Nine Tips If Your Dog Becomes Aggressive

Recently a friend’s dog bit one of the children in the family, after seven years of living together without any aggression from the dog. The eight-year-old boy tends to be hyperactive and the dog tends to be nervous, and one day when they were alone in the back yard together, the child pulled the dog up on its back legs and hugged it hard. The dog bit the boy’s nose. In another situation I heard about, two female dogs in the same family who were good friends began to show jealousy and abruptly one day had a fight which led to one of them needing stitches. They couldn’t be trusted together after that until a lot of training and stress management had taken place.

Any dog can bite, of course. The number of biting incidents every year is astonishingly high, and a high percentage of those bites are inflicted on children. Dog-dog aggression is also a serious problem which can flare up suddenly or build gradually. Depressing.

But there is a lot you can do if your dog shows aggression. Here are nine tips.

1. Immediately manage the situation for safety. Don’t risk injury to yourself, other people, the dog, or other pets. Use a crate if the dog is used to one or if you can train him to accept it. (See my page on crate training.) It may be quite inconvenient for you to provide the necessary level of supervision while you consider your options, but it’s essential. For example, if two dogs in your house are not getting along, you may have to keep doors closed between them. You are avoiding dog bites and more in this step.
2. Start a log. Use a notebook or a clipboard with paper, something you can keep handy with a pen there too. Much as I love writing at the computer, in this case, I don’t recommend it as your primary log, because it is too easy to think you will write something the next time you turn on the computer and then not get around to it. Better to jot down short notes daily, or more often. Note any problems and also note successes. Don’t think you will remember it all later, because it will blur over time.

3. Take your dog to your veterinarian for a check-up. Pain anywhere in the dog’s body can make the dog very irritable. There are literally dozen of causes of dog aggression that veterinary attention can find. The veterinarian may suggest temporary medications for the dog, and you can consider that. (Only a small percentage of veterinarians at present would be able to make suggestions for herbal or homeopathic remedies, but some of those who do will consult by phone. This would be best after your regular vet has seen your dog.)

4. Be sure your dog gets plenty of exercise and healthy food. This may require some significant changes in your habits — you could get a lot more exercise too! — but a tired dog is typically way less likely to misbehave. If your dog’s aggression comes out when you walk him, you can get him used to a head halter such as a Halti or Gentle Leader which gives you more control without aggravating the problems. You may need to drive him to a different area to get good walks if your neighborhood isn’t optimal. Small dogs can get a good bit of exercise if you play with them in your house or apartment. (By the way, many small dog owners let aggressiveness go unchecked that they wouldn’t allow in a larger dog. Don’t make that mistake.) Regarding the food, the usual grocery store brands are full of chemicals which can affect behavior negatively. See other pages of this website for more on the importance of healthier dog food, or search the internet.

5. Avoid situations that bring out the aggressive behavior in your dog. Research shows that your vigilance can make all the difference in the long-term outcome of a dog aggression problem. If the issue is in your home, pay attention to what resources your dog may be guarding — things like access to you, a comfortable bed, food, toys, etc. This resource guarding can be relative to another dog, or relative to a cat or a person. I once had a rescue dog who tried to guard me from my husband Kelly when Kelly would enter my home office; it took a while, but after my husband had patiently given the dog many treats in the hallway before the growling began, the dog realized that there were two nice people in the family!

6. Train your dog. Go back to the basics of sit, stay, down, if you haven’t been using them a lot lately. If you do train your dog regularly, keep it up. Train tricks like shaking hands or rolling over, if you wish. The core idea here is to help your dog to use his mind and to enhance the relationship between you, THEN over time you can get better behavior in the stressful situations. Whatever you do, be sure to use pain-free training methods; not only are they more humane, they are actually more effective too. I highly recommend clicker training in this situation — here’s one outstanding book:

Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog (Karen Pryor Clicker Book)
by Emma ParsonsRead more about this book…

7. Diminish your dog’s fear. Recognize that in most cases, fear is a big part of why your dog is aggressive. Do what you can to diminish his fear. I’m thinking here of things like massage and Tellington TTouch. Since every dog has a different handling threshold, that is, a different level of acceptance of being touched at all and of being touched in particular parts of the body, don’t push beyond what the dog likes. You will also be diminishing your dog’s fear by doing things mentioned in this article, such as more exercise and avoiding stressful situations.

