Canine aggression is one of the most common problems observed these days. Though all animals exhibit aggressive behavior from time to time, dog aggression is getting serious with the owners and the trainers getting hurt by their pets.
Some pet parents send their aggressive dogs away to boot camps without even knowing why their dogs were aggressive. When the dogs return from the training sessions, they are again exposed to the stimulus that triggers aggressive behavior.
According to Scientific American society, 72% of dogs show behavioral abnormalities, especially aggression, and the issue needs to be addressed. So, before jumping into the treatment of dog aggression, it is important to understand the reasons and warning signs of it.
Types of Aggression in Dogs
Dog aggression stems from a number of reasons. On the basis of these reasons, aggression in dogs has been divided into the following types:
Territorial aggression is the type of aggressive behavior in which the dogs become overprotective about their property. It can be their kennel, the owner’s house, or the owner’s backyard. Dogs start barking as soon as a strange person comes near their house. Sometimes they start barking right after the bell rang as they have been accustomed to the bell ringing and guests or some other strange people entering the house. Sometimes they start barking at the sight of the strange person after seeing him through the windows. Even if the person is a bit away from the house, it’s possible. If the stranger has entered the house, the dog might not resist biting him.
Traveling in a car with a stranger can also become problematic with aggressive dogs. Moreover, if your dog is in love with the backyard, he would never stand the sight of other dogs, not even behind the fence. Dogs with territorial aggression act perfectly normal outside their territory, such as in dog parks.
Possessive aggression is also called resource guarding. As the name shows, it is a behavior in which the dogs guard their valuable things. It can be a food bowl, a particular place, or chew toys. One of the dogs’ natural instincts is to protect the things they found precious. As long as the dogs are and their things are not disturbed, they remain normal. In the other case, they become aggressive in order to protect their things.
If you have other pets at home, this type of aggression will be most commonly observed. It can also be referred to as protective aggression. For example, dogs will never ever let other animals enter their kennel or take away their chew toys. No compromise on food either. Pet owners also need to be careful while picking up the mess created by the dog. If they misplace things, possessive aggression might build up in the dog. So one needs to organize things in accordance with the dog’s temperament.
Social aggression, also called dominance-based aggression, is mostly seen when a dog encounters other dogs, especially of the same sex and same age. The dog suffering from social aggression tries to dominate other dogs. The dog can get very violent, indulging himself in a one-on-one fight with other dogs. If the pet owners keep checking on their dogs in public, they can save both dogs from getting into a fight. As soon as the dog starts getting aggressive, make sure he is on a leash. Then, try to take another path to eliminate the stimulus. Closely look for the body signs as socially aggressive dogs behave by showing a dominant body posture, like a stiff body and direct eye contact.
Dogs also exhibit aggression when they feel they are in danger. It is called defensive aggression. It is often confused with territorial aggression because, in both cases, dogs show similar signs. Dog owners might be thinking that the dog is being protective about his space or any family member while the dog is suffering from the fear of being attacked. As the owner does nothing to save the dog, he will show an aggressive response. Pet parents need to take the dog’s behavior seriously. Otherwise, the dog might end up getting injured from the same thing that he feared.
Predatory aggression is the type of aggressive behavior in dogs when they chase prey. Predatory behavior is mostly shown by wild dogs, but domesticated dogs still inherit some of this instinct. At a certain time, your pet’s wild instinct might stir him up, and he will be on his way to hunting other animals. Pet dogs have lost some of their hunting abilities, so they usually chase and kill injured animals or small animals like baby rabbits and cats. There is no cure for predatory aggression in dogs, so never leave them with an infant. He might injure him or, in the worst case, might kill him by grabbing him from the sensitive vital organs. It would not be wrong to call these dogs killer dogs.
