Loving your pet is easy, but sometimes dealing with their behaviour is not. Whether you’ve already got enough earplugs for a lifetime, your mailman runs away, or the only time you can walk your dog is before most people have had their coffee, you understand that a dog with aggressive behaviour is a serious issue.
Dealing with Aggressive Behaviour in Your Pet
Aggression is a common behavioural problem in dogs and puppies that often leads to stress for pets and owners alike. Living with a dog who exhibits aggressive behaviour is difficult, as the root of the behaviour is not always clear. If you can recognize the signs of an aggressive pet and know how to correct bad pet behaviour you can manage the challenge that is dog aggression! The first step to managing your aggressive dog is understanding what signs and body language to watch out for:
You May be Dealing with Pet Aggression If You Have to Stock Up on Earplugs
While it is very normal for your dog to “window-watch” and make some noise while they are at home, an aggressive dog might constantly bark and growl violently at everything they see outside. If you find yourself reaching for the earplugs more often than not, it may be worth your while to determine the cause of your dog’s outbursts and find a solution to stop their barking. According to the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) website, there are a variety of signs and symptoms of aggression in dogs that owners can watch out for when trying to determine if their dog is acting too aggressively. Common behaviours include:
- Becoming very still and rigid
- Lunging forward or charging
- Mouthing (sometimes considered “play biting”)
- Showing teeth/ snarling
- Repeated bites in rapid succession
- Bite and shake (also known as “ragdolling” toys or objects)
These behaviours are not an exhaustive list, nor will an aggressive dog always exhibit all of these traits. In order to get an accurate diagnosis of the problem, always visit your veterinarian or dog behavioural specialist who can help you come up with the best plan to manage your dog’s aggressive behaviour.
Did Someone Pee in my Shoe?
Understanding the difference between a “quirky” dog who pees in your shoes when he feels ignored and a genuinely aggressive dog who is marking their territory is an important distinction when identifying aggressive dog behaviour. Different types of aggressive behaviour do exist. Once you have determined that your pet might be aggressive, the next step is understanding why your dog is exhibiting violent, possessive, or dangerous behaviour. According to the ASPCA, types of aggression can include:
Didn’t Your Mother Ever Teach You to Share? Possessive Aggression
Possessive aggression in dogs commonly occurs when the violent or angry behaviour stems from a desire to protect the things that they own. Is your dog guarding food, toys, their bed, or even their owner(s)? You may be dealing with a case of possessive aggression. Possessive behaviours can stem from a variety of sources such as a history of abuse or starvation, personality traits, or even the need for dominance. Training your dog, from the puppy stage if possible, to eat their food in the presence of other animals or people is a step that might help to prevent aggressive behaviour. If this is not possible, feeding your aggressive dog in a secluded, quiet area is a good solution to help minimize aggressive outbursts while eating.
Quick Tip: Feeding your dog little bits of food out of your hand, while providing positive reinforcement, is a step that you can take to encourage food sharing and trust.
Get Off My Property: Territorial Aggression
Territorial aggression often occurs when your dog feels the need to guard their yard or home. Stemming from the dog’s desire to “guard the pack”, your dog might become aggressive towards animals or people it perceives a threat to the safety of its home.
Quick Tip: Separate your dog from the people or animals entering your home for a few moments, and then gradually introduce them to each other to help reduce territorial aggression.
The Dog Park is a Nightmare: Protective Aggression
Protective aggression can occur when a dog feels the need to protect their family members from outsiders. Although this could be misinterpreted as a positive behaviour, it could lead to a violent outburst in which you, as the owner, are responsible for damages! Highly social areas such as dog parks, walking paths, parks, busy streets, etc. might be difficult areas to bring your pet as he/she could see all of the people and animals as threats and react aggressively. If you have never seen the dog park by the light of day, it may be time to investigate why your dog can’t be around other animals without showing aggression.
