Management Systems for Dogs with a History of Aggression

Disclaimer: This article serves as a foundational guide to management systems and a review for pet guardians within our programs. If your dog is showing signs of aggression or has a bite history, please first schedule a consult with a certified behavioral consultant. Licensure includes CAAB, CBCC, CDBC, or an MS or Ph.D. in applied animal behavior.

If you have a dog at home with a history of aggression it is important to take steps to minimize risk and to reduce the fear, anxiety, and/or stress your dog may be experiencing. It is also your responsibility as a pet guardian to take into consideration the safety and comfort of your family, guests, community members, and/or other animals that your dog may encounter.

Management, or the way we arrange the environment, can help reduce stress, encourage your dog to make good choices, and keep everyone safe. In this article, we will be talking specifically about management that prevents your dog’s physical access to their potential trigger.

At Our Companions, we advocate for a Two-Barrier Management System for any dog with a history of aggression towards people or other animals. In summary, this provides two levels of security to prevent your dog from physically accessing or causing harm to another person or animal.

Barriers and Management Tools

  • Martingale Collar + Harness: A Martingale Collar has an extra loop so that the dog cannot pull backward and slip out of their collar. Every dog with a history of aggression should be wearing a Martingale collar in addition to any other harness or Head Collar that the dog is walked on.
    • TIP: You can use two leashes, always attaching one to the Martingale Collar and one to a Harness or Head Collar to ensure that the dog cannot slip out of their equipment.
    • TIP: You can use a climbing carabiner or a safety clip between the martingale collar and harness or head collar to keep the equipment secure on the dog.
  • Leash or Tether: A sturdy leash made of a material that is comfortable in your hand is mandatory. The material doesn’t matter as long as it is in good repair and sturdy enough to accommodate your dog, 6 feet is the usual length, but if you are walking a dog with a higher severity in behavior, we recommend a 4-foot leash. Long lines can be used if the dog has enough training to be easily recalled while on one and the handler is accustomed to using it.
    • TIP: Tethers may prevent your dog from leaving a designated location, but they DO NOT prevent something from coming into your dog’s space. It is important to be aware of where a tether is set up, especially around smaller children or other animals.
  • Secure Fence: A sturdy fence is a big help in managing outdoor activities with your dog. The fence needs to be of sufficient height and material to hold your dog. Vinyl or solid wood fences where the dog cannot see through them are a plus. They need to be in good repair, including the gate with sturdy hardware, and the gate should have an auto close on it so that the risk of it being left open is minimized.
    • TIP: The gate should be checked every time your dog is brought outside to prevent escapes.
  • Crate or Room Separation: It is very helpful to crate-train or room-train your dog so that they can be separated as needed.
    • TIP: You can add enrichment so that your dog has an independent and rewardable activity to do while separated.
  • Baby Gates and Closed Doors: Baby Gates can provide an extra barrier when managing a dog with a history of aggression. However, these are NOT a reliable option for a dog who will jump, climb, or charge the gate. Instead, your dog should be confined within a room with a securely closing door.
    • TIP: If your dog has a history of darting in or out of doors, can place a gate in the door frame so the door can open and close with the gate installed.
  • Muzzles: Muzzles are an essential management tool if your dog has a bite history or is showing signs of increasing aggression. If chosen correctly, muzzles allow the dog to pant, take treats, and drink water. A dog needs to be fully trained and acclimated to the muzzle so that they are comfortable wearing it. Locks and Signs
  • Locks and Signs: If your dog is contained behind a door in your home or a fenced yard, it is important to ensure that children or other people do not accidentally open the door/gate and walk into the space. Adding a child safety lock to the outside of the door and a lock to the fence gate can be an extra level of security.

Choosing Two-Barrier Management

Using the right combination of the barriers and management tools above will provide two levels of security in situations where your dog has potential access to other people, children, or animals. Choices may vary depending on your dog’s trigger, the severity or aggression, the level of supervision, and/or animal control officer requirements.

Examples include:

  • Harness/Leash + Muzzle so should you drop the leash or it breaks, you have the added protection of the muzzle. OR if something comes within leash distance, such as another animal or a small child, there is still a layer of protection.
  • Crate + Gate/Door ensures that your dog can be secure and relaxed in their crate with an additional barrier from people or animals moving about the home who may try to enter the room or accidentally open the door.
  • Fence + Leash/Tether prevents animals, people, or children from entering your yard and the extra security of being on the leash or tether with supervision can help secure your dog if they have a history of jumping, climbing, or darting out of the fence or gate when they see a trigger.
  • Leash/Tether + Gate/Door are often used in situations where the dog cannot be fully left alone or may be working with a handler in a training setup. The leash keeps the dog with the primary handler and the gate/door prevents others from accessing the space as well as serving as an additional barrier for the dog.

Please note: Harness, Collar, and Leash combinations only amount to ONE level of management. This is because the leash in combination with secure walking equipment is only serving as ONE physical barrier between the dog and potential triggers.

If you need assistance in finding the right management system for your dog or acclimating them to management tools and equipment, please contact a certified positive reinforcement trainer or behavioral consultant.