My Aggressive Dog Story

published on 04/21/2021

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you currently have an aggressive or reactive dog in your life that is causing you a lot of stress, worry, paranoia, and just makes you miserable.

But at the same time, I’d bet that dog brings you so much fun and joy that you could never imagine life without them. 

If that does describe you, then I know exactly how you feel. My name is Jon Somers and I’m the owner of Greenwood Dog Training, and as you likely know, our focus is on specifically Aggressive and Reactive dogs. 

We help fix Dogs that have bitten people or other other dogs. In some severe cases even killed another dog or small animal, it’s sad but it happens.

And, also like me, if you’re reading this that means that you don’t want to give up on your lovable terror of a best friend. I completely understand, I was in the same exact spot for 4 years.

In this article I want to detail my aggressive dog experience and then tell you how things are now, so hopefully if you can relate, you’ll see there’s hope for your buddy, and the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t all that far away, if you’re willing to run toward it.

So my story: when I was 16, living with my parents on the Southside of Chicago, I convinced them to let me get a puppy, our second dog. We already had a 5 year old black lab. 

So, I got Gibson: a 9-week old shepherd mix of some kind from a shelter out in the suburbs of Chicago. Things went how they usually do the first couple days with a new puppy, spending lots of time with it, focusing on housebreaking them, usual stuff.

Looking back, I’d say we noticed Gibson had a pretty severe case of anxiety/fear within the first week we had him. My brothers and I would have friends over to come see the puppy, and we’d have to carry him downstairs to meet everyone, and he’d sniff around gingerly, then just run back upstairs to my parents. At the time I thought it was cute and probably a little disappointing, but I never addressed those fear problems. I just didn’t know. I was ignorant to what that could develop into.

As you can probably guess, a shepherd mix with a serious fear of strangers did not turn out very well. He reacted poorly to someone for the first time when he was 5 months old, and tried to bite someone for the first time not long after. It wasn’t serious and I’ll save the detailed stories of the bites for another time, but he did end up sending someone to the hospital to get stitches when he was about a year old. Again, I’ll tell that story for another time, but it was horrible.

After that bite was the first time someone in my family brought up the idea to me of maybe we should take Gibson back to the shelter we got him from. I was having none of that and never even considered it. But I can tell you that the feeling of YOUR dog seriously hurting someone, and YOUR dog causing a lot of pain and suffering for other family members because of the burden he places on everyone.. It’s not fun. It sucks, it’s draining and it’s miserable. I felt like I failed Gibson, and truth is, I did.

After that, I started looking for trainers to fix the aggression problems Gibson had. In my mind at the time, there was no way I was letting anyone take my dog, so I had to get this fixed. I scoured blogs, youtube videos, looked for books, talked to trainers, I felt like I did everything. But I couldn’t find information I felt would help. 

I bought an online course on how to fix an aggressive dog, and I remember I was excitedly telling my whole family to watch it too because if we implemented the course, we would fix Gibson. 

Then I actually watched the course. 

And the information was good, but at the end of the course, the dogs weren’t fixed. Not even close. They were better, absolutely, but nowhere near fixed. You couldn’t trust those dogs to behave with a visitor coming in your home, no way. 

That was massively disappointing, but I did mostly follow through on the training and Gibson learned good obedience, which is good. But obedience doesn’t get you very far if you’re trying to fix aggression. More on that another time.

So after the course experiment failed, I hired an in-person trainer after he was recommended to me, and he had me pay up-front for 4 lessons. He never showed for the first lesson and we rescheduled. Then after that first lesson, I never heard from him again. Dog trainers. 

And what he told me to do to fix the aggression was to tie him up to the couch, have visitors walk in and just drop food. To an ignorant 17 year old, it sounded like great advice. I can tell you now, it doesn’t work. You’ll see youtube videos with millions of views promoting similar tactics, won’t work. But I don’t want to go on a rant on that right now.

Back to the story. 

So after the course and the first failed trainer, I’ll admit I tapped out pretty much. We as a family had gotten pretty good at managing Gibson so incidents weren’t really happening. We’d just put him in his crate while people were coming in, then once he was settled, he’d go be with my parents upstairs. And it mostly worked, but there were definitely still a few times where things got dicey, and it still was very stressful, not to mention embarrassing when people would ask me about him.

That went on for about a year or so, until I started thinking about moving out of my parents house, and I wanted to move to downtown Chicago. And I wanted to bring Gibson with me, he was my dog, my buddy, I wasn’t just going to abandon him.

So my desire to move out to crowded downtown Chicago in an apartment building sparked a motivation to figure out how to fix Gibson again. So I did the same thing that I did before, scoured the internet for a trainer who could just tell me what to do to fix him, and I’d do it. That’s what I wanted, just tell me what to do, I’ll do it. You might relate.