Quick Tip: Keep socializing in short bursts, with dogs that you know and trust. Introduce dogs gently, and immediately correct any aggressive behaviour. Know your canine body language!
I’m Scared of You: Fear Aggression
Aggression that stems from fear results in the dog’s desire to attack for the purpose of self-preservation. When your dog feels threatened, they may react in a violent manner to try and appear intimidating. Fear aggression can manifest towards humans or other animals, and needs to be corrected in a gentle manner by showing your dog that there is nothing to be afraid of. Closely related is Defence Aggression, where your dog may fight because they feel threatened and do not know what else to do. Try introducing other dogs slowly, in carefully supervised playdates, without toys or food that could potentially cause fights. Do not ever punish your dog with physical violence or yelling, and do not back them into a corner. The ASPCA reminds you to NEVER turn your back on a fearfully aggressive dog for mutual safety. Patience is key in dealing with this type of aggression, but with love and time, fear aggression can be reduced and managed.
Please Stop Humping my Leg: Social Aggression
Dogs who are exhibiting signs of social aggression may react in a violent manner when they feel that their status as “alpha” of the pack is threatened. When the dog perceives a power threat, such as the removal of food bowls, sitting in “their spot” on the couch, restraining them from treats or toys, other “alpha” dogs, etc. aggressive behaviour may result. Dogs, especially in multi-dog households, will often take on aggressive behaviours to assert their dominance, such as humping you or other animals. This could certainly be awkward when your in-laws come to visit! Being firm and assertive when training your pup means that they know their place and can help to minimize their social aggression.
Quick Tip: Walk your dog around in the home on leash to teach them that you are dominant.
Less Common Types of Aggression
Besides the common forms of aggression, there are several lesser-known varieties of aggression that your dog might be showing symptoms of. For example, sexual aggression in dogs results when dogs compete for the attention of other dogs, usually of the opposite sex. Aggression that stems from pain or boredom, aggression from anxiety, etc. are other forms of aggressive behaviour that your dog might be exhibiting. There is no black and white definition of aggressive behaviour that fits every dog, and your pet may exhibit behaviour from one or more types of aggression.
Quick Tip: Always visit your veterinarian before commencing any treatment plan, to rule out injury or illness in your pet. Your veterinarian can provide the best diagnosis for your pet, based on an examination.
So What If You ARE Dealing With Pet Aggression?
If you and your veterinarian or dog behavioural specialist have determined that your pet is suffering from aggressive behaviour, a specialized treatment plan can be devised to help you and your dog cope. Some tips on how to deal with and minimalize aggression in your dog:
Make sure your dog is not in pain, visit the veterinarian!
- Keep your dog well exercised: lots of walks and outdoor/indoor playtime
- Outfit your dog appropriately for walks (such as a harness/muzzle)
- Walk them at less busy times of day until their aggression can be managed and he/she does not pose a threat to themselves or others
- Provide them with plenty of mental stimulation when left alone. Try leaving a radio or television on, and provide them with safe toys or chew toys to occupy them. Note: if you have more than one dog in the home, you may want to put toys and food away when you are not there to supervise
- Feed possessive aggressive dogs in a quiet place where they can be alone, and wait until they have stepped away from their bowl to remove it
- If you have multiple dogs and are concerned about their safety when you are gone, confine the dogs in different rooms
- If your dog exhibits anxious/destructive behaviour when left alone, kennel training might be the option for you
- Try trust building exercises with your dog
- Try obedience or behavioural modification classes with your pet. Puppy training from a young age, if possible, is always recommended
Living with a pet who suffers with aggressive behaviour is entirely possible. With loving patience and careful correction your dog’s aggressive behaviour can be reduced or even eliminated. Dogs who exhibit aggressive behaviours are still capable of unconditional love, and can be amazing companions for life. So take out those earplugs, bake apology cookies for the mailman, and leash up-because the dog park doesn’t have to be scary. Liked this post? Check out the other articles in our blog!