BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How to Stop Aggressive Behavior and Socialize Your Dog

how to stop aggressive behavior in dogs
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Dog aggression is a serious problem for pet owners. If this unhealthy behavior is not corrected when you first spot it, there are major chances to lead to injuries. It is important to understand that you are responsible for the way your dog acts. This means that you need to be calm and strict when you teach it a new trick or point out that it did something bad. Though it is a sensitive issue, it can be approached in a professional manner if you know with what you are dealing. This means that you need to understand the roots of what troubles the dog in order to be able to fix it.

Aggression is a very complex behavior, and it can be triggered by various events. In some cases, it can be caused by frustration, while in others, it can be a sign of dominance. In order to calm down your dog, you need to be able to spot what exactly made it act like that. You can have a happy pet if you learn how to induce a moderate attitude. This implies exercises, a calm-assertive attitude and constant care. The information included in this article aims to reveal the multiple factors of aggression, and tips to help you teach your dog to respect the rules.

Definition of aggression

In order to learn what to do with an aggressive dog, you need to understand what the hostile behavior implies. It can be triggered by various reasons, according to the circumstances. In most cases, it is a defense mechanism to protect itself or something (like food, or the favorite toy). As a result, it completely changes its attitude towards the owner, other dog or other person.

At this stage, you need to be able to identify the signs so you can prevent an attack. According to the breed, some dogs can be very territorial, and this is why you need to put great emphasis on socialization from a young age.

Aggressive dog

Some pet owners are taken completely by surprise when their dog flies off the handle out of the blue with the intention to bite another pet or a person who is passing by. In order to control it, you need to be able to identify the body language. Aggression can be spotted through certain behavior. Though dogs may skip a step or two, these sequences can help you prevent an imminent attack:

  • The dog becomes very rigid and still almost instantly;
  • You can hear a threatening guttural bark, that is very different from its usual way of barking;
  • Direct contact with the pet or person that is perceived as threat and a charging attitude;
  • Mouthing, but without applying any pressure on the leash;
  • A direct first attack, with no biting;
  • The dog growls and shows its teeth;
  • It starts to bite, by applying almost no pressure in the beginning, that advances to rapid deep bites and shakes.

As it can be seen, an aggressive behavior starts rather peacefully. The switch of attitude, from growling to biting, can occur pretty fast, and this is when the owners are taken by surprise and get scared. If this tense situation is not corrected through a calm, but firm attitude, it can end up with many frustrations. At the same time, you will feel less eager to walk your dog or to introduce it to your friends.

Unfortunately, this will only increase the hostility of your pet. Recognizing the steps that precede an attack can help you remain in charge. The next thing that needs to be comprehended is the root of aggression.

Types of aggressive behavior

You can learn how to stop aggressive behavior in dogs only if you understand the thing that triggers it. If you experienced such an unpleasant situation in the past, or if you feel that your dog tends to be hostile in certain contexts, it is time to search for solutions.

The first thing that you need to do is to think about the things that upset your pet. To be more exact, to establish what made it act in a certain way, which were the circumstances and who else was around. You also need to consider the attitude of your pet and what made it calm down.

Why dogs bite

Based on these elements, you can identify 11 major types of aggression:

  • Territorial aggression is quite instinctive, considering that their ancestors used to defend their area from intruders. It can be defined by barking and even biting. It is manifested at the boundaries of their owner’s property, but even towards people who visit the home.
  • Protective aggression occurs when your pet has puppies, or it considers the person who walks it vulnerable. It is also based on the primary instinct, and it has the purpose to protect those (other dogs or family members) who appear to be in danger.
  • Possessive aggression is generally triggered towards the food, as well as the favorite spot or toy. It can be manifested through growling or through hiding different objects, and this makes it very easy to identify.
  • Fear aggression is, in fact, a fight response towards other animals or people who are perceived as threatening. Though most dogs prefer to retreat, if they feel cornered, they can attack and bite. If you’d like to read more on this subject matter, please take a look at our article on fear aggression in dogs.
  • Defensive aggression is similar to the one triggered by fear, but in this case the dog prefers to attack rather than run. It will also prefer to be the first one to bite, so an attack is imminent in this situation.
  • Social aggression occurs when you have more than a dog. At this stage, the pack creates its own hierarchy, and taking the food away, or hugging another dog can be perceived as a threat, leading to a hostile response.
  • Frustration-elicited aggression can be caused by external factors that arouse the dog, and something holds it back from grabbing it. If this occurs while you are walking your pet, it can become so excited that it can start biting the leash or even your hand in order to free itself.
  • Redirected aggression is also caused by frustration, but it occurs when something or someone interferes between the dog and the thing that aroused it. This is why pet owners can be bitten when interfering in a dog fight.
  • Pain-elicited aggression is triggered when a dog does not feel well. Whether it is an infection, an injury or an orthopedic condition, the dog perceives you as a threat. If your pet gets injured in any way, it is important to handle this situation very carefully, to prevent biting.
  • Sex-related aggression occurs when they are trying to reproduce. Though this is an aspect that is kept under control by pet owners, the males can sometimes fight to grab the attention of a female in heat.
  • Predatory aggression is instinctual and comes from their ancestors. Dogs love to chase things, including cars and people on skates or bicycles. Though, in most cases the purpose is not to harm them, it can be extremely disturbing and can cause injuries.

Traits of an aggressive behavior

It is easier to learn how to socialize an aggressive dog if you know what actually causes it to act like that. If you have several pet friends, you will see that they act according to a hierarchy. In order o be able to control their reaction, it is mandatory to be seen as the pack leader.

Dogs who perceive themselves too high in this hierarchy can become aggressive even with family members, and this is an unpleasant scenario, especially if you have children. A docile behavior needs to be learnt from a young age, because puppies tend to be less hostile and more eager to meet people and other pets.

If you wish to see if your adult dog has an aggressive behavior, you need to put it in different situations and analyze the way it acts. The following examples will also help you understand how you are perceived by the dog, as a leader or equal:

  • try to take its food away while eating;
  • try to take its favorite toy or chew bone;
  • wake it up while it is sleeping;
  • try to physically move the dog while it is resting in a comfortable position;
  • take it by surprise and give it a big hug and a kiss;
  • try to reach an object that is behind the dog, and bend over it while doing this;
  • make the dog lie down, or on its back (this is perceived as a submissive position);
  • try to lift the dog by its front paws, or pick it up if it is not too heavy;
  • show the dog its favorite toy and hold it back from reaching it;
  • try to wipe its face;
  • touch its sensitive spots, like feet or ears;
  • try to trim its nails;
  • fix its collar and put its leash or harness;
  • scold the dog verbally;
  • when it does something bad, threaten it with a rolled-up newspaper;
  • walk together through the same door, and bump it on the way out/in.

If your dog replies with growling or barking, you are most probably dealing with an aggressive dog. Fortunately, this is a behavior that can be corrected, as long as you manage to turn from an equal to a leader. Its grumpiness can also be felt when it meets other pets, and if you are not careful, it can end up with injuries. Though you love your dog and would do nothing to hurt it, it is mandatory to develop a relationship based on discipline and respect. This is a serious situation, and if you do not do something about it can get from bad to worse in no time.

Aggression towards other dogs

Before talking about aggression towards other dogs, it is important to be able to differentiate it from hyper energy. Some dogs are so happy to socialize that they tend to overwhelm their playing partner. When your pet meets another dog, it is vital to observe its behavior. If you see any signs of stress, you need to interrupt their socialization before the situation escalates. There are various reasons that can trigger an assertive behavior:

  • fear;
  • stress of having its personal space violated;
  • the need to dominate the other dog;
  • overprotection towards the owner;
  • curiosity;
  • over-excitement.

One thing is certain, a stressful situation can only be exceeded through a calm approach. To be more exact, your pet is very sensitive to how you feel and act. As a result, it will respond accordingly, but with greater intensity. If you worry too much about how your pet will react when it meets another dog, you practically transmit anxiety that can make it act in an aggressive manner. In order to make the situation less stressful for your pet, remember to avoid putting too much pressure on the leash and calmly, but quickly pass aside the other dog.

