Aggression is one of the most common behavioral problems in dogs. Contrary to popular opinion, a breed is not a cause of aggression in dogs. Any dog breed can have or develop aggressive behavior. A strong, powerful, large dog breed will be more difficult to handle and be more destructive when aggressive, but smaller dogs can also have aggression problems.
When your dog becomes aggressive they are no longer paying attention to you at all. Your dog is making their own decisions and simply will not listen to you when you try to show them the correct behavior. To your dog, what they’re doing is too important and the right thing to do. Dog aggression is nearly always done to protect the lives of themselves and their pack.
You can stop dog aggression once you know what you are dealing with. Find out what signs to look for, learn about the different types of dog aggression, and find out how to stop your dog’s aggressive behavior.
If you already know what your problem is and want a fix now, you can find some great solutions in this dog training video series.
Signs of Aggression in Dogs
Here are some signs of aggression that you should be looking for in your dog.
- Barking that sounds threatening or excessive barking
- Becoming still and rigid
- Pulling on the leash
- Lunging toward someone or another dog
- Growling or snarling
- Baring teeth
- Ears pointed forward toward the object of the aggression
- Biting or snapping.
Types of Dog Aggression
There are many different types of aggression in dogs. Some are dominant, some are fearful, and some lie at any point in between. Some dogs are always aggressive, while others only act out from time to time.
Some dogs will vary based on many random factors. Everything in their environment, from people to animals to other dogs or even objects could be the cause of your dog’s aggression.
- Territorial Guarding their territory aggression towards intruders or strangers in the home
- Protecting their offspring or pack members other members of the family and in particular children
- Protecting themselves
- Fear of other dogs, people, environments, or a certain situation
- Possessiveness of their food and their belongings, like toys and bedding
- Social aggression. Keeping the peace among pack members in social situations
- Pain-related aggression
- Predatory aggression. Often found in dogs with a hunting instinct.
Dog on Dog Aggression
You can easily stop dog aggression towards other dogs. This is aggressive behavior towards other dogs, whether within the family or when out and about. This is usually a result of your dog feeling threatened or afraid of the other dog.
If your dog is only aggressive around other dogs, then the easiest thing you can do is to limit their interactions with other dogs. If avoidance is not possible you can follow these steps:
- Don’t reward the aggressive behavior
- Ignore the behavior
- Keep calm
- Don’t tug on the leash
- Walk away from the other dog and your dog will follow you.
- Reward your dog’s good behavior as it happens.
- Gradually desensitize your dog to other dogs in a controlled situation.
How to Stop Dog Aggression
Visit Your Veterinarian
If your dog is suddenly showing signs of aggression and it is out of character for your pup, your first step should be a visit to the vet. Sudden aggression can be a result of some health issues. Once you have ruled out any underlying disease you can then move on to the next step.
Determine the Cause of the Aggression
Finding out why your dog is aggressive is the next step in correcting the behavior. Take the time to think about what was happening right before your dog started showing signs of aggression. If you can determine the trigger for your dog’s aggression it can help you to stop it from happening in the future. Avoidance is a key component of stopping dog aggression. If you can keep your dog away from situations that trigger the aggression it stops being a problem.
Most types of aggression in dogs stem from fear of some kind. Let’s take a look at some common causes of dog aggression.
- Dominance. This is caused by a lack of leadership. In this case, you have not established yourself as pack leader and you or another family member have allowed the dominant behavior to go unchecked or uncorrected.
- Frustration. This stems from a lack of exercise and mental stimulation.
- Past experience. Neglect or abuse in the past can cause a dog to be aggressive due to fear. Trauma, like an attack by another dog, can also cause aggression in dogs.
- Lack of socialization as a puppy.
- Environment. Living conditions, excessive punishment, isolation, and even constant teasing by children can all cause aggression in dogs.
- Health condition. Your dog’s aggression can be a side effect of some kind of disease. Certain neurological conditions, tumors, and cancers can make a dog more aggressive than usual.
- Genetic and hereditary factors.
How to Calm an Aggressive Dog
There are a few things you can do to calm your aggressive dog before you try behavior modification training.
- Exercise your dog sufficiently to burn their excess energy.
- Keep calm yourself. Dogs can sense your emotions and negative energy. If you are calm they are more likely to follow your lead.
- Change your dog’s diet. Low protein foods are best here. High protein foods can fuel your dog’s energy levels.
- Use natural supplements, like chamomile and ginger root, to help calm your dog.
How to Stop Fear-Based Dog Aggression
The best way to stop dog aggression is to raise your puppy the right way in the first place. Introducing socialization at critical stages in your puppy’s development is crucial. From 8 weeks old, which is typically when you will get your puppy, to 14 weeks is an important time to train and socialize your dog.
You should continue to correct your dog’s dominant behavior as they grow up. People have a tendency to ignore or let go subtle signs of dominance like growling over a food bowl or at a person. Then they are surprised when their dog bites all of a sudden. Address and correct bad behavior as it happens.
Continually training your dog will help your dog’s confidence and can control any aggressive behavior. Make them sit and wait for food, make sure they come when called, constantly teach them new commands and tricks. This will keep their mind active and help to keep them happy.
Help your dog by solving the problem at hand. If your dog is stressed then calm him down. If your dog is fearful then help him conquer that fear. Desensitize your dog to whatever is frightening him. Distract your dog from whatever is causing the aggression.
You can do this by eliminating the object of the fear, or by redirecting your dog’s energy into exercise or play.
Oddly enough, the best way to stop your dog’s aggression uses the same solution as what is causing the problem in the first place: by becoming your dog’s pack leader.
Often your dog’s aggression comes from your dog thinking that they are the pack leader. When they become fearful, they will attack to protect you or themselves. More dominant dogs will be more proactive, sometimes even continuing to chase after the threat is gone. Fearful dogs will attack only when they have no place to run.
There is nothing more important when preventing your dog from being aggressive than ensuring that you are their pack leader. Being the pack leader for your dog will give them rules and boundaries and help them be more confident. You first have to earn your dog’s trust and loyalty.
To be seen as pack leader at all times, your dog must first see you as the pack leader at home. This will be the easiest place to get it through to them that you are the sole decision maker.
Only once you have become pack leader of the home will you be able to convince your dog that you are also pack leader of the walk, or pack leader of the dog park, or pack leader of the… well, you get the idea.
These videos are an excellent guide for teaching you exactly what you need to know to become the undisputed leader of your dog’s pack.
Once you have your dog convinced that you are the pack leader outside, you will see that when they come across things that would usually cause them to become aggressive they will actually start to look to you for cues on how to behave.
If you still haven’t convinced them, then nothing will change. Your dog’s misbehavior will continue, and everyone is worse of for it. But by becoming your dog’s pack leader (again, I’d check this video series out — it’s excellent), everyone wins.
Remember, dogs are pack animals and they want to follow their pack leader. Learn to become the undisputed head of your pack and you will put an end to your dog’s aggressive behavior.
If your dog is too aggressive and will not respond to your attempts to stop their aggressive behavior it is important that you consult with a trainer, veterinarian or dog behaviorist to correct the problem before it becomes too dangerous.