Aggressiveness in dogs is not something that can be overlooked. While it is a rare dog that does not have his or her bad moments, any animal that regularly snaps or bites at humans presents a problem that cannot and should not be ignored.
Any dog can be aggressive. While the most common image of an aggressive dog might be something like a snarling pit bull or a Rottweiler straining against its leash, the truth is that even toy breeds can become incredibly aggressive due to any number of factors. It’s no wonder, then, that owners of dogs of all types turn towards trainers to try to get help with their dogs’ aggression.
Dealing with aggression is a lengthy and often difficult process, one that requires a great deal of patience on the part of both dog owners and trainers. You can, however, take a few steps to help calm your dog down as you work towards the end goal of snuffing out the dog’s aggressive tendencies.
Why Do Dogs Exhibit Aggressive Behavior?
Before you can solve the problem of a dog’s aggression, you must figure out why your dog behaves so aggressively in the first place. Aggressive behaviors tend to cover a lot of ground, but they are all related to flight or fight responses in your dog. How a given dog shows aggression can vary greatly, but they all tend to stem from one of a few specific places.
As you work with your dog, you’re going to find certain triggers for his or her aggressive tendencies. Some dogs get incredibly aggressive when they see strangers, while others might be quite fine with virtually anyone unless they are eating. Some dogs might not be aggressive with humans at all, but they might become hyper-aggressive when they are around other animals.
While seeing how the dog becomes aggressive is good, you can’t change these behaviors until you can get to the root of why they have occurred in the first place. As such, it’s vital for you to know a bit about the most common categories of dog aggression.
A territorial dog is one who protects his or her space. He or she might have certain areas in the home he or she considers his or her space, or he or she might have aggressive responses to anyone who comes on your property.
This is the type of aggression that often seems necessary in a neighbor. Your dog will go out of its way to protect any perceived family member. Protective aggression often occurs in female dogs after they have birthed a litter.
This is when your dog protects his or her ‘things’. Resource guarding can occur when your dog gets aggressive around food or any number of other objects. What’s important is that your dog’s tendency is sparked by perceived attempts to take his or her resource.
Some dogs get aggressive because they are afraid. This is a typical flight-or-fight response; when your dog is unable to flee, he or she will become aggressive.
This is fight-of-flight taken to an extreme. Instead of attempting to flee, your dog will automatically go on the attack. Note that even in these situations, defensive dogs will have certain signals that indicate that they are about to engage in some kind of aggressive behavior.
Sometimes dogs are aggressive specifically towards other dogs and humans. This comes not necessarily from fear, but rather from the fact that the dog was never socialized properly in order to deal with these situations. This is common among dogs who are isolated.
Just like people, dogs get frustrated. This is typical when a dog is presented with some kind of stimulus but then is unable to act on it immediately. A good example of this might be a dog who is on a chain and who sees a squirrel. While the dog would normally chase the squirrel, he or she will become overly aggressive because the chain stops the dog from being able to chase the squirrel.
This happens when a dog’s aggression is connected to something else. Those who get bit when breaking up a dog fight or who get barked at when a dog is annoyed by a person in the next yard have almost certainly experienced this kind of aggression in the past.
When dogs hurt, they lash out. Even dogs who are normally sweet-natured can be aggressive when they are injured.
Breeding-Related Aggression in Dogs
When dogs aren’t spayed or neutered, aggression is a common outcome. In these cases, females dogs can become aggressive because they are in heat and males can become aggressive when they perceive that another male is competing with them for mates.
This one is scary because it is innate. Dogs who have instinct-related aggression are acting on predatory chase behavior. You can see this when a dog seems to be playing a game, but then the game quickly turns to violence. This type of aggression is incredibly dangerous because it often seems to come out of nowhere.
Signs of Dog Aggression
Now that you know some of the reasons why your dog might become aggressive, you can start to look at signs that your dog’s aggressive behavior is about to start. While you should ultimately try your best to eliminate aggressive behavior, getting a warning of when it will occur is a must.
There are many different signs of aggression, some of which are more obvious than others. Any dog owner can tell you that a growling or snapping dog is about to become aggressive, but fewer might know that a dog who is cowering or who refuses to look at you is likewise in the same state. Even more problematic is the fact that certain behaviors – a quickly wagging tail, for example – are easy to miss.
