How To Stop Aggressive Behavior In Dogs
And warning signs to watch out for 👀🛑
Does your dog have some aggressive tendencies?
Whether he’s snapping, growling or displaying other signs of this scary dog behavior, it’s important that you figure out what’s going on and stop it before somebody gets hurt.
Keep in mind that in most cases, your dog will warn you he’s uncomfortable well before aggression kicks in — so it’s up to you to advocate for your dog by knowing these signs and de-escalating the situation, when possible.
Figure out why your dog’s becoming aggressive
“If your dog is engaging in behavior that is seemingly aggressive, first you want to evaluate why,” Shelby Semel, head trainer at Animal Haven rescue in New York City, told The Dodo.
- Is the behavior taking place when a human is trying to clean his paws?
- Is the behavior taking place when another dog approaches?
- Is the behavior taking place when a deliveryman comes to the door?
According to Semel, there’s no one single fix, and “aggression in dogs” is a blanket statement. “We need to break it down and get to the root of the problem,” Semel said.
Kinds of aggressive behavior in dogs
The most important thing to understand, according to Semel, is that you can’t solve this issue without knowing exactly why it’s happening. The most common types of dog aggression fall into one of these categories:
Territorial aggression: This is when a dog becomes aggressive over “his” territory — like his home or kennel — and tries to protect it from people or animals he doesn't know or trust.
Fear aggression: This is when a dog is scared of something, like a stranger, and tries to get away from whatever’s scaring him. He might react when the scary person approaches while he feels cornered.
Possessive aggression: This is when a dog is protective over people, or objects, that he considers his — like his mom, favorite toy or food.
Protective aggression: This is when a dog displays aggressive behavior when he’s protecting members of his pack — like other animals or human family members.
Sex aggression: This is when two males or two females display aggression toward each other, especially when competing to get a mate. This can be avoided by making sure your dog is spayed or neutered.
Social aggression: This is when a dog hasn’t been properly socialized and becomes aggressive toward other animals or people in social settings.
Defensive aggression: This is when a dog reacts aggressively when trying to defend himself, or when his cues haven’t been respected — like when he turns away from an energized dog, and the other dog doesn’t leave him alone.
Redirected aggression: This is when a dog redirects his aggression toward something else. For instance, he’s all wound up by a barking dog across the street and ends up turning on his brother dog who’s also on the walk.
Predatory aggression: This is when a dog becomes aggressive when he’s “on the hunt” for something — like a squirrel.
The best way to stop aggressive behavior is to be proactive and help it not happen in the first place — and one of the best ways to do that is to be able to pick up on the cues that your dog might be ready to become aggressive.
Signs your dog might become aggressive
These are some of the most common signs that a dog is trying to let you know he’s not comfortable in a situation (of course, also take these within context — sometimes your dog’s just yawning because he’s tired or bored):
- Lip licking
- Showing teeth
- Growling or snapping
- Raised hackles
- Avoiding gaze
- Rigid body
- Turning head away
- Walking away
Knowing these common cues, and understanding your dog’s body language, will help you be able to notice when he’s uncomfortable and give you the chance to get him out of that situation — or redirect his attention.
How to stop dog aggression
Of course, it’s important to not just go into treating dog aggression without a professional — so talking to your vet and a dog trainer or behaviorist is going to be super important to ensure everyone’s safety and happiness!
Once you and a trainer are able to diagnose the issue, you’ll be able to put together an action plan.
This will probably include positive reinforcement training sessions to help your dog become desensitized to certain triggers — and teach you how to properly, and safely, redirect his behavior.
Of course, make sure you avoid punishment when your dog does become aggressive, because this could lead to even more issues down the road!
“When you get a dog, learn about dog body language, proper socialization, and hire a certified positive reinforcement dog trainer!” Semel said.