How to Stop Aggressive Dog Behavior – Reasons, Guidelines & Tips

By Richard Gray

There are common triggers for dog aggression…

Aggression

How to stop aggressive dog behavior. There is not easy an easy solution. It requires patience, restraint, consistency and commitment. It may also require some investment in a professional dog training course if your own efforts are unsuccessful. However, with the right approach you may have success yourself with stopping this unwanted behavior.

Identifying the root cause of the problem is the best place to start.

Dog aggression can come in various forms: an aggressive forward stance, a growl, a snarl, and a bite. It is often an unwanted and unpleasant aspect of behavior, but it rarely comes without an underlying reason: a trigger or a reaction.

More common triggers for aggression are fear, resource guarding, anxiety, lack of stimulation, sex-related aggression, and illness. Recent scientific study has also suggested diet as a factor. [1]

Reasons for dog aggression

Signs of Aggression

How should you behave as a leader?

When your dog is showing aggressive behavior

How to stop Dog Aggression towards other dogs

Steps to control this behavior by you – tips for managing the situation

How to stop Dog Aggression towards you

Steps to control this behavior by you – tips for managing the situation

How to stop Aggression towards other family members

Steps to control this behavior by you – tips for managing the situation

How to stop aggression to strangers

Steps to control this behavior by you -tips for managing the situation

Final Thoughts

Reasons for dog aggression

Fear & Defense 

It’s perhaps the most common reason for aggression. When a dog cannot run away, it defends by going on the attack. It is often made worse by a dog being on the lead when it encounters the trigger for its aggression. The fear may be understandable and stem from an incident when the dog was a puppy. Try to identify the reason or trigger for this.

Resource Guarding

Its possession induced. It may be food, a toy, or anything a dog believes is its own. It often happens when a dog is feeding and thinks the food is going to be taken away. Also, when you have given them a toy and try to take it off them.

Anxiety

It’s a state of mind that is with a dog almost continually and isn’t triggered by something. The anxiety itself is the trigger. The dog is on high alert. Medication to control the level of anxiety can help modify this type of aggression. [2]

Lack of Stimulation

Dogs are active and crave stimulation. Daily exercise needs have to be satisfied and mental enrichment tasks too, or frustration aggression could be the consequence.

Sex-Related Aggression

Unneutered dogs show this more than neutered dogs. Male dogs will be aggressive to one another for the attention of a female in heat. Jumping on the female excitedly may induce an aggressive response from her. Female to female aggression may occur when vying for male attention.

Illness

Pain induced aggression caused by illness can be triggered by touching in the painful area. A dog may also act fearfully because it thinks the pain is going to be aggravated. 

Signs of Aggression

Look at the eyes, face and body posture

Before an aggressive act, there are warning signs for you to look out for in a dog’s body and body language.

Look at the eyes and face: a long hard fixed stare shows your dog may be feeling possessive or under threat. Showing the whites of the eyes or whale eyeing is a sign of anxiousness. A dog may shift their focus away from the object of irritation, lick their lips, yawn, and turn their ears back. All these actions transmit that a dog is feeling some distress.

Another clue is in body posture. The body posture may be rigid and a low guttural bark may follow. A dog may turn and move their body away, stand in a crouch in a ready position with their tail between their legs.

A dog may close the distance and charge a person or animal and not make bodily contact; then progress to poking them hard with their nose. 

The nosing could move to ‘mouthing’ a person or animal, meaning attempting to direct them somewhere by using their mouth to steer them. 

This can progress to growling/snarling, showing of teeth, and snapping where there is no contact. 

Progressing to Biting

 There may be a dry quick nip that leaves no indentation.

 A quick bite that tears the skin, followed by a bite that bruises

 A bite that causes puncture wounds.

 Repeated biting

 Pressure bite and shake.

Looking for, and recognising the symptoms of dog aggressive behavior are key to avoiding it, according to a 2022 scientific study using a virtual reality model. [3]

How should you behave as a leader?

Set an example as a calm, patient but firm leader

It’s up to you to provide leadership that your dog understands and to some extent be like a parent role model for them. Let them know there are boundaries, things they cannot do, or things they can do only at certain times and in certain situations. It is best to start training them to recognise boundaries from an early age.

For instance, you decide when and where playtime happens and you control the play. Incorporate the basic commands ( sit, stay, leave) from an early age to control the play. This will provide the first steps for your dog to respect you as the leader. Remain calm but persistent when you are training. Be patient and don’t punish, but rather reward good behavior (with treats, extra play, or exciting walks). 

This kind of positive reinforcement works best. Be consistent with your routines and predictable, so your dog knows what to expect next.

