Aggressiveness displayed by a dog does not have to be directed towards a person. It may be directed specifically towards cats, other dogs or other wildlife. They can also act up against inanimate objects e.g. vehicles, wheels, yard equipment, etc. If your dog regularly snaps, growls or bites, then, you may have a serious problem on your hands. These actions demonstrate a willingness to display aggressive behavior. If left unchecked, it will likely worsen over time.
Any Dog Can Be Aggressive
You may think this is a problem for large dogs only or what they call, “dangerous breeds,” but that’s not necessarily true. Under certain circumstances, all types of dogs and breeds are prone to aggression; even cute little puppies.
Aggression cannot be cured overnight. It will take time and effort to curb aggressive behavior in your dog, and help them remain calm.
Let’s now discuss the reasons why your dog acts the way they do, and offer tips to help solve the problem.
Different Forms of Dog Aggression
Some dogs will growl at anyone who approaches them, while others may act aggressively towards strangers or small children.
Aggressive behaviors are warning signals from your dog that they’re nearing the point of attack. These include such things as:
- Growling, insistent barking or baring teeth
- Lunging, biting and nipping
- Becoming still and rigid (defensive posture)
If you can recognize these indicators of what’s agitating your dog, you can start to understand why they’re being aggressive.
Common Types of Dog Aggression
Before you can develop a plan to tame your dog’s aggression, you must first understand the reasons why they are acting out.
When certain situations and circumstances trigger bad behavior, you have to make note of them. Only after you identify the root causes of their aggression can you counteract it.
Below are the most common forms of dog aggression that you need to be aware of.
When a dog tries to defend their home or their space from anyone they deem to be an intruder or a stranger.
When a dog tries to protect members of their immediate pack against a specific person or an animal. Mother dogs also tend to be very protective of their puppies and may become hostile to anyone who tries to go near them.
When a dog tries to protect their food, bones, chew toys, or other items of value. This is also known as resource guarding.
When a dog reacts aggressively in social situations after coming into contact with other people or animals.
When a dog behaves aggressively while being restricted by a leash or a fenced-in yard. If they feel limited or unable to react to an inner frustration, it can be projected outwards.
When a dog attacks first in an effort to defend themselves. Subtle warnings of their wanting to be left alone can proceed their attack. Good indicators of this type of aggression are a defensive posture, quick barks, low growling or baring of teeth.
When a dog fears being in a particular situation and lashes out with their one remaining option. At first, they will try to retreat, then quickly switch into attack-mode when feeling cornered.
When a dog demonstrates aggression toward anyone who restricts their ability to reach a target of their hostility. This can happen when attempting to break up their fight with another animal or blocking the path in front of their intended target.
When a dog feels pain and acts out in order to protect themselves. This act is usually proceeded by a surprised yelp, such as when their tail is being stepped on.
When a dog (male or female) displays aggression in order to attract the attention of a potential mate. Generally, this can be avoided altogether through spaying and neutering.
When a dog actively stalks or chases other animals or people. A dog with uncontrolled predatory aggression can be especially dangerous around children, even if seemingly innocent enough most of the time.
Tips for Stopping Aggressive Behavior in Dogs
Once you understand a dog’s reasoning for acting out, you can then develop a plan to remove the underlying causes of their aggression.
There are many ways of managing this hostility and helping your dog remain calm All methods, however, will require time and a consistent effort on your part.
1. Get Professional Advice
If there’s even a remote chance your dog is going to attack you when showing discipline, it’s best to leave their taming to a professional.
If your dog is outwardly showing advanced signs of aggression, you may need to hire a certified trainer or behavior-modification specialist.
If your dog has suddenly developed aggressive habits, there may be an underlying medical problem. Talk to your vet to see if they can determine if the root cause is medically related.
Health conditions that may cause your dog to become aggressive include; hypothyroidism, painful injuries and neurological disorders such as epilepsy, brain tumors, and encephalitis.
2. Never Ignore Aggressive Behavior
DO NOT ignore aggression in your dog!
While it may sound simple, this is a very important step. You may just think that “dogs will be dogs,” but you will need to show them tough-love when required.
