Why Do Dogs Act Aggressive


Why might my dog behave aggressively toward me?

A dog may act aggressively toward family members for a variety of reasons. Conflict aggressiveness, fear-based, defensive aggression, status-related aggression, possessive aggression, food guarding aggression, and redirected violence are some of the most frequent reasons. An aggressive dog toward family members can make life challenging, hazardous, disappointing, and infuriating (see AggressionDiagnosis and Overview).

Should I keep a dog that is aggressive toward family members?

To have a pet in your life has many fantastic benefits. Our lives are enriched by their companionship, shared experiences, nurturing, amusement, and enrichment, therefore choosing to live with a dog who is hostile toward you is not a decision that should be made lightly. The ability to ensure the safety of those who will be around the dog must take precedence in the choice. The number of family members in some families, daily responsibilities, and other factors could make maintaining and rehabilitating an aggressive dog risky and unrealistic. Placement in a different home may occasionally be an option, although this is not always the case. The only way to ensure a dog won’t become hostile again is to euthanize it for aggression.

How do we assess the risk of keeping an aggressive dog?

Half of the 800,000 people who seek medical attention for dog attacks annually, according to the CDC, are youngsters (see AggressionChildren). Dog bites are not uncommon; they are typical occurrences in everyday family life, and 15% of dog owners are said to have had a dog bite. A dog is more likely to bite after biting because he has demonstrated his willingness to employ biting as a behavioral tactic, at least in that circumstance. Rarely are dogs who are willing to use violence to alter the course of events again healed. The severity of a bite can be determined by carefully analyzing the circumstance, the harm the bite caused, the decisions the dog took, such as his readiness to prevent escalating to a bite by growling, snarling, or snapping, as well as the type of aggression identified. A board-certified veterinary behaviorist may have the necessary experience to evaluate and prioritize this examination in complex circumstances.

Aren’t all bites the same?

Even though all bites should be taken seriously, the situation and decisions the dog made during the incident may provide some clues as to the alternatives the dog explored before acting aggressively. The majority of dogs can generally manage how hard and how long they bite.

“Dogs who will use violence to alter the course of a situation are rarely healed.”

Some bites are prevented and may not leave any skin traces. Other bites may cause the skin to bruise, squeeze, or indent without causing bleeding. More severe bites can result in skin breakdown, puncture wounds that are deep or superficial, many punctures, or tearing or shearing injuries. Some canines’ bites have the potential to break bones. Some dogs bite once and then back off, while others bite repeatedly within the same episode. When provoked or when they are nearby, some dogs bite; other dogs rush from across the room.

How do we avoid aggression and keep family members safe?

The first step in keeping family members safe and starting the behavior modification process is safety and bite prevention. Determine all potential triggers for aggression first, then prohibit the dog from coming into contact with them (via crate or confinement, muzzle, or environmental manipulation), or control the dog in any other situation where a combative circumstance might occur (e.g., leash and head halter control, tie down). In order to prevent future harm and learning, it is imperative that these scenarios be avoided. Although reducing or eliminating the possibility of hostility in these circumstances would be the long-term objective, each new incident could result in harm and worsen the issue. Even within the house, aggressiveness can be controlled and avoided by using a head collar and leash. Even more efficient at preventing bites is a correctly fitted basket muzzle, which may also be useful in specific circumstances. Limiting the dog’s opportunities for more hostile encounters will help prevent the dog from developing new bad habits because the dog learns from every occasion to practice hostility (see AggressionGetting StartedSafety and Management).

When a family decides to start an aggressive behavior modification program, they must continually assess their capacity to keep everyone safe and stop hostile outbursts. The decision to maintain and treat this dog must be reviewed if there are regular safety failures, accidental bites, or fresh bites occurring in novel and unexpected contexts.

Don’t we just need to show our dog that we are alpha or dominant for the aggression to stop?