Redirected aggression is the most dangerous type of aggression for dog owners. To understand it, let’s consider you were fighting with a colleague due to some work-related issues; suddenly, a mutual friend of yours tries to stop the fight by calming you down. You will definitely take out all your anger in the third person. You will be angry about why he stopped me and not my opponent, and the third person will have a bad day. The same can happen when you try to calm down two dogs fighting over a reason that you don’t know. The dog’s anger will be shifted from the other dog to you, and the aggressive dog can bite anywhere on the arm, leg, or another body part.
In the case of the office example, you might feel bad for the third person after calming down and apologizing to him. But your dog suffering from redirected aggression will never know and admit his mistake and can repeat the action again when you try to take him away from a fight.
Fear Related Aggression
Dogs can become afraid of new places and strange people easily. It makes them anxious, and they get aggressive. They don’t like being approached and get furious. It happens mostly because these fearful dogs have not been socialized when they were young. If your dog is suffering from this type of aggressive behavior, take him out on walks and parks more. Try to socialize with other pets and humans so that his fear can be eliminated.
Pain Elicited Aggression
If you have a really friendly dog, but he has started acting aggressive, it might be because he is in pain. He might have an external injury or is feeling internal pain because of sickness. When you touch the dog, especially in the area of pain, he will get aggressive.
Some genetic diseases can become the cause of aggression, like hip dysplasia, because the dogs suffer unbearable pain. Besides it, encephalitis, also called brain inflammation, can make the dog aggressive. Other conditions include low blood sugar levels and hypothyroidism. In order to avoid such aggression, make sure the dog is getting a proper diet. Feed him healthy foods. Engage him in physical exercises. Moreover, regular medical checkups would be a great idea.
Frustration Elicited Aggression
Yes, you read it right. Dogs can become aggressive when they are frustrated. The reason behind this type of aggression is, most of the time, incomprehensible. Anything can frustrate them. For instance, they will be frustrated if they want a toy or a treat and cannot reach it. Similarly, if a dog is barking from outside the fence and your dog is unable to cross the fence, he will get frustrated and consequently aggressive. Sometimes redirected aggression is also referred to as frustration elicited aggression as the dog gets frustrated when a third person tries to stop him from fighting.
When dogs get mature sexually, the rush of sex hormones can make them over-stimulated. They get sexual arousal and need to calm themselves down. If they don’t get a partner, they start showing aggressive behaviors. Male dogs can act aggressively towards female dogs, and vice versa is also possible. Adult dogs can also show sex-related aggression when the desires arise. Pet parents can recognize this type of canine aggression as the dogs start showing territorial behavior suddenly, urinating all around the house. The sexual organs seem well-groomed. Dogs become stubborn and don’t listen to the owner. Destructive behavior can be observed as they start digging in the backyard.
If you notice the onset of sexual maturity in your dog, keep them away from other dogs. They get aggressive suddenly and can harm other dogs.
Warning Signs of Dog Aggression
With the appearance of any of the following signs, examine the environment carefully and try to get rid of the things that might trigger the dog to become aggressive.
- Excessive barking: Barking is part of a dog’s behavior. It doesn’t mean that he acts aggressively whenever the dog is barking. It might be a sign of good behavior, such as dogs barking when they feel happy. But if you observe the dog barking frequently, more than usual, and any of the signs described below accompanies it, he is certainly aggressive.
- A dog might be lunging to make the person or the other animal go away.
- Growling is another sign of canine aggression.
- A dog bites when he gets too aggressive, or the person or the animal comes near, causing bruises and puncture wounds. Repeated bites can mean the dog is extremely fearful or that thing is getting on his nerves.
- Before biting, the dog might give a muzzle punch.
- Sometimes the dog gets in an alert position with a rigid body yet a continuously wagging tail.
- If its fear-based aggression, raised fur (goosebumps), yawing, licking, and eyes turning white can be observed.
- Similarly, showing teeth or snarling is also a sign of an aggressive dog.
Treating Aggressive Behaviors in Dogs
Aggressive behavior in dogs can be treated through training them. But there are a few things that one needs to take care of before starting to treat a dog’s aggression.
