Dog Aggression and How to Handle It

Dealing with dog behavioral issues is never easy, but having an aggressive dog is particularly hard.

It frequently passes the point of simply being worried about coming home to a wrecked living room or having an overly vocal pup. You’re constantly worrying if your dog will attack someone – whether it’s another pet or a stranger, and it can be nerve-racking.

But, even though it’s undoubtedly a major problem, aggression in dogs can be corrected. Understand that some may be fixed quite easily and others may be more difficult but the key is finding someone to help solve these issues as you do not want to make issues worse.

What Is Dog Aggression?

When someone says their dog is aggressive, the first thing that comes to mind is that they have a dog that bites, but aggression can mean a lot of different things. Some canines keep their aggression toned down and never act out more than the occasional growl, while others can attack other dogs or even people.

Whatever the signs of aggression your dog displays, the most important thing is to understand what triggers the behavior. There are many different reasons why a dog might be aggressive and knowing what the underlying cause is will make treatment easier and more efficient.

Signs of Aggression in Dogs

How can you tell if a dog is nervous to the point of being aggressive? What kind of body language and signs is a precursor to an attack? Knowing the answer to these questions can help you anticipate aggressive behavior, and, hopefully, stop it in time. These signs can be identified through paying attention and acting on the behavior quickly.

Causes: Why Is My Dog Aggressive?

To be able to truly understand how to stop dog aggression, you’ll need to find out what makes your dog aggressive in the first place.

It’s very rare for a dog to become violent out of nowhere. Most often, the main culprit is a lack of proper socialization and training, but there are other causes that can contribute to this issue. Here are the most common causes of dog aggression:

  • Pain or illness
  • Fear
  • Establishing dominance
  • Protecting territory or possessions

Types of Dog Aggression

  • More often than not, there might be a common reason for different types of aggressive behavior. For example, a dog that is establishing dominance by being aggressive can exhibit that by attacking other dogs, being unfriendly with new family members, or lashing out when on a leash. To better understand what exactly motivates your dog’s bad behavior, and, how to prevent and treat your pup’s aggression, determining the right type of dog aggression is essential.

Food or object aggression in dogs

  • Also known asresource guarding, this type of behavior is centered around a dog’s obsession with certain objects. The item in question might be their favorite toy, their bed or a bowl of food, but the outcome is always the same. Once another person (or a pet) approaches their belongings, possessive aggressive dogs will immediately react. Territorial dogs can also react when perceived intruders come to their turf. Depending on the gravity of the problem, the reactions can range from just growling to a full-on attack that includes biting.

Fear aggression in dogs

  • As with humans, fear is a powerful motivation for dogs. When faced with a scary situation, a nervous dog can turn to a flight or fight response – and fear aggressive dogs choose the latter.
  • Unlike most other types of dog aggression, fear aggression in dogs has no warning signs. Because they will react only when they think that there is no other option but to defend themselves, these dogs won’t growl, bare their teeth or snarl before they nip at their source of fear.

Leash reactivity in dogs

  • If your pup is friendly and calm for most of the time, but starts lunging, barking or trying to bite as soon as you put on their leash, it’s a clear sign your dog is leash-reactive. Commonly directed at other dogs, this type of aggressive behavior stems from the fact that your pooch is feeling restrained and frustrated by their leash.
  • Although it rarely ends with a leash-aggressive dog attacking a canine passerby (after all, you’re holding the other end of the leash), it certainly is frustrating when your dog acts out in public. This often happens when dogs are not trained on time and it can be a type of aggressive behavior that is the easiest to correct.

Social aggression in dogs

  • It’s all about the instincts in this case. Dogs are social animals who function in packs, meaning that there is a strict hierarchy in the household, even if you’re not aware there is one. Other pets might be lower in status, so a dominant dog will “remind” them who’s the boss every once in a while, by displaying aggressive body language. In some instances, a dog can lash out at people that they consider the runt of their pack. The key here is to be assertive and act as the pack leader, rather than a two-legged beta!

Pain-induced aggression in dogs

  • Dogs are very good at hiding their pain, but if something is really bothering them, they might start growling or nipping. Although this is perceived as aggressive behavior, it’s actually just a defense mechanism.
  • Injured dogs, for example, have been known to bite their owners while they were trying to help.  It is important to be careful when handling a dog in pain. If you notice your older dog is starting to act aggressively out of the blue, chances are they are experiencing discomfort, pain, or even have an illness. Rather than trying to correct the behavior, make sure to take them to a vet to eliminate any medical condition that might be triggering it.

Dog Breeds Predisposed to Aggression

  • There are many misconceptions about different breeds, but the most prevalent ones are about a dog’s aggressive tendencies. You’ve probably heard it already. There are dangerous breeds, such as Pitbulls, Dobermans or Rottweilers, who are specifically bred to be bloodthirsty and aggressive.
  • The truth is… It’s a myth. There is no such thing as most aggressive dog breeds or least aggressive dog breeds. These dogs have been taught these behaviors and it happens most often when people introduce such behaviors not fully understanding the variables.

Best Ways to Handle Aggression in Dogs

Aggression in dogs can be a complex issue. There is no “easy fix” or an overnight solution that will turn your pup into a well-behaved canine. However, with the right approach and patience, you can learn how to stop dog aggression in its tracks.

As is usually the case with all behavioral issues, prevention is the key. Every dog is looking for a leader and a leader’s purpose is to provide structure and guidance. Domesticated animals are the only animals that do not have to hunt for food or fight for survival daily. This does not omit the fact they still have the natural instinct intact. Ensure you clearly communicate and identify what behaviors are accepted and those that are not.  Establishing boundaries is the first step in addressing any behavioral issues.

These are some tried and true tips that can help prevent the development of aggression in dogs:

  • Instill structure and routine at a young age
  • Avoid putting your pup in uncontrolled environments
  • Use balanced training methods 
  • Clear communication will always be the key!!!

If you believe you have a dog with any of these aggression issues, I would suggest contacting an experienced trainer. Although there are a multitude of ways to address aggression issues, it is best to get help from someone able to identify and handle the situation efficiently. In some cases, while attempting to rectify an issue, matters could be made worse if the wrong solution is attempted.

Here at Total Dog Training, we have a wealth of experience in handling various types of aggression issues and have rehabilitated many pups so they can live their best lives. Check out our testimonial and give us a call today!!!!