If your dog often growls, snaps, or bites, you may have an aggression problem on your hands. One of the most common reasons dog owners seek the assistance of a professional dog trainer or animal behaviourist is aggression.
And it's not only larger dogs and so-called "dangerous breeds" that may become aggressive— any breed can become aggressive under reasonable conditions.
Although aggressiveness cannot be corrected overnight, there are things you may take to help your dog remain calm!
Here we outlined some steps you can take to deal with your dog’s aggressive behaviours, although the best option is still to have them professionally trained.
But first, it’s important to know first what aggressive behaviour looks like and it’s different types.
What is aggression?
Aggressive behaviour in dogs is any action that suggests an approaching attack or an attack has already occurred. This involves tenseness, rigidity, showing teeth, lunging, nipping, or biting.
The first thing that springs to mind when someone says their dog is aggressive is that their dog bites. That’s a serious problem especially if there’s no fence to prevent them from attacking passersby.
However, aggression may refer to a variety of different behaviours. Some dogs keep their anger toned down and never act out more than the occasional growl, while others can attack other dogs or even people.
Signs your dog may be aggressive
You might ask, how do I know if my dog’s being aggressive? What kind of nonverbal cues and behaviours suggest an impending attack?
Knowing the signs help you observe and anticipate aggressive behaviour, and perhaps put a stop to it in time. It is always possible to anticipate an aggressive attack based on the specific behaviour that preceded it. Here are the most common signs of aggression in dogs.
- Snarling and snapping
- A stiff body and a fast wagging tail
- Yawning or lip licking
- Ears tucked in
- Showing their teeth
- Averting gaze
- Cowering and tail tucking
- Raised fur
- Seeing whites of the eyes
- Bites of different intensity (from light snipping to puncturing bites)
Even so, not all dogs who display these behaviours are aggressive—many of these warning signals might also indicate worry or fear.
Types of Aggression
Dogs are good at hiding their pain, but if something is truly bothering them, they may start growling or nipping. Although this appears to be aggressive behaviour, it is essentially a defensive strategy.
Just like other animals, dogs strive to defend themselves by reacting aggressively to pain in order to avoid future discomfort. They often attack the person or animal closest to them rather than the item inflicting harm.
When your dog is in pain, treat them very carefully. Many owners get bit while attempting to help their injured dog.
Dogs often do their best to protect resources they possess.Your dog will protect valuable resources such as food, toys, and a bed, but they will also protect less valuable ones such as trash.
In order to maintain authority over these resources, they might use behaviours including snarling, snapping, and even biting. Your dog can get aggressive and will respond instantly when another human, or a pet, approaches their stuff.
Territorial dogs may also respond when suspected intruders approach their territory. Depending on the severity of the situation, reactions might range from a simple growl to a full-fledged attack that involves biting.
Dogs are social animals who live in packs, which means there is a tight hierarchy in the family, even if you aren't aware of it. Other dogs may be lower in status, therefore a dominant dog may occasionally "remind" them who's the boss by demonstrating hostile body language.
In multi-dog households, there isn't normally a dominant or submissive dog. Instead, dogs' roles differ based on the circumstances. For example, if your dog claims a favourite toy, they may allow your other dog to claim the couch.
Fights might occur if more than one dog attempts to be the leader in a certain situation. To avoid this, reward their respectful behaviour, and regulate the atmosphere.
Fear is a powerful motivator for dogs, just as it is for people. When confronted with a frightening circumstance, your anxious dog might be between flight and fight— and if they're fear-aggressive, they might choose the latter.
Dogs who are worried about their own safety are more likely to bite another human or dog. The threat might be real or imagined, as these are only viewed through the eyes of your dog. For example, a person may be reaching over to your dog to grab their collar, but your dog may interpret the move as bad intentions, causing them to respond angrily.
Fear aggressiveness in dogs, unlike most other kinds of dog aggression, has no warning indications. Your dog will not growl, show their teeth, or snarl before nipping at their source of fear. That's because they will only react when they believe they have no other choice than to defend themselves.
In most situations, this behaviour is the result of a traumatic event in your dog's past.
When your dog is prevented from doing something they want to do or is forced to do something they don't want to do, they may become upset and show aggressiveness towards the nearest animal or person.
Aggression caused by being physically restrained by their collar or placed into a kennel is an example of frustrated aggression.
If your dog is generally nice and quiet, but begins lunging, barking, and attempting to bite as soon as you put on their leash, this is a clear indication that they are leash-aggressive.
This form of aggressive behaviour is commonly directed towards other dogs and arises from your dog feeling constrained and annoyed by their leash.
Although a leash-aggressive dog rarely attacks a dog passerby (after all, you're holding the other end of the leash), it's certainly embarrassing when your dog acts up in public. Proper housetraining could’ve prevented this, as they will learn from an early age how leash works when you take them outside.
Leash aggression is common when your dog is not trained on time, but it is the easiest type of aggressive behaviour to correct.
When your dog acts aggressively for any of the reasons listed above, but especially fear-motivated aggression, they may have learned that the best way to get what they want is to repeat the aggressiveness.
If your dog learns that barking and lunging at the mailman makes them leave, he will learn that it works and they'll continue to do so. Similarly, if biting a hand reaching for them causes the hand to disappear, they will quickly learn to bite in order to avoid unwanted touch.
How to address your dog’s aggression
Don’t punish your dog
Punishing your dog for aggressive behaviour almost always backfires and worsens the situation. If you hit, shout, or use any unpleasant approach to respond to your growling dog, they may feel the need to defend itself by biting you.
Punishment may also cause your dog to bite someone else unexpectedly. For example, if your dog growls at kids, that means they’re expressing their discomfort in the kids’ presence.
If you punish your dog for growling, they may bite instead of warning you the next time they're uncomfortable.
Know what causes the aggression
Correcting your dog's aggressive behaviour starts with knowing the causes behind it.
Some dogs growl when someone approaches them while they are eating or chewing a bone. Some are hostile towards kids or strangers.
Aggression does not have to be directed at a specific person. Your dog can become aggressive in the presence of other animals, or just selected animals (cats but not other dogs, or only bigger dogs but not other animals and same-sized dogs), or at inanimate things such as car wheels or yard equipment.
Keep track of when your dog becomes aggressive, as well as the events surrounding the behaviour. This will be crucial in deciding your next action. It is critical to address the underlying cause of the aggression. The behaviour might be a sign of a bigger issue.
Consult your veterinarian
If your dog is not normally aggressive but suddenly exhibits aggressive behaviour, they may have an underlying medical condition. Hypothyroidism, severe injuries, and neurological issues such as encephalitis, epilepsy, and brain tumours can all cause aggressiveness.
Consult your veterinarian to see whether this is the situation with your dog. Treatment or medications may significantly improve your dog's behaviour.
Seek a professional’s help
If your veterinarian has ruled out any medical issues, you can consult with a professional dog trainer or animal behaviourist. Because aggression is such a serious issue, you should not try to solve it on your own.
A professional can assist you in determining the reasons behind your dog's aggressiveness and will help you develop a plan to handle it.