Aggressive Dog Training Tips
Canine aggression needs to be handled with care as the owner or the trainer can get injured during the training sessions. Many owners don’t take aggression in young dogs seriously and suffer bad results. Here are some do’s and don’ts that can be adopted to stop aggressive behavior in dogs.
Do’s of Aggressive Dog Training
Consult a Veterinarian
Before taking the dog to a trainer for seeking behavior modification techniques, take the pet to a vet. If the dog is showing aggression due to pain or disease, the trainer will not be able to help. Only the vet can resolve the problem. Such as in the case of diseases described above, the treatment must be sought as early as possible. Not only will the dog feel at ease, but there will also be no aggression.
Whatever the vet prescribes the medication, make sure to give the dog all the doses. Missing a dose or two might leave the treatment ineffective. The prescription will include the medicine for the disease from which the dog is suffering, painkillers, or anti-anxiety drugs. They are completely safe for dogs and are important to get the desired gentle behavior.
In case of sex-related aggression, sterilizing the dogs can help. The process is called spaying for female dogs, and for males, it is called neutering. It is a surgical procedure through which the reproductive organs of the dogs are removed. Sometimes dogs show aggressive behaviors even after the surgery; of course, they will be in pain, but as soon as the stitches heal, the dogs are all okay.
Seek Professional Help
If the vet examined the dog properly and stated that there’s no medical issue with the pup, it’s time to consult professional dog trainers. Dog trainers know certain techniques and methods to tame the dog. They have much more experience than the owners and can better determine the reason behind the dog’s aggression. They have dealt with almost every kind of dog’s temperament. In case of redirected aggression, the owner is at the risk of getting hurt, but a professional dog trainer knows better how to deal with the beast. Moreover, dog training experts know what type of collars and tools effectively treat aggressive behavior. Both the private and the group training classes are helpful in their own way.
Engage Dog in Productive Activities
It would be better to keep the dog busy by engaging him in different activities to treat canine aggression. A physical exercise is a great option, but dogs get tired too quickly and lose interest. So try to play with them or indulge them in other mind-stimulating activities so that besides their body, their mind is also diverted from the stimulus. Talking about it, maintaining physical and mental health is also important. As a result, the dog will be healthy and can avoid pain and disease-based aggressions.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Local dog trainers sometimes punish the dogs to get the desired behavior out of them, but it’s not the right approach. Many cases had been reported in the past in which dogs died because of the trainer’s cruelty. Considering this situation seeking professional help is necessary. A professional dog trainer always makes use of positive reinforcement to train the dog. It includes teaching the dog certain behavior, then commanding them, and treating them. In the case of aggression training, it can involve desensitization and counter-conditioning. It is mostly done with fear and anxiety-based aggression, in which the dogs are exposed to the danger at the low intensity of the stimulus. Local trainers or owners might not know to what threshold do dogs respond, but professional dog trainers can grasp the situation after observing the dog for some time.
Learn Their Body Language
Though dogs can understand certain human words and respond to them by obeying them, they cannot speak human words. They cannot make the owner understand that they are in pain, something is getting on their nerves, or something is frustrating them out verbally. All they can do is act in response to their stimuli. To deal with canine aggression, one must learn the dog’s body language. Dogs give a lot of signs before getting aggressive. They show their teeth, tighten their mouth, and constantly wag their tails. The owner must need to grasp the signs and understand them to remove the stimulus or take the dog away to suppress the aggressive behavior way before it starts.
Determine How Aggressive the Dog Is
Now you know what signs do dogs show when they are aggressive, you must also know the severity of the signs. There’s a ladder of aggression that one can consult with to determine at what level of aggression currently the dog is. The ladder starts with the mere sign of yawning and licking and progresses in the order of the dog turning his head away, walking away, tucking his tail, growling, and many more signs. Finally, the ladder ends with the gesture of “Biting,” showing that it’s the peak of the canine aggression. Checking the dog’s behavior in accordance with the ladder is necessary because if the dog gets a severe stimulus, he might get aggressive within seconds and might skip a lot of signs that ad to come in the way.