Socialization is Key

Aggressive dog behavior often stems from lack of socialization with other dogs, people, and situations. Socialization from a young age gives a dog confidence and the appropriate social skills and responses when encountering other dogs, other people in different environments. Dogs that are not properly socialized may become fearful, anxious and aggressive towards unfamiliar people, dogs and situations. [4]

When your dog is showing aggressive behavior

You need to adopt the same calm demeanor of the leader. Punishing and shouting are signs of your own aggression and could breed more aggression in your dog. Speak to your dog in a calm tone of voice. You are trying to lower your dog’s aggressive energy and provide an antidote to their agitation. 

Learn to generate control with a slack leash

You will need to have your dog on a lead and show control. Get your dog used to being on a lead. Put him on the lead at home and use it to direct your dog gently. A tight lead transmits feelings of your own agitation to your dog. The idea is to develop the responses you want from your dog by having a slack lead, so you can have the same control when you are outside. [5]

In the case where your dog has shown aggression in public places, it may be time to fit a muzzle in order to provide safety to other people and animals.

In public places a muzzle may be necessary

If your dog is in an excited state when approaching a park and is barking uncontrollably, you may need to take him away from this situation until he calms down and realizes calm behavior is what you want. Recognize when your dog has caught on and is being submissive. Don’t continue to reprimand him with ‘no’ when he looks away and submits to your calm correction.

How to stop Dog Aggression towards other dogs

Avoid head on leash encounters with other dogs

It may have started in puppyhood, when your young dog had a bad experience with a bullying adult dog. A dog may have become timid and sensitive as a consequence and may feel threatened by other dogs and immediately attack. The dog may have developed anti-social behavior towards other dogs as a consequence of an earlier scarring experience. The dog may be suffering from fear aggression or defense aggression. It may be territorial aggression. A sign is jumping on the approaching dog.

 Try to distinguish between whether your dog is reacting to certain situations or triggers and in that way is predictable ( and being well-behaved and balanced in other situations) or whether he is disposed to unpredictable aggression (anxiety driven aggression) at any time.

 Try not to encounter dogs head-on and on the leash. This can lead to leash aggression. If you know your dog is apt to show dog aggression, walk around an approaching dog in a semicircle. 

Steps to control this behavior by you – tips for managing the situation

Control the situation – this might need to be a muzzle. It will need to be a leash. Here are some tips to work on desensitizing the trigger to to your dog’s aggression.

Crouch down and block your dog’s view and stroke the chin
  • When a dog is approaching, read your dog’s energy. For instance, if showing signs of dog aggression he may be pulling towards the other dog strongly and have a stiff body posture. 
  • Move away and focus on another area. Distract your aggressive dog from the approaching dog.
  • Crouch down in front of your dog, so he can’t see the other dog. Put your hand under your dog’s collar and stroke him soothingly under the chin.
  • Calm your dog and reduce his high energy. Look for the tail coming down and the body relaxing. In this more relaxed state, let your dog see the other dog again from a distance. 
  • After these steps of relaxing your dog, a more productive method of socializing your dog with other dogs could be to walk at a parallel distance from the other dog, while walking in the same direction. 
  • Here your dog can see the other dog and hopefully get used to having a dog in roughly the same area. This type of parallel walking can work as a way to desensitize a dog to other dogs in their vicinity as it recalls the pack behavior of their ancestors. 
  • After this, if your dog seems comfortable and relaxed, try him with a longer lead to give him the sensation of greater freedom.
  • If it starts to go wrong and he bolts towards the other dog, reel him in with authority but not excessive force. 
  • Take your time in acclimating your dog to other dogs in this way and hopefully, over time you will see positive results and a more socialized pooch. 

If you know that your dog becomes aggressive in certain situations, it may be best to avoid those situations altogether. This could be a busy dog park or a crowded area. Instead, take your dog to a quieter and more controlled environment where they feel comfortable.

How to stop Dog Aggression towards you

It’s a very sad and upsetting situation. According to estimates, 15% of owners have been bitten by their own dog.  Your dog suddenly starts showing aggression towards you. Why is he doing this? Well, it might be resource-guarding aggression, like when he’s eating and thinks you’ll take away his food. It may be redirected aggression if he is aroused to aggression by another dog, strangers or leash aggression. It may be a medical problem that your dog has started suffering from.

You need to act quickly to identify what is triggering this change in behavior. Is it at feeding time? Is it when you try to take their toys away? Or when you are at a certain place? You will then need to talk to a veterinarian or dog behaviorist about this. Then you can listen to their recommendations and come up with a plan to control this aggression. 

Steps to control this behavior by you – tips for managing the situation

Lead your dog with simple commands to control resource guarding

In these tips we are dealing with resource guarding aggression. If this has happened, you need to teach some commands. We are recommending steps to desensitize the trigger for your dog’s aggression.

