Dog training matters: Expert tips on dealing with agressive canines |

Dog training matters: Expert tips on dealing with agressive canines

Erika Hall of Strutt Your Mutt is seen on a daily pack walk. Hall is a Grand Junction-based dog trainer.
Strutt Your Mutt |


James Kohout, Canine Manners: 970-254-9448

Erika Hall, Strutt Your Mutt: 970-314-4426

Penny McCarty, Mesa County Animal Services: 970-255-5003

Dogs are called “man’s best friend” for a reason. They comfort, support, enliven and enlighten the lives of millions of humans around the world. They literally become part of the family, and many dog lovers refer to them as “furry children.”

Yet, with dog ownership comes great responsibility as canines can do serious harm to people and other animals if proper steps aren’t taken.

James Kohout, a Whitewater-based dog trainer and owner of Canine Manners, noted that aggressive tendencies in dogs is the hardest topic for any expert. Dominance, fear, insecurity, sexuality, and territorial behavior (including food dominance) all offer different signs. And it’s up to the trainer and guardian to pinpoint why a dog is exhibiting aggressive behaviors so biting can be avoided.

According to Kohout, who specializes in training aggressive canines, a dog who bites in fear will present ears that are back, a tucked tail, and body language lower to the ground before it nips. Plus, a wagging tail means nothing regarding friendliness or aggression.

“If a dog is exhibiting aggressive tendencies, get them to training right away,” he said. “The No. 1 way to curb aggression in dogs is to train them young with socialization, training, and structure. … Aggression has different levels and stages, too. One should figure out the triggers, and stop a dog before [aggression] happens by paying attention to body language.”

Erika Hall of Strutt Your Mutt in Grand Junction agreed with Kohout, saying that it’s not always easy for people to read a dog’s body language.

“When a dog is in a dominant state, they will have their tail up in the air; they will hold their head high with their chest out; their ears will be up and straight forward; and they often make strong eye contact,” Hall said. “If you are being approached by a dog who is projecting these signals in their body language, they are going to be more confident with their approach and they will often not have any problem coming right up to you. Not all dominant dogs are going to be aggressive, but that state of mind is more likely to start an actual fight or attack.”

In a situation like the April 7 attack (where three herding-breed dogs attacked a woman without apparent provocation along Grand Junction’s Hwy. 6 & 50), Kohout believed the case to be one of dominant aggression, not fear or territorial issues.

“It’s not a common thing,” he said of the pack attack.

“Herding breeds need work to do,” Kohout added. “They need mental stimulation to keep them calm and relaxed. If they don’t get it, they can become aggressive.”

Yet, even in the case of a vicious dog attack, it’s not usually the canine’s fault.

“It’s up to dog owner,” Kohout concluded. “Don’t leave your dogs unattended, especially if they have aggressive tendencies. … And when you get a dog, you need to set aside funds to take care of it — food, vet, what if, and training. It’s a requirement of a dog owner.”


When approached by an off-leash, unknown dog, Hall gives this piece of advice: “No touch, no talk, no eye contact! Most people want to yell and scream at the dog and they will make eye contact with it. Following these three steps is really how you should approach every single dog you don’t know. This approach implies I am not a threat and I want no competition.”

Then one should stand still and stand tall.

“I would stand as tall as I can with my chest and shoulders puffing outward and my head up,” Hall explained. “Dogs will bite people who present themselves as tense. Remaining calm and assertive, not rigid, is the best approach in my experience.”

Next, do not move from a standing position until the dog has retreated.

“Do not turn your back on the dog,” she continued. “Do not step away from the scenario at all until the dog runs off. If you move forward towards the dog you will create a competition with it. If you move backwards before the dog has retreated, the dog could take it as a sign of weakness and it could trigger an attack. Stand your ground until the dog runs off.”

And if the dog still attacks? Hall said to fight back.

“Kick at the dog’s throat or kick at the soft point of a dog’s rear end where the hip meets the thigh. If the dog gets past your attempts to fight it off, try to grab the dog by the scruff of the neck right behind the ears. You can also use both hands and grab each side of the dog’s neck under its ears. The key ingredient to this method is to pull directly upward when you have the dog by the scruff. A lot of people pull back or to the side in an event like that; but if you pull directly up you will stop the dog’s mind from moving forward and they will stop biting.”

In a pack-attack situation, where multiple dogs are working as a team, both Hall and Penny McCarty, Mesa County Animal Service’s director, suggest quick retreat.

“When a pack of dogs attack, there is very little you can do,” Hall said. “The best option would be to not let any of the dogs get behind you. Try to keep all of them within sight. Pack attacks always start with one guy coming in from behind. As best you can, stay calm and quiet, focus on keeping the dogs from circling you, and seek a location the dogs cannot get to.”

McCarty added that in a pack-attack situation, “the best defense is to find a safe location. Climb on top of a car, a building, a tree, anything to give you a safe place to wait them out until help arrives.”

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