Dogs fighting

If you do not put great emphasis on a dog that passes near you, neither will your pet. Avoidance can be a strong weapon, especially if you know that the other pet tends to be aggressive and starts to growl and bark. If the dog feels trapped between you and the growling one, it will find no other choice but to respond in the same manner.

If you create the adequate space, your pet will feel safer and in control of the situation. It is also a good idea to try to avoid intense eye contact with other dogs that pass by. If you do not allow this negative behavior and correct it whenever is needed, you will physically engage it towards a healthy way to respond to hostility.

You can also take extra measures in preventing your dog from injuring another dog, if there’s no way you can really avoid a confrontation. Please take a look at our article on the best dog muzzles you can find in the market. It may seem like a drastic option, but there are plenty of dogs who haven’t been traumatized by wearing muzzles, as long as they are introduced properly and aren’t used as a punishment.

Aggression towards people

Dogs are raised as docile pets that can brighten the life of the owner. However, there are situations when something goes terribly wrong, and your pet companion becomes aggressive.

It is good to know that there are certain behaviors that are perceived as threatening by dogs: walking straight towards it, staring into its eyes, or patting it on top of its head. They are seen as confrontation, and as a result, you receive a hostile response. This is why it is important to be able to read the signs, in order to avoid putting stress on the pet. With a bit of care and education, you can avoid unpleasant situations.

Aggression towards people is triggered by fear and anxiety. The dog can respond in a threatening mode if it needs to face unfamiliar appearances. The hostile approach when dealing with something new or unexpected has roots in its genetics. Some breeds are more anxious than others, but this is not the only thing that can make a dog bite a person. Lack of socialization, for example, can truly isolate the dog.

This makes it very difficult to be able to react in a positive manner when dealing with other people besides the family members, In order to prevent this from happening, it is a wise idea to expose the pup to other people from a young age (14 weeks). At the same time, it is important to avoid using a harsh tone, as this can cause stress and anxiety.

Dog bites

Though genetics plays a major role in the tendency of a dog towards aggression, the environment where you raise it also has a lot to do. In order to prevent this from happening it is important to respect the boundaries of your dog. To be more exact, you should avoid pushing it pass the toleration point. At the same time, it is important to encourage a healthy behavior from a young age:

  • socialize the puppy with the outside world;
  • get it accustomed to petting by touching its mouth, tail, ears and paws;
  • treat it with kindness and use positive reinforcement to encourage it to overcome its fear and embrace a positive behavior;
  • learn more about the background of its parents so you know with what you may be dealing with.

To make it easy for you, we have a list of the top 10 most aggressive dog breeds but we ask that you read with an open mind, as environment does also play a factor on the temperament of dogs.

As it can be seen, aggression is a behavior that is influenced by a series of factors. Dog owners are directly responsible for the way their pets react to different stimulus. In order to prevent unfortunate events form happening you need to be able to control your dog. To be more exact, you must understand its needs and to read the signs it transmits.

Whenever you spot the tendency to become hostile, you need to correct it immediately. Genetics plays a major role, but what truly matters is the care and values you transmit. Keep in mind that you need to put great emphasis on socialization from a young age (with both people and other dogs) and to encourage the pup to respect the rules and to treat you as a leader, but also a loving master.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • anna willard

    I know Beagles are territorial but is this kinda normal? He’s the sweetest and friendliest dog around and doesn’t bite or play nip. My dog sleeps with me in my room. Whenever someone opens the door, he lets out a low growl until I tell him to stop. Sometimes, he stops on his own when he recognizes the “visitor” to our room. Should I just let it slide and ignore this behavior? Or should I step in and intervene in some way? Do your dogs do this as well?

    • Some Beagles have this tendency to become very territorial. However, this can be prevented or at least reduced if at an early age, the puppy will be well-socialized.

  • Robin James

    It is important to train the dog from the beginning. Often aggressive dogs do it because they don’t know how to behave correctly. They have activated a defense mechanism and they immediately succumb to natural instincts.

  • Early training and socialization works wonders because it establishes a more controlled and favorable behaviour. As pet parents, we really have to do something on how we mold our dog’s personality to avoid preventable aggression.

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