Neither dominance nor social standing are likely to be factors in aggression toward family members. This is a widespread misunderstanding that may result in the aggressive conduct getting worse and ineffective treatment methods. AggressionDiagnosis and Overview, Dominance, Alpha, and Pack LeadershipWhat Does It Really Mean?, and Canine CommunicationInterpreting Dog Language all discuss how these emotions are frequently the driving forces behind a dog’s aggression. It follows that training programs intended to enforce the human family members as alpha or dominance using confrontation or intimidation-based interventions will increase rather than decrease anxiety and associated aggressive responses if underlying anxiety and fear are the cause of aggressive responses. Strategies intended to establish pack leadership, alpha status, or dominance over your dog do not address the root causes of the issue, which are fear, anxiety, and a lack of knowledge about what to anticipate or how to respond in a certain circumstance. While maintaining control and having regular encounters with the animal is ideal, these goals should be attained in non-confrontational methods that lessen tension and conflict rather than boosting these underlying feelings.

How do I gain effective control of my dog?

Family members should establish themselves as capable parental figures as soon as possible in their relationship with their dog. Good dog owners care for their animals in a similar manner to how good parents or teachers care for their charges. It’s crucial to provide consistency, patience, persistence, regularity, and predictability as a pet owner. Rewards for positive activities give the dog information, and this information acts as a guide for the dog’s interactions with you. assuming the role of the leader or “in control means that the dog’s behavior is proper and will remain so without severity or punishment. Reward-based training, physical restraints, and supervision are used to achieve this. By teaching your dog which behaviors will result in rewards and which ones won’t, consistent responses lessen anxiety and conflict in your dog. In a sense, your dog learns control over its actions while you acquire control over your reward system by “giving you the actions you want it to practice (see Learn to EarnPredictable Rewards). Because some puppies are more assertive, excitable, fearful, easily distracted, or difficult to motivate and as a result more difficult to train (see Training Basics), the methods needed by the owner to become the leader will depend on the individual temperament and genetic predisposition of the puppy. Learning, Training, and Modifying Behavior; Getting Started; AggressionDiagnosis and Overview; Behavior Management Products; Teaching CalmSettle and Relaxation Training; and Handouts on How to Train Specific Commands).

Equally crucial is the ability to spot deference when it occurs. When your dog turns away from you, lowers its head, or avoids you, especially when you are correcting it, this is an act of deference, appeasement, and submission as well as an effort to put an end to the interaction (see Canine CommunicationInterpreting Dog Language). From the dog’s perspective, the interaction is over, and if the human continues to correct or punish the dog, the dog may react out of fear or with defensive actions. Do not assume that because the dog deferred once, he will do so again. Each situation is distinct, and the response takes the dogs’ desire for the resource into account.

How can I treat my dog’s aggression?

Teaching your dog what you DO want him or her to do will be the first step in any treatment plans. A training program based on positive reinforcement typically accomplishes this. The tasks that are taught will vary depending on the dog and the circumstance, but they may include teaching a dog to go to a containment area when called, sit and remain in exchange for rewards, or get off/on furniture when told to (see Reinforcement and Rewards, Learn to EarnPredictable Rewards, and Working for Food). Leashes and head halters help with control and safety without using harsh, strong corrections, and they also reduce the likelihood of aggression (see Training Products) Head Halter Training and Training Materials (Synopsis of Head Halter Training).

Once safety and aggression-avoiding precautions have been put in place and fundamental control exercises have been mastered, advanced exercises can start. Traditional counter-conditioning, desensitization, and exposure gradients are some behavior modification techniques for particular problematic interactions that prevent the dog from becoming overwhelmed to the point of aggression or defensiveness. Instead, the dog is gradually exposed to previously arousing stimuli at such low levels that no arousal occurs, and is then rewarded for the appropriate response. The dog is simultaneously in charge of adhering to new instructions and is lavishly pampered for making fresh, sensible choices.

What can be done if my dog refuses to obey my commands?

Any conflict or circumstance that could result in harm or in which the owner would not be able to gain control safely must be avoided. It could be feasible to create conditions and an atmosphere that force the dog to conform. Forcing or confronting your dog is ineffective because this could result in resistance and violence. Instead, determine whether or not compliance can be attained in each case. If not, do not move forward; instead, alter the circumstance to effectively achieve the desired result. As previously indicated, fitting the dog with a remote leash and head halter that may be used to lead the dog on walks and remain attached while the owner is at home will provide you more immediate control (except for bedtime). The leash and head halter can be utilized each time a command is issued to the dog and it is not obeyed to attain the desired result. You won’t have succeeded until the dog responds to your vocal orders without the need for leash pulls, even though the head halter and remote leash are fantastic tools for success and physical control.

