Dog Aggression: How to Stop Aggressive Behavior in Its Tracks

by | May 26, 2020 | Dog Psychology

Everyone can get a little aggressive if they feel threatened, and it’s a natural behavior in dogs that serves a purpose.

The problem arises, however, when a dog is showing aggression in situations that don’t warrant the behavior.

Is your dog showing some aggressive tendencies? Are you nervous about whether or not your dog can handle social situations well?

Dog aggression can be a very serious problem, so keep reading to learn more about what it is, what you can do about it, and how to stop it from happening in the first place.

What Is Dog Aggression?

There are a few types of dog aggression that help explain why your dog may be showing signs of aggression in different situations.

Dominance Aggression

This is aggression that is motivated by a dog feeling challenged about their social status or control. A well-socialized dog is going to be able to work this out without a problem, but dogs that have not been socialized will use the only tool they have (aggression) to resolve the issue. 

Dominance problems with people might happen if a dog feels like the hierarchy is not clear.

Some dogs may think they deserve to be higher than the people, even those in their family, so they must be trained with positive praise and reward-based techniques to reinforce the hierarchy. Never try to intimidate, physically correct, or challenge a dog as this will just reinforce that negative behavior. 

Fear Aggression 

This is a defensive type of aggression that a dog exhibits when they think there is danger nearby.

If a dog thinks you will hurt them, for example, they may try to defend themselves before you’ve done anything at all. Your dog may have a medical condition that makes them feel less secure and less capable of defending themselves, which could cause them to lash out.

Figuring out the reason your dog is fear aggressive is the best way to stop this type of behavior. You can reduce this with training and socialization, but doing so in a controlled way is absolutely essential. 

Territorial Aggression

Dogs will view certain items as “their property” and if anyone or anything else messes with that, they may get upset. If they do get upset, they may be territorial and this is another type of aggression.

This can be a problematic aggression type for several reasons, but dogs may view things that aren’t even on your property as theirs and if other dogs try to use it, it becomes a bigger issue.

Possessive Aggression

This is when a dog wants to defend his possessions. You may have witnessed a dog that guards their food or toys, but dogs can act like this about almost anything that is important to them. 

It could be a spot on the couch or a dirty shoe they found in the back of the closet. For this type of aggression, it could work to trade your dog for a better item or place and alleviate the aggression this way.

Prey Aggression

Dogs have a natural instinct to want to get their own food, but in some dogs, it is more strong than others. If you’re finding that your dog likes to hurt smaller animals, like rabbits, mice, or cats, this is unsafe behavior.

We are responsible for the behavior of our pets because we are their caregivers and guardians. It is important to protect your dog from the tendency to act like a predator.

Redirected Aggression

Redirected aggression is a lesser-known type of aggression, but it is just as important to be aware of as the others. This happens when a dog is already aggressive or is agitated, but then that attention is placed onto someone or something else.

Aggression vs. Playing

There are some aggressive behaviors that a dog may exhibit while playing that are not dangerous and shouldn’t warrant an “aggressive dog” label. 

It’s important to have the ability as a dog owner to see the difference and know when it is time for you to intervene.

You could see dogs that like to fight, wrestle, play-bite, or bark. While this may look aggressive to us, it is really just the dogs having fun! 

If you think there is an actual aggressive moment between dogs that isn’t fun anymore, you have to intervene before it gets worse. This is why observing your dog closely during play is very important.

When You Should Intervene

Watch for these stress signals when dogs are playing and if you see them, step in to put a stop to the interaction.

  • Freezing – the dog is rigid and becomes nervous
  • Directly staring – the dog may be stressed or stalking the other dog
  • Stiffness – the dog may do this when he or she is tense
  • Snarling – the dog is uncomfortable and might be about to snap or growl
  • Deep and low growling – the dog isn’t growling in a playful way, but appears stressed and dominant

Remember that when you redirect aggression, the dog may direct that aggression to someone or something else. This could be you, another dog, or another person.

Always be careful and have a plan of what you will do if your dog starts to become aggressive during a play session.

When to See a Professional

If your dog normally is not aggressive and suddenly exhibits these behaviors, you need to visit a veterinarian. There may be a medical problem that is causing the aggression.

Talk with your veterinarian to see if there are treatment options or medications that may help.

If the veterinarian says that a medical problem isn’t the cause, you may want to contact a professional trainer. Aggression can be a serious problem, so you don’t want to fix it on your own.

A professional trainer will help you determine the cause of the aggression and take the most effective steps towards creating a behavior management plan.

How to Prevent Aggression

It is easier to prevent aggression early on (when possible) than it is to correct it later.

To prevent aggression, make sure that you are giving your dog a good training program from the get-go, especially if he or she is still a puppy.

  • Socialize your dog – have play dates with other puppies or well-behaved adult dogs to help your puppy learn how to interact
  • Spay and neuter – do this as soon as it is safe to do so, as it will reduce hormone-driven aggressive behavior
  • Use positive reinforcement – be kind to your dog and never try to intimidate or physically correct the dog
  • Supervise – keep your dog supervised to make sure they are not learning the wrong behaviors

With these tips, you will be able to support your dog as he or she grows into a gentle adult.

Learn How to Spot and Stop Dog Aggression

Dog aggression can be scary, but putting a damper on the behaviors sooner rather than later is critical. Get help if you need it and be sure to always show kindness to your pup! 

Now that you know what dog aggression looks like, you may be curious about other things that you need to know as a dog owner. 

Check out our article on some of the top products you need to get for your dog today and explore the rest of our website!