Fear Aggression is a common behavioral problem especially in dogs but any species can be affected. There are quite a few forms of fear aggression- Stranger Danger (aggression towards unknown people), Situational Fear Aggression (for grooming as an example), Aggression towards unknown dogs (often mistaken for leash reactivity), and more. The forms and signs are all highly variable but the underlying cause is the same- FEAR. Fear aggressive dogs may have been abused in the past, may be prone to it due to genetics or breed, may just not have been properly socialized, or any combination of those things. The reason the pet is fear aggressive doesn't really matter though. It causes a significant negative effect on the pet's quality of life, and sometimes even results in the pet's euthanasia for safety reasons. No matter what the cause, fear aggression CAN and SHOULD be treated. Ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away literally never works.
Unfortunately most trainers in this area treat fear aggression the exact WRONG way- through punishment. For example, dogs with Stranger Danger react to unknown persons by lunging, growling, and barking. The trainer uses shock, prong, or choke collars to keep the dog from lunging, growling, and barking. This kind of training does 2 things:
1) Makes the dog more afraid of Strangers because every time he sees a Stranger, he gets hurt or punished.
2) Lures people into a false sense of security. People think that because the dog no longer growls, lunges, or barks at strangers that the dog is safe. However if a stranger gets close enough, the dog bites "out of the blue." Why? Because the dog learned how to avoid punishment. The dog is actually MORE dangerous because he doesn't give ample warning - growling, barking, lunging- about his intentions prior to a bite.
Treatment of fear aggression is treating the underlying problem- FEAR. That involves a systematic plan of careful and safe desensitization and counterconditioning. Medications are sometimes used to help this process but they are not a replacement for the behavioral modification program. In other words, medications alone, without desensitization and counterconditioning, simply don't work. You have to make the dog LIKE strangers, or LIKE other dogs, or LIKE being groomed, whatever the case may be. Else you have to completely AVOID whatever is causing the fear aggression and that isn't always possible. The earlier treatment is started, the better the results. If you know your dog is aggressive, don't wait until someone gets hurt to start treating his behavior problem. And don't call a trainer- this isn't a training problem, it's a mental health problem, and veterinarians are the ones who can diagnose and treat health problems. We may use a trainer to help us, but you can be sure it won't be a trainer who uses any form of punishment.
If your dog has any signs of aggression, please ask us for a behavioral consultation before someone gets hurt. We can help you and your dog live a HAPPIER and SAFER life!