What’s even worse is that you can miss an aggression response because such a response may also be a fear response. A dog who has fur that stands on end or who suddenly goes rigid might be about to attack, but he or she might also be afraid. It’s important, then, to observe what your dog does after displaying these behaviors.
Stopping Aggressive Behaviors
You know why dogs can become aggressive and you even know the signs that your dog is about to act out. Now it’s time for you to start putting all that research to work so that you can help to stop your dog’s aggressive behaviors. Your most important tool here is your ability to observe your dog’s behavior and identifying why he or she acts how he or she acts. This isn’t something that can be done in a single day, but consistency will help you to make use of one of the following solutions.
Start with Your Vet
If your dog isn’t usually aggressive, you need to get to a vet as soon as you can. A sudden shift towards aggression is usually a sign that something is wrong with your dog. There is any number of medical issues that can make your dog become aggressive and working with your vet to find the solution is often a great way to get your dog back to normal. In many cases, treatment can help to rid your dog of these new behaviors.
Call a Professional Dog Trainer
If there’s not a medical problem, there is almost certainly a behavioral problem. As nice as it would be to solve this issue on your own, you will need to call in a professional dog trainer to help you to move forward. These individuals are not only trained in figuring out why your dog is aggressive, but also how to handle those issues.
Make a Behavior Plan
Once you have the help of a behaviorist, you can start figuring out how to deal with your dog’s aggression. For the most part, this means embracing positive reinforcement as a method of helping your dog to change his or her behaviors.
It usually takes a number of smaller steps to change the way your dog behaves. If your dog is usually hostile to other dogs, for example, you may want to expose him or her to other animals in a way that makes it impossible for him or her to react. When your dog reacts properly, you can praise him or her and give him or her a reward.
Dogs are amazing when it comes to making connections about reinforcement. If your dog associates a behavior with a treat, your dog will continue to perform that behavior. Think of this a bit like how you trained your dog to sit or stay, but instead, you’re teaching your dog now not to attack.
A Note on Punishment
It should be noted that positive reinforcement really is the only way to break aggressive tendencies. Punishment has not only been proven to be ineffective in helping aggressive dogs to make long-term changes in a dog’s behavior, but it has also been shown to make some of those behaviors worse.
Your goal is to teach your dog how to do the right thing. When you punish your dog for a behavior, you’re just teaching your dog not to give you a warning when he or she is going to attack.
Finally, you’ll want to think about medicating your dog if training can’t get the dog done. Some aggressive dogs need medical help to deal with their aggression, especially when it’s triggered by stress. There are a variety of temporary medical options that can help your dog calm down enough to make use of basic training techniques.
The Worst-Case Scenario
Unfortunately, there may come a point at which you have to decide whether you are really the right place for your aggressive dog. You may not have a lifestyle that is conducive to training, to say nothing about the fact that you may not have the right kind of environment for your pet. If that’s the case, you do need to figure out if it’s time to rehome your pet.
As tough as this may be, it’s especially important if you live in a home with young children. Children have a tendency to set off aggressive behaviors, something that can interfere with training and that can lead to tragic situations. As such, it may be wise to look into finding a home for your dog that is free from children and that has the resources to keep the animal safe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can an aggressive dog be cured?
This largely depends on the dog and on the efforts of the dog’s owner. While it’s impossible to say that every dog can be ‘cured’ of aggression, there are tested techniques that can help you to reduce a dog’s aggressive tendencies. Once you discover the underlying issues that cause the dog to become more aggressive, you can start working with your dog to train away those behaviors.
How do you stop a dog from being aggressive?
You will start by looking at why your dog is aggressive. Is he or she guarding a resource? Is there something that sets our dog off? Once you’ve found this out, you’ll then determine if you need to consult a vet to figure out if there is a medical issue. If there isn’t, you’ll consult a dog behaviorist to get to the root of why your dog is aggressive. From there, it’s just a matter of learning how to train your dog not to respond negatively to the stimuli that have typically caused his or her aggressive behaviors.
How do you train a dog to stop attacking?
The best way to get your dog to stop attacking is to figure out why he or she attacks in the first place. Dogs are rarely aggressive without a reason, so figure out what sets them off. Once you figure this out, it’s a matter of using positive reinforcement to reward your dog for fighting his or her instinct to attack.