How to Calm an Aggressive Dog
When we think about an aggressive dog, we tend to think of a barking dog lunging at their victim with its teeth bared, but this is only one end of the spectrum. Aggressive behaviors also include rigid posturing, barking, and growling. There can be many inciting causes, so determining why your dog is showing the behavior is a crucial step in calming them. There are four broad types of aggression: territorial, possessive, social, and fear-based.
Types of Aggression
If your pup barks or lunges at people passing your garden or walking up the drive, they're showing signs of territorial aggression. This guarding behavior is typical in wild animals, and also includes protecting puppies or members of your puppies' pack', this may include you or a child in the home.
Similar to territorial aggression, dogs have a strong guarding tendency over their possessions and resources such as food even though they don't need to in most situations. If your pup is very food focussed, they may become aggressive if anyone attempts to touch or remove their bowl or a favorite toy. We see signs of possessive aggression in puppies and adults alike.
Dogs are a social species, and packs have hierarchies which are determined and maintained through some aggressive behaviors to reinforce rules and minimize conflict overall within the group. We most commonly see this between pets within a household when one dog feels another has crossed a line and needs to be reprimanded.
Sadly, this is an often misinterpreted form of aggression; where possible most animals will attempt to escape a threat through the flight, but if that's not possible, then the fight response will be engaged. Humans and dogs don't speak the same language, and we may misinterpret our pet's early signs of discomfort and fear until it's too late.
Why is my dog showing these aggressive signs?
One of the most common reasons that a dog is showing aggressive outbursts is similar to toddler tantrums, frustration. As mentioned before, there is a language barrier between our pups and ourselves and their frustration can manifest in aggressive signs, but the source must be addressed, not just the negative behavior. Dogs can become frustrated if their exercise needs aren't met, or they aren't mentally stimulated enough.
Dominance related aggression usually stems from a lack of leadership within the dog's pack, i.e., your home. As an owner, you need to show your pup calm and firm leadership skills, so they look to you as pack leader and don't attempt to assert dominance over you. This is particularly important if you have a strong-willed or powerful breed. As a leader, you need to create boundaries and enforce consistent rules to maintain a happy home for your pup and yourself.
The Media bombard us about aggression being related to specific breeds, but studies have been unable to prove that any particular breed is inherently more aggressive than others. I bet if you try to think of an "aggressive breed," you think of a large guarding breed, but this is because these large dogs cause more damage due to their size. Conversely, many small dogs may be very aggressive. However, their size means they can't produce the same degree of injury to either us or another pet. Much of these cases of canine aggression is again due to our misunderstanding of the pet's needs and thus not satisfying their requirements so as responsible dog owners', we need to consider our responsibilities and whether we can meet each dog's needs before taking one into our homes.
Dog aggression has several contributory factors, including some that are genetic, and some learned from experiences. Typical signs are lip-curling, snapping or growling at other dogs and may be due to a negative bad experience, such as having been attacked by another dog. Historical abuse or neglect can also increase a dog's aggressive behavior toward other canines, as does inadequate socialization when they were still a puppy. These pets tend to be insecure about their position within the pack hierarchy and may act aggressively toward other dogs as a consequence. This is important if you have more than one dog within the home; dogs will vie for the position of pack leader unless you show them that you are their calm and capable pack leader and earn their loyalty and trust.
Top Tips for preventing and managing aggressive tendencies
Now we've covered the types and causes of aggression that our dogs can display, here are some tips to help prepare and enable you to work through these situations should your pup show any of these behaviors.
Socializing your pup with other dogs and also humans from an early age is essential to minimize the development of many issues later on in life. There may be puppy socialization classes in your area so you should consult your veterinarian to ensure your puppy is suitably protected against diseases. Another great way to socialize your pet is bringing them to the dog park or making play-dates with other pets to encourage healthy social interactions. If your dog is showing signs of dog-aggression, I recommend discussing the situation with your veterinarian and perhaps meeting with a canine behaviorist to help your dog overcome this.
Aside from the myriad health benefits, neutering reduces a dog's desire to roam and protect their territory, though it will not eliminate it. Entire dogs (un-neutered) tend to be more aggressive or territorial than neutered. If your dog has aggressive tendencies and has not been neutered, you can discuss with your veterinarian some options that may include temporary chemical castration to ensure that neutering will have an impact on your dog's aggressive episodes.
This is probably one of the most important tips I can give you to manage aggressive or destructive behaviors, lots of activity! The more physical energy your pup expends, the calmer and more settled their mind is and the less likely they are to act out. A minimum of 2 walks per day is needed for most dogs, and unusually energetic dogs, playing games like fetch in the park will tire them out while stimulating their brain.
4) Distract/Rewarding good behaviors
Rewards are a fantastic behavior modifier if food or toys strongly motivate your pup. One example if your dog is dog aggressive then you can provide dog calming treats when a dog is coming toward you to encourage your pet to focus on you and not the new dog, keep praising them for paying attention to you and stop once the dog has passed. Repeat this every time a dog passes to help modify your dog's behavior, and eventually, you can incorporate other commands too. You could test these Calming Treats for dogs by KarmaPets, mainly if your dog shows guest-aggression in your home. These treats are non-drowsy and claim to balance your pup's brain chemistry to help them cope with stressful situations. These delicious peanut-butter flavored treats have a 100% money-back guarantee; if you feel they aren't helping your dog, the company will give your money back while donating some of the proceeds to rescue centers – win-win!!
5) Changing diet
There is some evidence that the fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) could be beneficial for your pet's mental state alongside the other health benefits of a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The amino acid tryptophan has been shown to reduce aggression in some animals. This may be due to the ability of tryptophan to increase the amount of serotonin in dog's brains, which can also help them to cope with stressful situations.
6) Increased control/restraint
There are many ways of increasing the amount of control you can have over your pet, and in some states, you may be required to muzzle certain breeds of dogs when in public. Some options are more humane than others, and you may need to experiment to find what works for your dog. Head halters are an excellent option, as they are humane and give you control of your pet's head and muzzle and closing their mouth if they show some signs of aggression but may not work for all pets.
As a dog owner, you know that owning a dog carries responsibilities, and if your pet shows signs of aggressive behavior, then you are under even more pressure to ensure your dog injures nobody. There is no cure-all, guaranteed method to stop aggressive tendencies in all dogs, and in most cases, a combination of techniques is required. In some cases, your only option may be to limit provocative situations or interactions that may incite their aggression. If you are concerned about your pet's behavior, then you should discuss this with your veterinarian and a canine behaviorist to prevent exacerbation of these tendencies.