  • To do this, engage your dog with some loose leash movement activity, where you walk one way and then walk back. The dog tunes itself to your movements and looks to you for guidance in where to go. 
  • Once the dog has realized you are leading, you can work on some exercises to teach ‘leave’, ‘stay’ and ‘go’.
  • Your dog is still on the lead. Show your dog a toy that he’s interested in. As you show the toy, give the command ‘stay’. Wait for your dog to look you in the eye. 
  • Then throw the toy a distance away where your dog can reach it while still on the leash. If he bolts for it, pull him back with the lead before he reaches the toy and say ‘leave it’ and then praise him to let him know that was the right thing to do with a ‘good boy’.
  •  Pick the toy up and before throwing it a second time, say ‘stay’. Then throw the toy as before. 
  • If your dog stays and doesn’t bolt for the toy, wait for the eye contact and then say ‘go’ and he can have the toy. Praise him for his obedience. 
  • Use a treat to distract him to get the toy back and then repeat the drill. This teaches that he can have the thing he is guarding, when he follows your commands.

How to stop Aggression towards other family members

This type can be extremely worrying as the dog can be perfectly behaved with one family member and be aggressive with another. It is particularly problematic when the aggression is directed towards children. The child will most likely be frightened. In this case seeking professional help for your dog’s aggression is of paramount importance.

Steps to control this behavior by you – tips for managing the situation

With these tips we are doing the management training in the house. Put your dog on the leash. 

  • The family member who is the target of the dog’s aggression is sitting down. 
  • The family member then makes a noise to attract the dog and then throws a treat near the dog. As the dog is distracted by the treat, the family member stands. 
  • The family member throws another treat near the dog, and as the dog is again distracted the family member moves a step nearer the dog. 
  • Next, the family member makes a noise to attract the dog and throws a treat near the dog and this time moves 2 steps away from the dog. 
  • Repeat this action again, you or the person holding the dog on the leash bridge the gap between the dog and the treat. 
  • The idea is for the dog to begin to follow the family member and start to see them as a leader (if treat induced!). 
  • Here there is a positive association with the family member movement. When this family member moves,the dog starts to think, good things will happen to me! For more information on healthy treats, see our article homemade dog treats.

How to stop aggression to strangers

Reduce your dog’s territorial aggressive energy

It may be someone you know who visits your house, and for some reason your dog doesn’t like them. It may be a person whose job it is to visit your house, like a postal worker. It may be people you encounter in the street or when giving your dog daily exercise in the park. Wherever it is, the onus is on you to try and control and stop the aggression.

Steps to control this behavior by you -tips for managing the situation

This is fearful aggression towards people who visit, or territorial aggression. In this scenario, your dog has shown a history of aggression towards people who visit your home and you need to desensitize your dog to the trigger for their aggressive actions. 

  • Put your dog on the leash and go out into your yard, before the expected stranger arrives in your yard. 
  • As the stranger opens your gate, or walks up the drive and your dog reacts (most likely with aggressive barking)…
  • …turn your back on the stranger so your dog sees you do this (showing you know this person is not a threat).
  • At the same time kneel down in front of your dog and block your dog’s view of the stranger (the trigger) so they can’t see them. 
  • Put your hand under your dog’s collar and place your other hand under your dog’s chin and stroke soothingly.
  • This calms your dog down, reducing their aggressive energy and intent. 
  • You remain very calm. You are the role-model for your dog. He sees you are not concerned by the stranger. The calmer you stay the more effective this will be. The more your dog views you as the one in charge, the more he will listen to you and copy your behavior.
  • Move from in front of your dog and let him see the stranger again. He should have a more relaxed attitude now. If not, repeat the action of blocking his view and gently holding of his chin.

Final Thoughts

Establishing the cause of a dog’s aggression, finding the most effective ways to rehabilitate your dog socially, and for them to turn to you as their guardian for leadership, are the aims of this post.

Remember, when the situation is not solvable by you, it is time to turn to others for professional guidance and help. Do not delay in contacting an applied animal behaviorist or professional dog trainer if you find yourself in this situation.

What to do next

Please check out our post on How to Mentally Stimulate Your Dog to give you further insights to help with dog behavior issues.

FAQ

Are some breeds more likely to show aggression?

Some breeds are more genetically inclined towards aggression than others. Dobermans, Pit bulls, and Rottweilers are a case in point. However, genetics on their own do not mean a dog will exhibit aggressive behavior. Effective training and socialization are vital to avoid aggressive tendencies.

Can aggressive dog behavior be cured?

Aggressive dog behavior can be managed and controlled but it may not be entirely cured.

Does exercise and playtime reduce aggressive behavior?

Regular exercise and playtime can certainly reduce a dog’s stress and anxiety levels. Make sure to provide enough exercise and playtime to keep them physically and mentally stimulated.

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