This most definitely DOES NOT mean verbal abuse or physical punishment. Just an unrelenting insistence that you will not tolerate their aggressive behavior; not now, not ever.
Any bad behavior that you ignore can form into an aggressive habit over time. Letting your dog know early and often what is and isn’t acceptable will help keep them on the straight and narrow.
3. Avoid Punishments
Punishing your dog for being aggressive can easily backfire or even escalate their aggressive behavior.
If your response to an agitated dog is to use aversive methods like yelling or hitting them, it may cause your dog to defend themselves against you.
4. Take Away Their Agitation
If your dog is being aggressive, it’s because they are in an agitated state. If you compound the issue by adding fear or pain to their existing agitation, you can turn a bad situation into something much worse.
This type of response requires the removal of their agitation. Figure out what’s bothering them and get it out of their sight before attempting to instruct.
Where possible, re-introduce them to their agitation in a controlled environment so they know it’s not a real threat.
5. Provide Positive Reinforcement
Think of it as the Golden Retriever Rule. Treat your dog as you would like them to treat you.
Punishment is never the answer. If you want a positive response from your dog, provide them with a positive learning environment.
If you provide positive feedback to your dog when they are being good, they will start to understand the reward of doing so more often.
6. Be Gentle, But Firm
Fear can only take you so far… while loving instruction will make all the difference in the world.
If you provide gentle, but strict instruction when they are being bad, they can start to understand that you are doing so out of caring.
7. Socialize Your Dog
Un-socialized dogs often develop what’s known as a pack-defense, where they protect their own. When dogs aren’t used to strangers or other animals, they might think of them all as unwelcome intruders.
If dogs don’t learn social graces for how to deal with other animals or strangers, they may react defensively and aggressively to protect their pack.
If a safe opportunity presents itself to introduce them to a new person or animal, take it. The more they understand that it’s okay to meet outsiders, the more accepting they will be of them.
If no safe environment ever presents itself, then you can hire a professional dog trainer to create one.
8. Enroll Your Dog in Obedience Training
Dogs that trend towards aggressive behavior will benefit from strict and consistent training. If you cannot provide this yourself, you may need to take your dog to school.
An obedience training class can help establish a learning routine for your dog and increase their agitation threshold.
These classes are generally held in a group format, so your dog will also learn about social interaction and distraction management.
Should your dog decide he’s the leader of the pack and want to rule the class by his lonesome, then one-on-one dog training might be your best bet.
9. Hire a Professional Dog Trainer or Behavior Specialist
At any point when you yourself feel in danger of your dog’s aggression, you should strongly consider hiring a professional.
Some certified trainers like Doggy Dan can be hired virtually. For a low monthly membership fee, you’ll get access to detailed video instructions and a community forum. Others like BrainTraining offer fun ways to bond with and reward your dog for obedience.
If you need in-person training or want the process to be hands-free, then consider the membership fees to be hourly and more expensive than online.
If even a pro trainer can’t do the trick, then maybe a therapist can. While dog behavior modification is not an exact science, it’s has shown some success, even with extreme cases.
10. Spay or Neuter Your Dog
If your dog hasn’t been neutered or spayed, having this procedure perform may tame their animal instincts. While consulting with your vet, this might already be an option they’ve asked you to consider.
11. Use Medication as Last Resort
There are some instances where encouragement, training, and even spaying or neutering is not enough. Putting your dog on the right medication program can be a tool that helps them overcome the root causes of aggression, bodily disorder.
It’s important to first understand why your dog is aggressive and to only leave this option as a last resort. If all the professionals you’ve consulted say the same thing, then it’s probably time to give it some thought.
Some dogs will only require temporary medication, while others may need to take it for the rest of their lives. Consult your vet and a behavior specialist thoroughly when making your decision.
If you’re not 100% confident it’s the ONLY remaining option, don’t subject to your dog to it.
Remember to keep in mind that aggressive behavior is almost always a symptom of an underlying problem.
Dogs, like people, can be conditioned not to act out in frustration or anger.
If you understand the source of your dog’s aggression, you can then formulate a solution on how best to deal with it.