How to Calm an Aggressive Dog

What defines an aggressive dog? An aggressive dog is one that tends to growl, snap, bite and otherwise dominate other dogs, people and maybe even you. The common notion is that canine aggression is a large dog breed or “dangerous” breed issue. Unfortunately, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Given the “right” circumstances, any dog can show aggression to humans or other animals. While there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to aggressive dogs, there are several things you can do to learn how to calm an aggressive dog.

Why is My Dog Aggressive?

Before you can address your dog’s aggression, you need to first understand what makes dogs aggressive, and what’s behind the anger. Aggression in dogs is characterized by warning signs that can include:

  • Becoming still and rigid (hair on the back raises)
  • Tail tucking
  • Snarling
  • Growling
  • Baring teeth
  • Nipping or biting
  • Lunging

Of course, not all dogs show aggression. However, the above signs could also indicate fear or anxiety. Take note of your pet’s triggers. The key to calming an aggressive dog is figuring out what is making your dog so aggressive. Pay attention to all of his behaviors, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Does he react negatively toward strangers or children? Maybe your pet snaps when another dog approaches him while he’s chewing on a bone or eating his food. Even inanimate objects can touch off aggressive behavior. Identifying what provokes your dog will help you determine the best approach to calming aggressive dogs.

According to the Merck Veternariary Manual, common types of dog aggression include:

  • Territorial: A dog protects your space and home from what it perceives to be intruders.
  • Possessive: A dog protects its resources or objects of value like bones or chew toys.
  • Protective: A dog protects its pack against other animals or humans. This behavior is typical of mother dogs.
  • Fear: A dog may retreat out of fear but aggressively react if cornered, held, or leashed.
  • Food: Similar to “possessive aggression,” dog protects his food from other animals and humans.
  • Redirected: A dog that is unable or prevented from reaching or attacking its first target may turn its aggression on a second target, such as a second dog or a person.
  • Pain: A dog defensively reacts when it’s injured or in pain.
  • Inter-dog aggression: A dog is aggressive with other dogs in the same household or outside the home.
  • Predatory aggression: A dog’s behavior that includes hunting, stalking, and catching small animals.

How to Calm an Aggressive Dog

If you’re trying to calm down aggressive behavior in dogs that don’t belong to you, say you encounter one on a walk or jog, this is where the BarxBuddy can come in handy. This ultrasonic hand-held training device emits a high-frequency sound that dogs can hear, but humans can’t. As the dog approaches, slowly back away as you press the button on the device a few times to get the animal’s attention. Avoid making eye contact, yelling, clapping, or posturing, as these could encourage the dog to attack. Speak to him in a soothing tone. If the dog retreats, calmly walk away. If he continues toward you or lunges at you, place something between you and the dog like your purse, backpack, or bike. As he is biting or fighting the object, you can take the opportunity to get away safely.

When to Seek Help for Aggressive Dog Behavior

What if your dog is the one displaying aggressive behavior? It’s time to draw up a plan that probably should involve your vet and possibly a dog behaviorist. Because dogs can act aggressively due to underlying medical problems, we suggest that you rule out health issues.

Take notes with you and share your notes with the vet staff about your dog’s behavior. If your vet finds something medically behind your dog’s aggression, he or she might recommend treatment or medication to reduce, control, or eliminate negative behavior. However, if medical troubles are ruled out, ask your vet for some dog behaviorist recommendations.

9 Steps to Deal With an Aggressive Dog

Aggression in dogs is a serious matter, and as such, you should consult your vet and a dog behaviorist. When dealing with aggressive dogs, focus on positive reinforcement approaches, as they tend to be most effective. It can also help your efforts to keep the following tips in mind:

  • Never use punishment as this could exacerbate the problem. If your dog has fear or defensive aggression, chances are punishment could increase this behavior. This includes yelling; don’t yell at an aggressive dog.
  • Inappropriate rewarding could backfire as well. Never offer a reward as a way to calm down a dog. This “bribe” could send him the message that he’ll get rewarded if he acts aggressively.
  • Your dog can reflect your attitude. Dealing with aggressive behavior in a dog can be insanely frustrating, stressful, and scary. No matter. You must keep your emotions in check because your pet feeds off your energy. If you’re full of anger and hostility, he will be too.
  • Consistency is crucial. Ensure everyone in the household is on the same page. Unless everyone in the house participates in addressing and training your dog’s behavior, all your efforts will be futile.
  • Reward good behavior every chance you get. Any time you see your dog behaving, provide praise and treats. Even an action as simple as resting on the couch warrants a reward. 
  • Exercise your dog daily. Ensuring your dog receives adequate physical exercise, and mental stimulation can further help reduce your dog’s aggression. 
  • When your dog is aggressive in public, keep plenty of space between him and his triggers. Over time you can desensitize him by offering praise and treats as you gradually reduce the amount of space. The idea is that your dog will learn to associate his triggers with something positive.
  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to triggers. You may find that a change of scenery will help your pet learn not every stroll needs to end in chaos. If your dog reacts negatively toward a specific neighbor, walk in the other direction or take your pet to a nearby park to walk. 
  • Be patient. Stay the course. You can not change your dog’s behavior overnight, or even a few days or weeks. 

Above all else, be realistic. If all the efforts, including those of your veterinarian and an animal professional, do not help resolve your dog’s aggressiveness rehoming your dog may be the best option for you and your pet. 

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