What is the prognosis for dogs that show aggression toward their family?

Dogs that are willing to use violence to influence a situation’s result are rarely healed, but they are frequently controllable. A good daily routine of exercise, play, and social engagement, as well as the avoidance of situations that cause anger, can all contribute to improvement. Some dogs, however, might still pose a threat to individuals who live with them because of their violent behavior toward family members. It might be impossible to safely rehabilitate an aggressive dog while protecting people in some family scenarios. Each case needs to be evaluated by a veterinary behaviorist, and development in each case must be monitored regularly (see AggressionIntroduction and AggressionGetting StartedSafety and Management).

Why has my dog suddenly become aggressive?

Aggressive behavior in dogs can result from certain medical issues. It may be the result of a disease or illness if a dog who has never displayed aggression suddenly starts snarling, snapping, or biting.

In dogs, pain is a very frequent trigger for hostility. Your dog may be suffering from a serious injury or sickness that is making him suddenly aggressive. Arthritis, bone fractures, internal wounds, different cancers, and abrasions are a few potential causes of pain.

Other ailments that influence the brain in your dog could result in irrational hostility. Aggression may start to manifest as a result of ailments including brain tumors, illnesses, or cognitive dysfunction. Although they can happen to dogs of any age, these issues are more likely to affect older animals.

Before attempting to handle unexpected, unexplained aggressiveness in your dog as a behavioural issue, see your veterinarian.

Although you might be tempted, you shouldn’t try to give your dog medication to treat their pain. If your dog is ill, you must first identify the exact cause of the illness before you can administer care. Don’t try to solve the problem on your own until you are certain of what you are working with. The best prescription advice for your dog can only come from a veterinarian.

What should you do if your dog displays aggression?

There may frequently be a shared cause for several forms of violent conduct. For instance, an aggressive dog that is establishing dominance may show it by attacking other dogs, acting strangely around new family members, or acting out while being led. The correct form of dog aggressiveness must be identified in order to better understand what causes your dog’s poor behavior and how to avoid and treat your dog’s aggression.

Possession Aggression or Food Aggression in Dogs

This form of behavior, also referred to as resource guarding, revolves around a dog’s obsession with particular items. Whether it’s a dish of food, their bed, or their favorite toy, the result is always the same. Possessive aggressive dogs will retaliate as soon as another human (or a pet) approaches their possessions. Territorial canines have the ability to respond when deemed intruders enter their domain. The responses might range from simple growling to a full-blown attack that involves biting, depending on the seriousness of the issue.

Fear Aggression in Dogs

Fear is a strong motivator for dogs, just like it is for us. Fear-aggressive dogs choose to fight when confronted with a frightening circumstance, while anxious dogs may opt to flee. Fear aggression in dogs is unusual in that it rarely exhibits any prior indicators. These dogs won’t growl, display their teeth, or snarl before they nip at their source of fear because they won’t act until they feel that they have no choice but to defend themselves. This behavior is typically brought on by a past trauma for the dog.

Leash Aggression in Dogs

Leash aggression is evident if your dog behaves normally and is nice and calm, but as soon as you attach their leash, they start lunging, barking, and trying to bite. This form of aggressive behavior, which is frequently directed at other dogs, results from your dog feeling irritated and constrained by their leash.

Although a leash-aggressive dog rarely ends up biting a passing dog (after all, you’re holding the other end of the leash), it is annoying when your dog misbehaves in public. This is a sort of aggressive behavior that is frequently seen when dogs are not properly trained and is also one of the simplest to stop.

Social Aggression in Dogs

In this situation, intuition are everything. Dogs are sociable animals that live in groups, so even if you’re not aware of it, there is a clear hierarchy in the home. A dominant dog may periodically use violent body language to “remind” lower-status canines who are in charge who is in charge. A dog occasionally exhibits aggressive behavior toward those they view as the underdogs in their pack. Here, assertiveness and acting like the pack leader—rather than a two-legged beta—are crucial.

