The most important thing to know as a dog owner is what to do if your dog shows signs of aggression. Although having an aggressive dog can be scary, the good news is that you can take steps right away to understand, reduce, and possibly eliminate this behavior.
Aggressive Dog Behaviors
If your dog exhibits any of the following aggressive behaviors, call your veterinarian right away.
Aggressive dog behaviors can include:
- Signs of aggression toward strangers
- Aggression toward family members
- Guarding of resources, such as food, treats or toys
- Threatening behavior or fighting with other dogs in the household
- Threatening behavior or fighting with unknown dogs
Veterinarians can assess whether this behavior has a clinical reason such as pain, discomfort, or another physical cause.
In the absence of a medical explanation, request a referral to a professional behaviorist from your veterinarian. Consult your pet insurance policy to see if visits to pet behaviorists are covered.
Regardless of how well you know your dog, do not try to treat your dog’s aggression yourself. A timely professional intervention can prevent your dog’s behavior from escalating and prevent harm to yourself, your family, other people, and animals.
Why is My Dog Aggressive?
An assessment by a qualified behaviorist or veterinarian is required to answer this question. You can ask them to identify your dog’s triggers and what the next steps are in addressing aggressive behavior.
How to Manage Aggression
On walks, if your dog shows aggression toward people or other dogs, keep him on a leash and consider training him to wear a muzzle when you are outside or in public.
If your dog is difficult to control while on a leash, you should let him play in a fenced-in yard. Engage him in enrichment activities and games to provide him with lots of mental stimulation. As a result, you will burn off some energy and improve your bond in a safe space until you can see a behaviorist.
Aggression Toward Visitors
Before you open the door or greet guests, put your dog in the yard or a secure room if he is aggressive toward people. Some dogs only show aggression when people enter their territory. Take extra care at doorways, gates, and even car doors.
Aggression Toward Other Dogs
Until you can consult a behaviorist, keep your dogs apart to prevent aggression.
Should a fight break out between two dogs, don’t try to separate them with your hands – you could get seriously injured. Keeping a reasonable distance and avoiding any possibility that your dog might redirect his aggression toward you should always be your top priority.
Dog fights often appear worse than they are. The dogs will usually separate without human intervention. React quickly if a fight breaks out. Try yelling or clapping your hands loudly to distract them first. Try throwing water or a towel over them, or make a loud noise, such as clanging metal pans. During that brief moment of startled surprise, one of the dogs might be able to remove himself from the fight.
Fear Aggression in Dogs
Dogs are prone to aggressive behavior due to fear and as a form of self-defense. This is an attempt to stop the things he finds frightening or unpleasant, make them go away or prevent them from happening at all.
An insufficient early puppy socialization program, past experiences or the perception that valuable resources-such as food-are at risk of being taken away can all cause fear in a dog. When handled roughly as a puppy, some dogs may grow up to be more reactive as adults.
You should never punish your dog for growling or any other display of aggression because fear is the most common cause of aggressive behavior in dogs. Shouting at a dog for growling at something he fears can aggravate his fear, cause confusion, and lead to a more aggressive response next time. Furthermore, by shouting at your dog, you may inadvertently train them not to communicate their fear early and they might bite in the future if they find themselves in a similar situation.
Dog Aggression Warning Signs
Dog aggression warning signs can include:
- Yawning or licking lips: This is often the first indicator that your dog feels uncomfortable.
- Head turn: Along with yawning or licking lips, he may turn his head away from the cause of his discomfort.
- Whale eye: Often, aggressive dog behavior will include a dog showing the whites of his eyes, commonly known as “whale eye.”
- Crouching with his tail between his legs: More obvious warning signs include crouching with his tail between his legs, lifting his paw or tensing around the eyes or mouth.
- Stillness: Sometimes, a dog will become stiff or still before he becomes aggressive.
- A wagging tail: A wagging tail isn’t always indicative of a friendly dog. A stiff wagging tail or a tail wag in a dog who is crouching with a lowered body language can all signal a conflicted, fearful or worried dog.
- Growling: This is often the last warning—yet for many people, this is the first time they notice something is wrong. Growling is a clear expression of fear and discomfort. He will likely escalate to biting if the situation does not change. If your dog feels punished for growling, he may fail to give you that final warning and instead escalate straight to the next level—biting.
What Should I Do If My Dog is Aggressive?
Recognize how your dog is feeling. Dogs often show warning signs before biting or attacking-especially the first time-but their owners don’t always recognize those signals.
How to Help an Agitated Dog
- Remove the source of your dog’s stress, fear or arousal or remove him from the situation.
- Take steps to prevent the situation from reoccurring. For example, if your dog shows signs of food aggression, feed him in a room by himself until you can seek professional advice.
- All dogs are different and have their own individual stressors. Watch your dog for cues on how he’s feeling. Most aggression happens because owners put their dogs in situations that make dogs uncomfortable.
- If aggression becomes a regular behavior or if you’re concerned that it might, or if you feel threatened by your dog in any way, seek professional help immediately.
- If your dog shows any of the behaviors detailed above around children, immediately separate them and avoid all encounters with children while seeking a referral to a dog behaviorist. The same goes for any other people in the family or anyone you encounter. Never take chances with people’s safety or the safety of your dog.
- Seek professional advice sooner rather than later for all cases of aggression.