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Home > Dogs > How to Calm an Aggressive Dog: 8 Ways, Signs & Causes

How to Calm an Aggressive Dog: 8 Ways, Signs & Causes

aggressive german shepherd dog

When it comes to our cherished pets, aggressive behavior—be it a new development or an ongoing struggle—can be disconcerting and, in some cases, dangerous. When our dog’s behavior changes, it’s usually caused by an underlying issue. Aggressive behavior must be taken seriously from the start, and action must be taken immediately to prevent the behavior from worsening and potentially becoming dangerous.

In this article, we’ll share eight tips on how to calm an aggressive dog. We’ve included a list of some of the potential underlying issues that can cause aggressive behavior in dogs.

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Safety First

If your dog is displaying aggressive behavior and you are in an unsafe situation you must move yourself and other people out of harm’s way. It is your responsibility that your dog is under control and safe at all times.

The 8 Ways to Calm an Aggressive Dog

1. Vet Consultation

Whether your dog has suddenly begun displaying aggressive behavior, or if it’s been going on for a while, it’s a good idea to consult a veterinarian. They can perform a full examination to rule out pain and discomfort caused by wounds or injuries. A vet will also look to rule out a number of illnesses, such as joint diseases, hypothyroidism, or neurological disorders, which can also cause aggression in dogs.

A vet should be able to provide your dog with the medication and treatment it needs but they may need to sedate your dog and perform further testing to make a diagnosis.

veterinarian checking up of an australian shepherd dog at clinic
Image Credit: Ermolaev Alexander, Shutterstock

2. Get Professional Help

Training a dog can be hard work—if it wasn’t, professional dog trainers wouldn’t exist! Aggression can very quickly escalate and it is recommended that after visiting your veterinarian, the next stop is to consider hiring a registered dog behaviorist.

A professional behaviorist can try to understand the underlying cause of your dog’s aggression, and help you develop a plan to modify the behavior. In the meantime, your dog should be muzzled when in public and extra care should be taken to ensure everyone’s safety. Be prepared to commit time, energy and resources to helping your dog.


3. Be Prepared

This does very much depend on the level of aggression, triggers, and size of the dog. Get advice from a professional as to what you can do specifically next time. Take time to come up with a plan for how you will manage the situation the next time your dog behaves aggressively. Losing your temper, panicking, tensing, or raising your voice will have a negative impact on the situation. If you display signs of fear, your dog will too, and this may prompt it to become more aggressive. Plan to have the dog wear a muzzle in public, keep away from triggers and have a safe area your dog can retreat to if they are feeling distressed such as a crate or room.

Remember to remain calm. Take a deep breath if you need to, and remind yourself and your dog that you are taking control of the situation. Use a firm but quiet and calm voice. If possible remove them from the situation. Try to keep your body language relaxed to reassure your pet that all is fine, and that there’s no need to feel threatened.

aggressive dog
Image Credit: zoosnow, Pixabay

4. Positive Reinforcement

As a part of your preparation plan, reinforce positive behavior by rewarding your dog in situations where they would usually become aggressive. For example, if your dog becomes aggressive around strangers, and you begin to approach one, stop at a distance (this should be far away enough from the stranger that your dog hasn’t started growling or displaying aggression) and reward it with treats and praise.

If you carry on with this conditioning, your dog will eventually connect strangers to treats and praise, rather than see them as a threat.


5. Avoid Threatening Body Language

Our dogs pick up on our body language. If they begin to display aggressive behavior, it’s important to communicate through your body language in a positive way to reinforce that you are calm and in control. Here’s a simple list of “dos” and “do-nots” to help you.

Do:

  • Avoid direct eye contact
  • Keep your movements slow and steady
  • Keep his leash loose and relaxed
  • Turn your body to the side
  • Avoid jerky or quick movements
  • Stand between your dog and the person or animal that it deems a threat

Do not:

  • Do not corner your dog
  • Don’t lean over your dog
  • Do not turn your back on it
  • Do not stare at the dog
  • Do not run away; this is prey behavior
person training dog outdoors
Image Credit: Valeria Boltneva, Pexels

6. Avoid Triggers and Less-Than-Ideal Circumstances

By watching your dog’s behavior closely, you should be able to identify triggers and triggering circumstances that cause it to become aggressive. By avoiding those triggers, you can stop your dog from displaying aggressive behavior. For example, if your dog becomes aggressive in loud or busy places, avoid putting it in those environments.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of evaluating whether your dog is suited to the environment you can provide it with. For example, if you have kids and your dog becomes aggressive around children, and it is still displaying aggressive behavior after professional help, then it may be best for your dog’s well-being (and your family’s) to have it rehomed to someone without children.


7. Calming Supplements

There are a variety of dog-calming bites and supplements out there that you could consider trying. These treats are designed to help lower your pet’s anxiety levels, and it usually takes 20 minutes or so to help them feel calmer.

For calming treats to work as a part of your strategy to stop your dog’s aggressive behavior, timing is crucial. You should give these supplements to your dog 20 to 30 minutes before meeting a trigger or environment that may cause aggression—for example, before going on a walk. Some supplements take a week or so to work so check the packet for instructions.

person giving a treat to a black and brown dog
Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska, Pexels

8. Socialize Your Dog

Dog socialization is the process of getting your dog comfortable with (or desensitizing them to) people, other animals, unfamiliar surroundings, and circumstances. The idea is that helping your dog uncover more about the world will help it gain confidence because it will have less to fear.

It’s best to socialize dogs when they are still puppies between 3-12 weeks, but older dogs can absolutely learn too. The main thing to remember is that, like any process, socializing takes time. Don’t expect too much from your dog at once, and make sure you give lots of praise—and treats! Be careful not to cross your dogs’ threshold level of comfort. If they can only tolerate strangers at a distance of 50 yards initially then stick to this and don’t get up close and personal.

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Causes of Aggression in Dogs

Dogs aren’t normally aggressive, so if they are behaving aggressively, then it could be due to one of these underlying issues:

  • Fear – your dog is afraid of something, someone, or unfamiliar circumstances
  • Medical/pain – your dog is suffering from pain or a medical condition that needs investigation, care, and treatment
  • Protective – your dog is protecting a member of its family against what it believes may be a threat
  • Possessive – possessive aggression is when your dog is guarding food, toys, or other objects; this behavior is also known as resource guarding
  • Social – due to a lack of socialization, a dog will become aggressive upon meeting other animals or humans
  • Territorial – territorial aggression is when your dog is trying to protect its home against what it believes are intruders
aggressive gog with excessive saliva
Image Credit: Victoria Antonova, Shutterstock

Warning Signs Leading Up to Aggression

If you watch your pet closely, you’ll be able to recognize some of their body language just before they become outwardly aggressive. It’s important to be able to identify this because it will help you intervene and diffuse the situation quickly.

Bear in mind that the following signals could point to anxiety in your dog too, so it’s important to take the context into consideration, as well.

Body Language Signals in Ascending Order of Threat:

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Conclusion

A number of issues could be causing your dog to behave in an aggressive way, but whatever it is, you must take action immediately. Without the proper care and help, an aggressive dog can quickly become dangerous.

Get help figuring out the root cause of your dog’s aggression. Make a log of the circumstances of each aggressive outburst. Take steps to improve your dog’s behavior and help them avoid triggers. Don’t forget to seek help from a vet to rule out any medical issues and look for a registered behaviorist.


Featured Image Credit: Victoria Antonova, Shutterstock

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