Pain-induced Aggression in Dogs

Dogs are quite skilled at masking their discomfort, but if anything bothers them deeply, they may begin growling or biting. Even while it appears to be aggressive conduct, it is only a defensive mechanism. It’s crucial to exercise caution while touching a dog who is in pain since injured dogs, for instance, have been known to bite their owners who were attempting to assist them. If you suddenly find that your senior dog is acting violently, there’s a good probability that they’re in pain, uncomfortable, or even ill. Make sure to take them to the vet to rule out any medical conditions that might be triggering the behavior rather than attempting to correct it.

Dog Breeds Predisposed to Aggression

There are many myths regarding various breeds, but the one that circulates the most concerns a dog’s propensity for aggression. Most likely, you’ve already heard it. There are deadly breeds that are bred to be bloodthirsty and aggressive, such as Pitbulls, Dobermans, and Rottweilers. It’s a myth, that much is true. There are neither the least aggressive nor the most aggressive dog breeds. And this isn’t simply my own opinion; science has repeatedly demonstrated it.

Concerning the supposedly most aggressive dog breeds, veterinarians concur. Age and gender of the dog are the only biological elements that influence aggressive behavior. For instance, a dog that is unneutered, poorly socialized, and approaching sexual maturity may be more prone to aggressive outbursts than, say, a female of the same species who has had spaying. Dog aggression can be avoided with adequate socialization, training, and lots of love. Nothing to do with a person’s breed!

Best Ways to Handle Aggression in Dogs

Dog aggression is a complicated problem. There isn’t a “quick fix” or a magic potion that will make your dog behave good overnight, especially if their hostility is serious. You can learn how to halt dog aggression in its tracks, though, if you take the appropriate approach and have a lot of patience.

The key to behavioral difficulties is prevention, as is typically the case. If you take immediate action, you’ll avoid having to deal with a larger problem later on. Puppy training usually works best when it is done diligently. Most aggressive dogs show early warning signals that, if caught in time, can be resolved. Here are some tried-and-true advice for preventing the emergence of canine aggression:

  • Encourage submissive behavior
  • Be alert for indications of resource protection.
  • Pay attention to socializing, both with your pets and with people you don’t know.
  • Use training with positive reinforcement

There are still ways to decrease aggression even when it becomes a significant issue, even if you adopted an adult dog with behavioral problems or failed to notice the signs of aggression when your pet was a puppy. Here are some practical methods that, depending on the particulars of your issue, will convert a grumpy dog into a placid dog.

Situation #1: My dog is aggressive toward strangers

Solution: Determining the circumstances that trigger the behavior is the first step in learning how to stop dog hostility against strangers. Is it all strangers, or just a certain kind—men, women, children, those in uniform, etc.? Does your dog become hostile when guests arrive at your house or when they pass by on the street? You can identify the source of the issue and the kind of dog aggression by providing answers to these questions. They may exhibit leash aggressiveness, which necessitates lead training, or they may be drawn to a certain group of individuals because to a past trauma or abuse. The best outcomes are achieved in both situations by using positive reinforcement training and a slow desensitization to the stressor.

Situation #2: Dog is aggressive toward cats

Contrary to popular opinion, cats and dogs are not inherently hostile to one another. Having a dog that becomes upset around cats can be a serious problem in houses with many pets, both canines and felines. It’s important to make the effort to socialize your pet since, depending on the level of hostility your pet exhibits, learning how to stop dog aggression toward cats might be a safety issue. Keep in mind that socializing cats and dogs can be a lengthy process because cats can be picky and cranky.

Situation #3: Dog aggressive toward owner

Nothing is more upsetting than when your own pet behaves violently toward you. You should not, however, take it personally! The majority of the time, another problem, like resource guarding or dog-on-dog aggression, is the cause of the hostility your dog is exhibiting. Of course, there’s always a possibility that your dog’s peculiar behavior is brought on by a hidden medical issue. In the event that your dog suddenly began snarling or biting at you, be sure to rule out any ailments and injuries first.

Situation #4: My dog is aggressive while eating

Solution: Your dog starts snapping at anyone who approaches their kibble since they don’t think sharing is caring. How should you handle a dog that is possessively aggressive? Helping them understand that no one is attempting to take away their food will be the trick. If you want to pet them while they are eating, start off slowly by standing close by until they feel at ease. When you’re at work, do your pets fight over the food you leave out? To remotely monitor their behavior and stop their hostility, use a treat-giving pet camera.