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Stopping Aggressive Behavior in Dogs – Humane & Proven Tips

Nicole Cosgrove

If you’ve got an aggressive dog on your hands, whether they frequently act out in aggression or have seemingly random bouts of it, you are not alone. Aggressive behavior in dogs is one of the top reasons pet owners see a behavioral specialist. While you can’t always cure it, there are steps you can take to reduce the occurrences of this unwanted behavior. Read on to find out more about stopping dog aggression.divider-dog

Reasons Your Dog is Getting Aggressive

Dogs have so many reasons they get aggressive sometimes. We will go over them in detail, however, keep in mind that they almost always have a reason for acting out. Your job is to get to the bottom of it and either train them out of it or avoid the triggers that cause it.

angry dog
Image Credit: Pixabay

Are Some Breeds More Aggressive?

The fact is, any dog breed can get aggressive. Just like people are born and raised to have certain dispositions, dogs can inherit certain genes that predispose them toward aggression and can carry baggage from their pasts. This is especially true of rescue dogs when you don’t know for sure about their past, unfortunately

Certain breeds do carry a trait of watchfulness and apprehension to strange people and animals. These kinds of breeds are useful for shepherding livestock, typically. So, when they have the shepherding traits without the livestock, an improperly trained dog of this breed might have some “aggression” issues.

Other breeds have a stronger “prey drive” than other breeds, meaning they might go after squirrels or cats more easily. This can also be interpreted as aggression that could have been trained out of them as a puppy, but it’s also very instinctual.

Keep in mind, too, that some dogs are just bigger and stronger than other dogs, therefore can seem more aggressive. There’s a certain intensity to the aggressiveness that, say, a Mastiff can bring, while a toy poodle’s aggression might not seem as strong.

Different Kinds of Dog Aggression

There are myriad reasons why a dog may become aggressive in any given situation. We will outline them one by one so you can pinpoint if your dog displays a certain type of aggressive behavior.

  • Fear

Fear aggression looks like a dog retreating into a corner or a spot they consider safe. Often, they will have their tail tucked under. When this dog is approached, it will likely lash out.

This dog senses that someone in its “pack” is about to be harmed (true or not), which can be another animal or a person. This behavior is especially apparent in mother dogs, who are protective of the puppies.

  • Territorial

All dogs can be territorial, but some feel the need to hold down the fort. So when they see an invader, this dog will go after it.

  • Possessive

A possessive aggressive dog guards its food, bones, chew toys, or something else that’s worthwhile to the dog. Resource guarding is another name for this.

  • Defensive

Defensive aggression is when a dog gives other signs that it doesn’t want to be bothered first. After these don’t work, he resorts to defense mode and usually bites. Defensive dogs pick fight over flight.

  • Social

More of a social “disorder” is displayed when a dog that hasn’t been properly socialized with other dogs growing up shows aggression when introduced to other groups of dogs.

  • Frustration

A dog that’s fenced in or leashed may get aggressively frustrated when it wants to do something that it can’t do. An example of this is when he is expecting to go on a walk with you, but he gets impatient and barks loudly or nips at you.

  • Pain or Illness

Dogs that feel pain may act out in aggression to keep you or someone else from making the pain worse. Dogs feeling pain from an illness may also exhibit this behavior. A cognitive brain problem might also bring out random aggression in a dog.

  • Redirected

This happens when a person breaks up dogs fighting or when a restrained dog cannot get to what it wants to, so it lashes out on you instead.

  • Sexual

Dogs ready to mate will become aggressive with members of the same sex. So, males will fight males for a female and vice versa. You can cure this kind of aggression easily by neutering or spaying your dog.

  • Predatory

Some dogs have a stronger “prey drive” than others. While some may not mind a dog killing small animals in this pursuit, it can, unfortunately, turn deadly when it involves chasing a small child.

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What Does Dog Aggression Look Like?

