For centuries and centuries, dogs have been companions for people of all different parts of the world and all walks of life. Dogs would guard families and properties, pull sleds, and help with hunting. For many families, dogs were another member of the family, just four-footed.
With that being said, this means that domestication is something that runs through most dogs’ veins. No matter how well domesticated a breed is, there is always a chance that your dog may display aggressive behaviors. Because dogs are not as much of a utility as they used to be, aggressive behavior is generally unwanted and dangerous.
Thankfully, there are ways that you can work on training the aggression out of the dog as long as you know where it is coming from.
Understanding Where Aggression Comes From
Before you begin your search of how to stop a dog from being aggressive, you first need to understand that aggression in dogs has a different pathology than it does in people.
For dogs, aggression can stem from a number of benign and harmless causes such as unbridled energy, pain, and fear. Aggression doesn’t automatically mean that your dog is angry or out to cause harm. In many cases, your dog is either scared, in pain, or otherwise not well trained in handling that kind of energy.
This means that in order to try and train the aggression out of the dog, you need to first pinpoint where that aggression is coming from. This will make it easier for you to address the problem and come up with a solution that is most effective for you and your dog.
Knowing When a Behavioral Problem Is Medical
The first thing you should always keep in mind is that a sudden change in behavior, especially from a normally happy dog to an aggressive one, is an indication that something has changed in your dog’s life. This can sometimes indicate a physical problem rather than a behavioral problem.
If your dog is displaying other signs of being in pain, such as only displaying aggression when touched in a specific area, limping, and so on, and if your dog’s aggression is sudden and not something that your dog has done in the past, it is worth going to the vet to rule out causes that stem from medical problems.
You cannot necessarily train out aggression that stems from pain without treating the pain causing it. You can, however, treat the pain and then address the dog’s behavior after it has healed and recovered, if any of the aggressive behaviors linger.
Recognizing the Different Types of Aggression
One thing that you are going to want to be aware of is that there are several recognized types of aggression. Types of aggression indicate where the dog’s behavioral issues focus on and will also help you determine the best course of action when trying to teach the dog better behaviors.
There is territorial aggression, which is most commonly between dogs, though sometimes directed toward people. There is social aggression, which is almost entirely between dogs. And there is defensive protection, which is directed toward anyone who is acting in a way that causes your dog to want to defend itself.
There is possessive aggression, which is directed toward anyone approaching the item that it is being possessive of. There is protective aggression, which shares many facets but often focuses on protecting people rather than objects. And finally, there is fearful aggression, which is directed toward anyone who approaches the dog when it is in that state of mind.
There are some other forms of aggression, but these are the most common ones you will encounter.
Beginning Your Plan to Solve Aggression
Now that you know more about the reasons for aggression and the types of aggression out there, your first step to helping your dog is to begin a plan. It is generally recommended to create this plan with a vet, a behavioral specialist, or another trained professional who knows how to approach aggressive dogs.
Plans to address aggression focus on a few different areas and usually begin once health reasons have been either ruled out or treated. It tends to focus on determining the source of aggression in your dog’s life, learning how to avoid any triggers that your dog has, and teaching it that it does not need to be aggressive.
No matter the type of aggression your dog displays, aggression almost always stems from fear in some way, meaning that punishing the dog will only enforce its aggressive behavior in its mind. You should never go out of your way to punish a dog’s aggression, as this will often respond with the dog acting in kind.
Understanding the Aggression Ladder and Triggers
Two main ideas that you should be aware of when it comes to treating aggression in dogs is the concept of “the ladder of aggression” as well as what your dog’s triggers are for becoming aggressive. Depending on what those triggers are, it may be best to remove them completely from your dog’s life, such as a specific toy your dog is a bit too possessive of or taking it to the dog park if it cannot interact with others.
The ladder of aggression is a behavioral theory that animal behavioralists recognize and refer to when gauging how aggressive a dog is or how triggering an action is. The ladder begins with the lowest form of aggression, including non-verbal behaviors such as nose licking, sitting obstructively, or walking away tensely, to the most recognized signs of aggression including the tucked tail, staring people (or dogs) down, growling, and biting.
The ladder and triggers go hand in hand as you learn which actions and situations trigger the dog’s aggression and then learn what rung of the ladder those triggering behaviors place your dog at. It is a good assessment for figuring out where your dog’s stressors lie so that you can address those.
A Reality to Be Aware of
There are some dogs who are not fit to be able to act safely around others, just as some people are not. The levels of this can vary from needing medication, which an aggressive dog may actively fight, to being a genuine risk to people and animals around it. It is important to recognize that there are some dogs who will never get over their aggression.
The general trick to being able to control an aggressive dog is to establish yourself as the leader of the dog’s “pack” in a way that doesn’t have it see you as a rival or as someone who will hurt the dog. When the dog recognizes you as the pack leader and the one being in control, it will typically listen and hold back some of its aggressive behavior, but not all dogs follow this rule.
You will have to work with your vet and/or a behavioral expert to determine whether or not your dog is capable of overcoming its aggressive tendencies, especially if the dog was not raised properly as a puppy.