Recognize and Avoid the Triggers
Now determine the reason why the dog displays aggression? They are many types of aggression and hence many types of stimuli. After determining the stimulus, try to avoid it as much as possible. For instance, if the dog is afraid of other animals, try not to take him to crowded parks. You are probably thinking it will affect his socialization. However, do take him to the parks with fewer animals. Once he becomes accustomed to fewer animals around him, you can take him to the crowded parks. If a dog has sex-based aggression, sterilize him, and until he fully recovers, keep him in a kennel to minimize his encounter with other animals.
Reactive Dogs Are Not Aggressive
A reactive dog only gets heightened or over0-react when he is exposed to a certain stimulus. The owners confuse the reactive and the aggressive dog because both of them show similar signs in the response, but both of them have different intentions. For instance, the dog is barking at another dog because he might want to meet the dog, and maybe he is not trying to scare him away. Dogs show their happiness through barking, too, so the action can be pretty much confusing. To differentiate a reactive dog from an aggressive dog, look for at least 3 or more signs. Barking alone is not a sign of aggression; it must be accompanied by a dog showing its teeth, biting, or lunging.
Don’ts of Aggressive Dog Training
Don’t Punish the Dog
According to the VCA animal hospitals, punishing the dog cannot get you better results. Sometimes punishment can be effective, as in the case of shock collars, but they need to be administered properly. For instance, a trainer is only allowed to give the pet shock 3 to 5 times per training session. More than this can make the dog think negatively about the trainer as well as the collar. Therefore, before the next training session, he might refrain from wearing the collar and can get hurt while resisting.
Besides these, there are several other approaches that count as punishment and induce bad behavior in the pets instead of rectifying the previous one. It includes shouting or yelling at them, throwing something at them, lifting, or pushing them. It can make the dog become scared of you. He might suffer a shock, and your bonding with the dog can be at risk.
Don’t Risk Yourself
The reason why always a dog trainer is advised is that he knows better than you. He has the knowledge and the experience of handling aggressive dogs. While trying to train the aggressive dog, you might get hurt, especially if the dog suffers from redirected or frustration-based aggression. You need to follow some tips to prioritize your health over dog training. Muzzle up the dog when taking him on walks to avoid muzzle punch. There are basket-shaped muzzles available in the market that will prevent the dog from biting. They don’t hurdle eating or barking in any way.
Moreover, don’t touch or pick the dog up. Even when you are trying to calm him down, he might get frustrated and attack you back.
Don’t Go for the Alpha Dog Training
There’s a myth that dogs live in a hierarchy in which the leader of the pack is called an alpha dog. He is dominant over others while the others are inferior to him. As a result, they often lay before the alpha dog showing their submission to him. But none of it is true. A scientist observed the behavior of a pack of wolves. His observation cannot be applied to other situations because he did not observe the wolves in a natural setting.
In order to train the dominant alpha dog, there’s a training in which the dog is pinned against the ground with his back touching the ground. He is kept in this position till he stops responding. According to traditional trainers who still use this method, he learns to be submissive instead of dominant when the dog stops responding to the training. But it’s all absurd. The training does not work. It is just cruelty posed on the dog.
Don’t Expect the Dog to Be Perfectly Cured
Training the dog to get rid of aggressive behavior is quite a long process. It is not an overnight thing. Furthermore, the dog might not be fully trained even after this long training process. If he is exposed to the same stimulus multiple times at a high intensity, he can get aggressive again. So, even if a trainer says the dog has been trained completely, don’t believe him and keep taking precautionary measures.
Dogs can get aggressive due to multiple reasons. Sometimes they get aggressive to protect their territory. Sometimes they fight over food and toys. When the dog has not received enough socialization training, he starts acting dominant to other dogs that he sees on the street. When the dog feels he is being attacked by other humans or animals, he becomes aggressive in order to defend himself. When he sees weak and injured animals, he starts showing aggressive behavior toward them and attacks them. All these aggressive issues can be treated by training a dog. First, consult a vet to make sure it’s not pain or anxiety.