Jack Russell Terrier angry
Image Credit: Bonsales, Shutterstock

Dog aggression can look different from person to person. Some people are used to play roughhousing with dogs while another person might call that behavior aggressive. Real aggression is more intense and can cause damage, while play aggression is normal and healthy as long as the dog does not cause pain and obeys when told to stop.

Here are the signs of aggression in dogs:
  • Rigid stillness
  • Guttural, threatening bark
  • Grabbing with the mouth to assert control over a person
  • Growling
  • Baring teeth
  • Snapping
  • “Muzzle punch,” when a dog jabs with its nose
  • Biting or nipping that causes bruising or open wounds
  • Chasing
  • Seeing the whites of your dog’s eyes

Can an Aggressive Dog Be Cured?

When a puppy shows signs of aggression, lots of action can be taken in training and socialization to effectively “cure” the aggressive behavior. Puppies are considered more “malleable” than older dogs in this area and can therefore be easily trained out of bad actions.

It may not be possible to cure an older aggressive dog, especially when the severity of aggression is high and the dog is unpredictable in its actions. When you can narrow down the cause of your dog’s aggression, you can try to avoid these triggers as much as possible to keep your dog’s aggression down. It should never be assumed by dog owners that a previously aggressive dog is “cured,” as this is unlikely and the dog could cause serious harm if left unattended. You will have to keep your guard up and watch out for future aggression for the rest of your dog’s life to protect those around you.

How to Stop Dog Aggression

Anyone who has a dog displaying aggressive behavior can go through these steps to try to eliminate problems. Sometimes, older dogs respond well to behavior training, and maybe they just need some medical attention.

Pay Attention to Aggression Cues

Take another look at the different kinds of dog aggression. Pinpointing one kind is a step closer to understanding why your dog acted the way it did. Simply take note of when and where it happened, who was around, as well as what else was going on at the time. The dog’s behavior is almost always a reaction to an underlying issue. Diagnosing the dog’s behavior is the first step in trying to cure it.

Who Was the Cause or Recipient of the Aggression?

The most important factor in recognizing aggression influences is the people or animals involved in the incident. Usually, aggression is caused by a stranger the dog doesn’t know or a certain group of people, like men, women, or children. Pay attention to who your dog tends to be aggressive toward.

Partner With Professionals

After you learn the cues and the “who” behind the aggression (if any), it’s time to team up with the vet and/or behavioral specialists. These professionals will be able to help you with underlying causes, treatment, or training (or all three) to get your dog to act more normally.

Make a Plan

With your team, come up with a plan with how you will resolve the aggressive behavior. Everyone has to be on the same page, especially all the family members, with how everyone will deal with the aggression once it happens. A dog will be confused if family members try to treat the dog differently when implementing behavioral change.

Another plan you need to make is one to prepare for unavoidable situations. For instance, if you live in an urban area, how will you go on walks with your dog when they get approached by the men he typically shows aggression towards?

Don’t Punish

Responding to aggression with aggression is never a good idea. A dog who’s hit, yelled at, or otherwise punished when aggressive will respond in two ways: he will probably either try to bite you, or he will grow resentful of you. Negatively punishing your dog may also result in redirected aggression towards someone or something else.

Avoid these adverse effects of negative punishment by going through a behavior plan with your vet or behavioral specialist.

Exercise

A lot of the time, dogs just need to get some energy out to maintain a healthy mind. When dogs are properly exercised, they may not have the energy needed to be aggressive towards other people or things. They are more relaxed and able to focus on the good things in life.divider-paw

Your Dog Needs a Good Leader

When dogs were domesticated from wolves, they lost dependence on other dogs to form a pack, and instead formed a pack with humans and their families. Dogs now depend on us, their dog owners, for guidance and care for all things in life. When your dog is showing aggression, they need your help to guide them out of it. You are, in essence, their pack leader, and they need you to take charge.

We hope that we have helped you come up with ideas on how to do this. Your family, neighbors, and your dog (with its better behavior) will thank you later!


Featured image credit: Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.