So-called “aggressive” dogs are among the most challenging personality types to handle, especially around other dogs. Though there are many stigmas around certain breeds, like Pitbulls, being linked to aggression, little research has supported these allegations. While aggression might be one of the most severe behavioral problems you will deal with, it is still a behavior problem that can be solved. This article will discuss what makes dogs aggressive and a few aggressive dog training tips for treating this behavioral issue.
What Is an Aggressive Dog?
Dogs with aggressive personalities are quick to go on the offensive in a tense situation and are usually quick to escalate an encounter. These dogs need a firm owner with consistent leadership that the dog can and will follow. Aggressive or dominant dogs are not a good idea for most first-time dog owners or someone who isn’t able to establish themselves as a firm leader.
Dogs with an aggressive personality often make fantastic guard dogs and protectors. Many aggressive dogs are intelligent and quick learners. With the right human leaders, they can be wonderfully loyal, gentle, and loving with their families.
Signs of Aggression
Before determining what might be causing your dog’s aggression, it’s essential to pinpoint what situations cause your dog to display aggression. To do that, we need to identify the aggressive behaviors and signals your dog displays. Signs of aggression include:
- Becoming unusually rigid or still, often with a quickly-wagging tail
- Growling, snarling, or baring teeth
- Nipping or biting
In addition to signs of aggression, there are also signs of stress. Signs of stress may escalate to signs of aggression if you do not take control of the situation. These signs include:
- Lip licking
- Averting gaze
- Raised fur
- Cowering or tail-tucking
- Seeing the whites of the eyes
What Makes a Dog Aggressive?
Dogs show aggression for all sorts of reasons. Understanding the source of your dog’s aggression is the first step in aggressive dog training. Here are a few common causes of aggression:
A dog who is afraid can easily show aggressive behavior as a defense mechanism. For rescue dogs who might have had a difficult upbringing, they may associate specific actions with negative meanings. Dogs can fear certain people, animals, or situations. Dogs that act aggressively due to fear need help to gain confidence in themselves and in you as a leader. If your dog attempts to avoid certain things or situations and then shows aggression once cornered, they are exhibiting aggression due to fear.
Aggression as a result of possessiveness is also called resource guarding. That resource could be food, toys, or even you, their human. A dog exhibiting possession aggression may growl at an animal or human who approaches the object they do not want to share. A dog may be possessive of their territory, displaying aggression when a stranger enters their yard or home.
Frustration aggression usually comes out in a dog that spends most of the day behind a chain-link fence, on a leash, or otherwise restricted. There is something your dog wants to get to, perhaps another dog, an animal, etc., that it cannot reach. Your dog becomes more and more frustrated until they begin exhibiting signs of aggression. They might rush the fence, lunge while on a leash, or even turn around and take their frustration out on something else that they can reach.
Injury or Illness
If your dog does not have a history of aggression but begins to show signs, they may have an underlying injury or illness. Significant discomfort or stress resulting from a physical health issue can lead to altered behavior in your canine companion. There are also mental health problems such as cognitive dysfunction or other neurological brain diseases that can cause onset symptoms of aggression. If you cannot determine the cause of your dog’s aggression, visit your veterinarian to rule out an injury or illness.
Tips For Aggressive Dog Training
Training an aggressive dog can be difficult. Progress is often slow and frustrating for dogs and humans alike, but the payoff is invaluable. Aggression can seem like an impossible issue, but in the end, it is still just a behavior issue. With determination and patience, your training can and will pay off. Here are a few tips for aggressive dog training.
Get Professional Assistance
Our number one piece of advice is to seek professional help. While aggression is a behavioral issue like many others, it is a complicated issue to tackle alone, especially without experience. A dog exhibiting aggression could hurt you or another animal, even if they are only acting out of fear. If you don’t have experience training an aggressive dog, we strongly recommend consulting with someone who has. A professional trainer can help you determine the cause of your dog’s aggression and help you develop a behavior modification plan for your dog.
Positive Reinforcement, Always
While positive reinforcement isn’t always the answer in dog training, it is for aggressive behavior. Many dogs exhibiting aggressive behavior are doing so due to fear or frustration, and adding punishment into that mix is likely to make the behavior worse, not better. The goal is to reward what your dog does right instead of what they are doing wrong. Set your dog up for success and reward them heavily. Learn more about dog training treats here.
Stay Calm, Soft, and Firm
Soft and firm? How can we be both? Dogs can understand human emotions, taking cues from our body language and tone of voice. If you’re excited, your dog gets excited too. If you’re nervous because you know a triggering situation is approaching your dog, they will pick up on that and be worried also. It’s essential to be a calm, confident presence for your dog to look to in situations that stress them out. It’s also important to speak softly and firmly to your dog when engaging in aggressive dog training. While you want to remain positive and avoid speaking in a harsh tone, you also want your dog to see you as a firm leader they can trust and follow.
Take Your Time
One of the worst things you can do for your furbaby is to rush their aggressive dog training. All training should be taken slowly, step by step, and this is especially true for dogs showing signs of aggression. Trying to force your dog to accept triggers instead of slowly desensitizing them will likely make their aggression worse, not better. Instead, take your time, be consistent, and remain patient. Your hard work will pay off.
An Example of Desensitization
Let’s say your dog is triggered by other dogs; if they see another dog, they begin to act aggressively. To desensitize your dog, you have to have them around their trigger (other dogs) but at a distance where they do not react or behave aggressively. When your dog is around or within sight of their trigger but does not respond, you reward. Over time, you will be able to move slightly closer to the trigger without your dog reacting. Eventually, they’ll stop responding altogether. This is called desensitization.
A Sad Story With a Happy Ending
The sad truth is, aggressive dogs are often dropped off at animal shelters. Though their behavior is often due to no fault of their own, they are much less likely to get adopted and are often humanely euthanized. If your dog exhibits or develops signs of aggression, hope is not lost. With the help of a qualified trainer, one who has experience with aggressive dog behavior, you can successfully complete aggressive dog training that allows your dog to live a long, healthy, happy, calm life.