question “can you retrain an aggressive dog,” we are actually asking two different things: can the dog potentially be retrained, and also and just as importantly, are you personally capable of doing it.

When it is your own dog, it is vitally important to know your own limitations in terms of your ability to do everything that you need to in order to give your dog and yourself the best chances of a successful resolution, and have the presence of mind to know these, accept them, and work to overcome the obstacles that will come up along the way-and these factors are what we will be looking at below.

Safety and protection

First of all, ensuring the safety and protection of other animals and people-including yourself-is vital, and the very first thing that you need to do. If you are not confident in your ability to action and maintain protocols to keep other people and dogs safe while you work with your own dog-however long that may take-then the answer to the big question is already “no.”

Muzzling, using two leads and other methods to physically keep your dog away from targets and stop them from inflicting harm may all be necessary, but in some cases, this may not even be enough.

Acting quickly

If your dog has snapped, bitten someone or attacked another dog, you do not have the luxury of time when it comes to pondering how to proceed and what to do about it-you need to put protocols in place immediately to ensure the safety of others, and also, start working quickly before the problem escalates.

Also, you do not of course not have the luxury of doing nothing; even if nobody got hurt or injured, that may be your only warning sign, and so you need to respond to it.


Unless you are a highly experienced dog owner that is already well versed in working with problem dogs, you will need to hire a professional to assess your dog and potentially, help you along the way when you need input and assistance. This means that you need to hire a specialist canine behaviourist who is experienced in issues such as yours, and this can be costly-but it is essential.


Retraining a problem dog takes time, and lots of it. Not simply time in terms of the intensive work and effort that you need to put into sessions with your dog every day, which can of course take up a large chunk of your time-but it can also take a lot of time in terms of how long it takes to see an improvement and the point by which your dog will become reliable, if this is possible-and this can be months, not weeks.


It is important to get an assessment with a behaviourist in the first instance, and also, have your dog checked over by the vet to ensure that they do not have a physical problem that is exacerbating or even causing the issue. You will almost certainly need to rope in some other help along the way too, either from your behaviourist or from some experienced friends who can help you to run through scenarios, work on your dog’s triggers, and otherwise, help when you need an extra body, or dog, to work with.


If you find yourself in the position of attempting to retain a problem dog yourself, even with help, you will find yourself on a very steep learning curve. You will need to learn in-depth about canine behaviour, triggers and body language, and be able to predict situations that are apt to set your dog off and why, and know how to divert them and over time, retrain them and redirect them so that you do not have to be on high alert at all times.

This too takes not only a lot of time, but willingness to study, deductive reasoning skills and logic, and not everyone is able to get to grips with it, and follow it through.


Finally, commitment is vital to attempting to retrain an aggressive dog. You might be highly enthusiastic and have great intentions during the first month, but if you do not see a tangible result during that time, will you still have the onus to keep going? Working with a problem dog is a long term process, and you will need to have plenty of time and potentially, money in order to succeed-and you need to be in it for the long haul, and not expect the problem to resolve itself in a few weeks.

Knowing when to stop

Finally, you also need to have the wherewithal to know when you have reached the end of the line in terms of what you are able to do with your dog and how to improve them-whether this means that it is not likely to be possible to achieve a successful resolution with your dog, or whether you yourself are not able to do it.

At this point, you will need to look at the more serious options of rehoming the dog to someone better equipped to deal with them, facing a future of continual muzzling and on-lead work only, or even in the worst case scenario, having to have the dog put to sleep.

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