A dog being aggressive is an incredibly stressful moment for a dog owner. It can take all the fun out of taking a dog for a walk if an owner is able to take the dog out for a walk at all. It can also mean the home is a stressful place if a dog is aggressive to humans, either with or without dogs.
Aggression can manifest itself in a dog through growling, showing its teeth, nipping or even biting a person or other animal. It is, however, a learned behavior and owing to that, it can be stopped. For this reason, it is a huge factor for when dog owners approach dog trainers or behaviourists who can help rectify the problem.
However, that is not the only way to stop a dog from being aggressive. In this guide, we look at ways to help the situation if you do have a dog that is either aggressive on occasion or simply all the time. Before looking at ways to stop dog aggression, though, it is important to know what aggressive behavior in dogs actually looks like. It is not simply just when a dog goes to bite or physically attack another creature. It can also mean when a dog snarls or simply bares its teeth to another. Plus, it is important to try to remember that aggression in dogs does not just come from larger breeds. Smaller breeds can be just as aggressive too and will need the same dedication to training as any other dog.
This guide to training can be used when wondering how to socialize an aggressive dog too as well as simply wondering how to stop dog aggression in general.
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Step 1: Visit Your Vet
Did you know that aggression in dogs, particularly sudden aggression in dogs, can actually be a sign that your dog is suffering from an underlying problem? This could be because they are in pain and so are far more protective of themselves and their bodies, but it could also be the case that they may be suffering from congenital conditions or developed a neurological issue.
It has been known for dogs that are suddenly aggressive to actually be suffering from epilepsy that bring on behavioral seizures or even to have brain tumors that are causing them to behave differently to usual – much like brain tumors can do in humans.
Your vet will be able to identify any of these problems and figure out what is best for your pet. Medication or other forms of treatment have been seen to make dramatic differences in the behavior of dogs whose aggression has been triggered by these issues.
Step 2: Figure Out A Cause For Their Aggression
Once you have been to your vet and been able to rule out any serious medical conditions, it is time to look at your dog and see what brings on their aggression. This step is imperative as their behavior cannot be changed or altered if you do not know the reason behind their aggression in the first place.
There are common triggers for dogs who suffer from aggression. They are:
- Protecting their territory
How many dogs do you know that bark as soon as the doorbell goes or the postman pops a letter through the box? It is a form of (harmless) aggression that some dogs will take to another level. If your dog is trying to defend your home, it can mean that having visitors over is what sparks their aggression.
- Aggression as a form of protection
Dogs are incredibly devoted animals. This can, unfortunately, manifest itself in aggression if it deems one of its family members as under attack or in danger. Keep an eye for whether your dog starts to exhibit aggressive behavior when you or a family member are near another dog or a much larger human being. It could well be that this is the trigger that you have to stop being an issue for your dog so it stops being aggressive.
- Aggressive due to possessiveness
Dogs are pack animals that need to fight to be remembered within that pack – or so their evolutionary hereditary tells them. This can mean that your dog gets aggressive if someone, a family member or not, go near their food or toys at home.
- Aggression brought on by anxiety
Dogs can sometimes practice the motto ‘the best form of defense is attack’ as they are actually very fearful of what is going on around them. As a form of control, they become aggressive so that they can survive what they think is a dangerous situation.
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- Trying to be top dog
Dogs can sometimes become aggressive if they are trying to become top dog in the family. Again this is an evolutionary and almost instinctive trigger that can bring on aggression.
- Aggression due to frustration
Much like a toddler that bites because they cannot make themselves understood, dogs can act similarly. Their frustration may come about if they want to play or go for a walk. Similarly, sometimes dogs can get frustrated if they are playing with someone, but then another person interrupts.
- Aggression when another male dog is near a female
Dogs are carnal animals after all and so can show aggression when trying to ward off another male who is near a female dog that is on the heat.
- Aggression brought on by chasing prey
Dogs can become aggressive if they see potential prey that they want to chase after for food.
Step 3: Your Training Plan
Once you have determined why your dog becomes aggressive, you can create a plan that helps overcome those triggers so that the behavior does not ever come into play again. The best way to do this is through positive reinforcement. This means that you need to reward and praise your dog constantly when they have displayed a new, better behavior. Therefore, if your dog remains calm during a situation that he or she would have ordinarily become aggressive in, give them a treat for their new, learned behavior instead. This way, they are much more likely to repeat it.
A good example of a situation where treats and positive reinforcement really works is if your dog finds being near strangers stressful. If you stand a good distance from those strangers, there is a good chance that your dog won’t have started to exhibit its normal aggressive behavior just yet. At this point, give it a reward from your pocket. Start to minimize the space between you and your dog and the strangers and continually give him or her treats for as long as they are calm. This way your dog will start to see strangers as good things as this is when they get a small morsel of food or a head pat or their favorite dog toys.
Gradually introducing your dog to situations they once found stressful is key to overcoming their aggression.
Consistency Is Key
Above all, dog owners need to realize that they must be consistent in the dog training and this means being patient and enforcing positive behavior at all times. Under no circumstance should you display aggression towards your dog during any type of training, let alone when you are trying to teach your dog that aggression is not the answer. If anything, it can open yourself up to danger too, especially if you have a dog that shows its aggression through biting.
Instead of hitting your dog when he or she is naughty or displaying aggressive behavior, simply try to distract it so that it no longer feels the need to be aggressive any longer. For example, if your dog has started to bear its teeth as there are children nearby try to move the children away, or the dog out of the situation. When your dog becomes calm again, give it a reward.
Other Ideas To Consider
Sometimes, sadly, training simply is not enough to stop aggression in dogs. There are other means available at times like this which you should talk through with your vet. These can include medications that can calm your dog down and really help their aggressive natures.
However, also be mindful of how well you, as the dog’s owner and primary trainer, has stuck to its training plan. This may not be through anyone’s fault, but if, for example, your dog dislikes being near children and their raucous ways, and you live in a home with youngsters around all the time, it does not allow the dog enough space to ‘unlearn’ its learned behavior. Sadly, in cases like this, dogs do have to be rehomed for the good of everyone.
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Fortunately, this is very often not the case and simply with a lot of time, patience and dedication, a dog’s aggression can be diminished to next to nothing. Soon enough, you will be able to take your dog out on walks and let him or her off the lead. You may even be able to stop wondering about how to socialize an aggressive dog as your pooch is a well-behaved canine that enjoys the company of others – including other dogs too.
Make no mistake, however, knowing how to stop a dog from being aggressive and actually completing training so that he or she no longer shows signs of aggression, are two very different things. The latter being incredibly hard. It is far from impossible however and most dogs can become loving, docile creatures when taught how.