Aggression in dogs is one of the most common behavioral issues owners can face with their pooch. Whether this has been a long-standing issue with your furry friend or a brand new one, it can cause any owner to ask themselves, “Why is my dog aggressive?”
It can be a scary experience to witness a dog become aggressive. For the most part, it may only growl, lunge, or bare its teeth. Unfortunately, if the problem is not managed, aggression may turn into an attack. You are probably wondering how to stop this behavior and when action is necessary. This article will explain why your dog might display signs of aggression and what you can do to stop it.
What Is Aggression?
Aggression in dogs is a defense mechanism. If the animal feels like it or its family is being threatened, it may display a wide range of behaviors to protect itself or others. These behaviors vary in severity based on how threatened the dog feels, starting with warning signs and potentially ending with an attack.
When your dog begins to show signs of aggression, its body will become rigid. Aggressive dogs usually growl, snarl, or show their teeth in some way. They might also pounce or bite. Some breeds (like the Border Collie) will get low to the ground or circle whatever is causing the issue as if it’s herding.
Why Do Dogs Show Aggression?
It is essential to understand that dogs almost always display aggressive behavior when something provokes them. There is no such thing as a pup being “born bad.” Regardless of the breed, dogs can become aggressive when something in their environment triggers them to be defensive or fearful. If we can remove the trigger, the aggression may follow suit. Here are some of the most common reasons why your dog may be aggressive:
Illness and Injury
Pain and illness are common reasons that dogs get aggressive. If your pet suddenly becomes quick-tempered and easy to anger, they could be suffering from pain or other ailments. Pain causes stress and discomfort in your dog’s well-being. To protect themselves, they might resort to aggression. For mild issues, some calming treats may provide comfort, but for more extreme cases sedatives may be necessary.
Fear is another common reason for dogs to suddenly behave aggressively. According to experts, behavior based on fear is usually caused by a lack of proper socialization, past negative experiences with others, or abuse. Dogs usually show fear-based aggressiveness when they feel threatened and in danger.
If you own a rescue dog, they may come to you with fearful or aggressive behavior because of their previous home. It may have been neglected, abused, or improperly socialized when it was young. It would be best for you to know your rescue dog’s past experiences so you can know best how to be of help to them.
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This canine behavior is also called “resource guarding.” Dogs who show aggression for things they deem to be their favorites may be trying to show dominance. Possessiveness in dogs extends not only to toys or food but also to their humans. Possessive dogs might show aggression towards other dogs (and people) who get too close to their territory, favorite toys, food, or family.
Show of Dominance
Aggressive dogs might be trying to establish dominance over another animal or person. Dogs who show behavior related to dominance may turn to aggressiveness to prove that they are the boss of the situation. Aggression happens when they feel threatened in their position or when they are being challenged by others (dog or human).
Keep in mind that dog breeds are not as inclined to dominance or submission as one might think. For example, there has been public outcry over the misrepresentation of the sweet and lovable Pitbull as nothing other than a malicious attack dog. Aggressive behaviors are learned, and they can almost always be corrected with love and patience.
Frustration in dogs could quickly turn to aggression when something prevents them from getting what they want. This is common in dogs that are tied up in one place for most of their days. Pups can also get frustrated if they’re walked on a leash but desperately want to give that squirrel over there the business. Additionally, dogs that are restrained behind fences commonly experience frustration.
Many of these scenarios cannot be corrected, which may, in turn, cause some frustration for you. After all, things like fences and leashes exist for our pets’ safety. In this case, the goal is not to remove triggers but instead to teach your dog that it can’t always get what it wants by barking or growling.
Signs That Your Dog May Become Aggressive
If your dog is about to become aggressive, the most apparent signs they may exhibit are:
- Snarling (growling with bared teeth)
- Stiff and rigid body
- Yawning or lip licking
- Raised fur on its back
- Tail tucking and cowering
- Averting its gaze
- Whites in the sides of its eyes are visible
See Your Veterinarian
In some circumstances, illness may be causing your dog to put up its defenses. If your pet feels vulnerable physically, it could be using aggression as a way to protect itself. In times like this, it is probably best to take him to the vet to ensure they are not in pain or unwell in other ways.
Are Some Dog Breeds More Aggressive Than Others?
It is a common misconception that there are specific dog breeds that are just naturally aggressive, but this is simply not true. Aggression in dogs is not particular to any breed. It all comes down to how a dog is trained, its environment, and its past.
What to Do When Your Dog Becomes Aggressive
First thing’s first: stay calm. When you see your dog begin to show aggression, avoid scolding it as it may misinterpret this as your own display of aggression. Instead, stand your ground, gain composure, back off slowly, and remove your dog from the situation if possible. Understand your dog’s body language. When something ticks your dog off, the first thing you may notice is a change in its body language.
When your dog communicates that it feels uncomfortable, take a step back and don’t provoke it any further. Distracting your dog can also be a huge help. A loud noise (like a clap or a whistle) can sometimes be enough to snap your dog out of its tension. Lastly, try to prevent any tension from arising as best you can. At the end of the day, you know your dog better than anyone.
If you’re aware of past trauma or sensitivities your pup has, try to keep your pet away from its triggers. If those triggers simply can’t be avoided (such as fireworks on the Fourth of July), work on training your pet to handle the stress. Calming chews are an excellent way to address canine aggressiveness and anxiety.
Owners of overly aggressive dogs have found that prong collars (which are not painful) can also be effective in halting negative behavior.
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As long as you care for your dog and don’t dismiss its behavior, you’ll be doing it an excellent service. If you find it challenging to manage its aggression, you can get help from a professional dog trainer to help your pooch become the friendliest, happiest version of itself it can be!