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Dog Aggression


Dog aggression is the most common, but scary behaviour problems.  It can take many forms, from a subtle lip curl, to barking, lunging, and biting.

Aggressive behaviour in most cases stems from fear.  Dog’s want to make the scary thing go away.  And an aggressive display usually does the job!

So what causes aggression? Bad experiences can change a dogs behaviour, just like it can change people, as well as under socialisation, frustration, pain and medical conditions, even genetics play their part.

Can you fix aggressive behaviour? Yes! First its important to find out why your dog is aggressive.  When you know what is causing the aggression, you can work on avoiding those triggers and teaching the right behaviour.

*Always give your dog a medical check up before trying to fix aggressive behaviour.  There are several medical conditions which can cause aggression as a symptom.*

Contact us about our dog aggression behaviour change programmes.

Dog on Dog Aggression

Aggression directed towards other dogs can be scary, especially if dogs are barking and lunging towards each other on lead.  Owners often struggle with this behaviour for a long time, avoiding contact with other dogs at all costs.

Attempting to socialise an aggressive dog in order to get them used to being around others is strongly discouraged.  As this can often make dogs worse.

dog aggressive towards people

Dog Aggression Directed at People

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Dog aggression targeted towards people can seem unpredictable and dangerous, and can also be the most misunderstood and misdiagnosed form of canine behaviour. 

There are few things more stressful in life than living with an aggressive dog.  Especially if the dog is a new rescue, or a puppy exhibiting aggressive behaviours.  It is important to seek help as early as possible.

resource guarding

Resource Guarding

Resource guarding can appear with any object, from food bowls, to toys, bones, or any item dropped on the floor.  Guarding behaviour makes it incredibly difficult to remove a potentially dangerous item from the dog without being threatened by a bite.

Guarding behaviours mostly occur due to fear of losing a highly valued possession.  This can even occur in puppies as young as 8-10 weeks old, and is prevalent in certain breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels. 

Warning signs are always given before an attack.  You may see the dog freeze, grab the item, and growl, before moving to defend.

territorial aggression

Territorial Aggression

Territorial aggression can look terrifying to a person walking by, suddenly startled by a barking, lunging dog at the fence.  This is sometimes a form of barrier frustration, and the desire to get to whatever is at the other side of the fence. 

Or protective aggression, commonly found in breeds who are more wary of strangers, or people in general.  The amount of territory being guarded may vary, from the garden, house and surroundings, to the owners bed. 

defensive aggression

Redirected Aggression

Redirected aggression is an extreme form of frustration.  When a dog cannot reach what he desires due to a leash or restraint, aggression can be redirected onto a person or other dog which is close by. 

This is why people are often bitten when attempting to break up dog fights, or when holding back their reactive dog.

Aggression FAQ's

Why is my dog aggressive?

Dogs are aggressive for numerous reasons.  Your dog may have had a fearful experience, for example, being attacked by a dog, or being startled by a person.

Frustration can often appear as an aggressive response.  Barking and lunging towards another dog, it may look like the dog is going to attack the dog across the street, but in actual fact he may feel frustrated and restricted by his leash.

Pain as well as other medical conditions may cause aggression as a symptom, to keep owners and vets from touching a painful area on the body.

Under socialisation is a big factor in aggression, particularly in dogs that have been rescued.  Owners often assume that their dog was abused by a man with a beard, because they are the only people that the dog is scared of.  But in reality, it is much more likely that the dog has a nervous disposition, has not previously met anyone with a beard, and is showing fearful aggression towards that person.

Genetics play a huge role in aggression.  Breeds who have been bred to guard, protect, or alert are far more wary of stranger, and may be more prone to aggressive behaviour.  Also those who have been bred  by backyard breeders, or breeders who do not temperament test their dogs may create far more nervous dogs.

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will my dog bite?

Will neutering my dog help?

Maybe.  Many people believe that neutering their dog is a quick fix in changing aggressive behaviour.  However, some dogs may become more aggressive.  As the hormones are taken away, some dogs may lose their confidence, becoming a more fearful aggressive dog.

Recent studies are showing that neutered dogs are actually more likely to be aggressive, especially towards intact dogs.

If your dog is aggressive, then a behaviour change program is required.  Unfortunately there is no quick fix.

Why does my dog only react to some dogs?

Dogs do not generalise well.  That is why you have to teach behaviours such as sit, down and recall, in as many places as possible.  If dogs did generalise well, we would only need to teach these things at home, and the dog should understand anywhere.  Unfortunately that is not the case.

Because dogs do not generalise, and do easily discriminate, if your dog was attacked by a small, fluffy, white dog, then he may only be wary of those types of dogs.

Why does my dog only react sometimes and not others?

If we think about the dogs stress levels being like a bucket.  Stressful things make the bucket fill up with water, fun things empty the bucket.  Certain things make the bucket fill up easier, like a dog getting too close, or a person trying to pet the dog.

Now a dog may appear to tolerate being petted by one person, as this only fills the bucket a third of the way.  But if several people try to pet the dog in one day, and then he see’s a scary dog, then his bucket will be overflowing pretty fast, without having a chance to empty.

As the bucket fills up more, the reactivity threshold will be reached (see Reactivity Chart photo above), and the dog becomes very stressed.

Am I teaching my dog to be aggressive?

Aggressive behaviour can be reinforced by tensing the leash before your dog reacts.  A tense lead communicates to your dog that you are worried, and this can often provoke a reaction.

Soothing talk can also reinforce dog aggression, by communicating that the dog is reacting in the right way, even if you are trying to calm her down.