Well, long story short, I never found that trainer. I found several trainers who advertised that they could fix any behavioral problem. No matter how bad it was, they could fix it. Then I’d ask them straight-up, will you fix the aggression. And they always dodged. And their methods weren’t different from the previous trainers I’d learned from and talked to. If you’re talking to a trainer about fixing aggression, and it just doesn’t feel right and you don’t think that trainer is going to fix it, then don’t do it. If you’re talking with someone who can fix aggression, of which I know of very, very few, then you’ll know iot.

I had a guy tell me that if I stuck to the training, 1 hour every day, that in about 6 months, we might start to see some real progress. Sorry but that’s just not good enough. 

Another told me that Gibson just doesn’t like people and never would. And this was after I told him that there were scenarios that proved Gibson’s problem wasn’t just he “hated people.” (was never aggressive at the vet, and loved doggy day care with people and dogs everywhere) 

If he “hated people” those situations would have been dangerous, and they never were. 

And at the time, I was starting to wonder if aggressive dogs couldn’t be fixed. I’d read that enough online to start to maybe believe it, but for whatever reason, I just refused to believe that, so I kept looking, determined to just figure it out on my own if I couldn’t find a trainer who could help me.

Well eventually, I came across a trainer who fixed aggressive dogs, predictably, time and time again. And proved it time and time again. When I stumbled across him, I knew right away this was it, and he could fix Gibson. Problem was, he was nowhere near Chicago and never responded to any of my emails or messages. (Another huge problem in the dog training world.)


So, I couldn’t get Gibson to be trained by him, so I did the next best thing I could, and just studied every bit of content he released ever. Watched every video and livestream, many multiple times, read every blog and social media post. And eventually, I was able to piece together a puzzle for a plan that I could execute on and it would fix Gibson. I mean, it kept working for this guy over and over again, and I knew Gibson’s issues weren’t as serious as some of the other dogs this guy was fixing, so I had confidence.

Sure enough, it worked. It took longer than I expected because of some trial-and-error, but it worked. And I moved Gibson down with me into a studio apartment in downtown Chicago. And believe it or not, I actually would get compliments on how well-behaved Gibson was. 

He never was reactive in the elevator, even when it was completely full. And this is the same dog that 3 years earlier, would lunge and bark and growl at people 30 yards away when we were out on a walk. It was unbelievable.

But Gibson still wasn’t perfect. While he was mostly great on the leash walking around, he still wasn’t completely confident meeting new dogs or people, and he would regularly get into scuffles with my brother’s Malinois. And I still couldn’t trust him with visitors inside our apartment.

So while he had come a long, long way, he was still a dangerous and aggressive dog in certain situations, and I had more fixing to do.

So I went back to the videos, live streams, blogs. I did it all again, this time with a more structured plan and process. 

After dozens, maybe hundreds of hours spent on studying, researching, learning… I had put together a training regimen for Gibson, determined that by the end, I could trust him *off-leash* anywhere with anyone.

I ended up moving out to a house in the suburbs (downtown Chicago life wasn’t much fun during Covid) and my plan was to start Gibson on that regimen once we moved and were settled in. 

So that’s what I did. 

The regimen I planned was 6 weeks in total, with the goal of taking Gibson as he was, still fearful and anxious and dangerous in some situations, to a well-behaved, confident dog I could trust off-leash anywhere. 

It was a lofty goal, but I had seen it done before in less time, so I believed it would work.

And Gibson was a completely different dog after the 3rd week. The off-leash trust didn’t come until week 6, like expected, but he was completely different after around 18 days. He was confident, he responded to commands quickly and with excitement. He was able to control himself when he was excited (something he wasn’t able to do before) and the anxiety was completely gone.

When we would be walking outside my apartment building downtown, if a door closed behind us or someone came around a corner quickly, Gibson would freak out. He’d yelp, jump up, turn to where the noise came from and just freeze. 

That was gone.

And by the end of the 6 week training plan I had put together, I trusted him enough to let him off-leash while we walked on the bike trails near my house. And I could have friends and family come in the house without him attacking. In fact, not only does he not attack, but he’s excited to meet new people, if he sees that I’m calm and confident with them there. I was able to develop that trust, where since he trusted me, he behaved and that made me trust him.  

That was something I never thought I’d be able to experience with him. And I’m extremely grateful that I have that luxury now. 

So that wraps up Gibson and my story. I hope you found it mildly interesting. I appreciate you reading.

And of course, if you have an aggressive or reactive dog, talk to us. You and your dog are just 6 weeks away from a completely transformed life.

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