8. Seriously consider hiring a really good dog trainer for a series of sessions. Many dog aggression situations are going to be somewhat beyond the ability of the owner to handle alone. In choosing a dog trainer, be very careful. Ask a lot of questions. You may be shocked at the cruelty of some of the methods that are commonly used to “break” a dog. Also, you may be vulnerable emotionally to a trainer who promises you that everything will be just fine, but be wary of anyone who promises you the moon. Be sure to ask the dog trainer about their background, professional training, and philosophy. Ask for at least three references, and phone those people. One resource for starting your dog trainer search is the list at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, a group I belong to. Don’t be in a hurry to send your dog away somewhere for training or “rehab” because the aggressive behavior happens in the context of your world, and in general it’s much better to work with someone while the dog stays at home. Real improvement is almost never going to happen in just one or two sessions. When the trainer evaluates your dog, discuss with them how many sessions they recommend, knowing that it’s hard to predict. This is likely to make a dent in your wallet but can make it possible to save a dog.

9. Consider your options and commit to a plan. This last tip is one of the most important, because no matter what difficult emotions you go through –anger, sadness, frustration, denial — if you keep working with your dog, revising your plan as needed, the outlook is much brighter than if you let things slide.

Pin It
←More from Aggressive Dogs

30 Responses to “Nine Tips If Your Dog Becomes Aggressive”

  1. Rosana Hart says:

    I suggest you get local help for her, while the nips are not more.

  2. Jessica says:

    I have a 9 month old great dane. She is very affectionate, and listens fairly well, but lately we’ve been having these issues where she barks and runs around the house full speed and growls, and nips (not really full biting) and sometimes lunges. Sometimes it seems out of nowhere, but we have noticed she does this when we try to put her in her crate. She doesn’t do it very often, but it does seem to be getting worse

  3. Rosana says:

    Katelyn, sounds to me like you need the help of a dog trainer or classes. The tricky part is finding a trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods rather than dominance. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers at apdt.com has listings of trainers around the world, you could try there.

    Pinch collars are a mixed bag, not usually the approach I prefer.

    Best wishes,
    Rosana

    Neutering would definitely help the aggression.

  4. Katelyn says:

    I have a 17 month old male Rottweiler, and lately he is becoming very stuborn when he takes stuff. If there’s a towel he will take it and when you try and take it back he wont let go for a while and when we smack his nose he’s starting to growl. I want to fix this so I don’t have to get rid of him. I’m only 14 so I can’t walk him because he pulls so much. I’m getting a pinch collar for him today to see if that helps, and we’re going to start taking him to behaviour training, but are there any other suggestions? Would neutering help the aggression? Would it help him marking his territory around the house? Any suggestions would be perfect because I’m desperate here. 

    Thank you!

  5. Rosana says:

    Talk to your vet or get a local positive-reinforcement trainer to help, Cheryl! You can find trainers at apdt.com

  6. Cheryl says:

    We have a 5 year old yorkie and got a Husky/ golden retreiver mix last Feb. They have gotten along well until 2 weeks ago, the yorkie is now starting fights with the Husky golden.. who will be a year old this month, Took the yorkie to the vet and is being treated for a skin/ yeast infection. shes benn on the Medication for over a week and her behaviors are getting worse, we can’t even have them in the same room and she snapping, growling  and trying to attack the other dog even thru her kennel… any suggestions

  7. Rosana says:

    I don’t think buying a shock collar is the solution. You and your dad could really use a professional dog trainer’s help with this. Be sure to choose one who uses firm but kind methods. Good luck! (You can find trainers who belong to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers at http://www.apdt.com/petowners/ts/default.aspx

  8. Vicki says:

    I have a pug dog and my father moved in with me in May because of health issues, his Chicua is very aggresive and gets jealous of my Pug, the Chicua starts after my pug and my pug finally gets mad and they go at it, the chicua is a very mean dog, he is very protective of my father and does not like anyone else to be around my dad, I am at my wits end on what to do with this dog.  My father never did any training with this dog, do you think a shock collar would help when she attacks my pug. Any suggestions would be appreciated.  thanks

  9. Rosana says:

    Yvonne, there is only so much that can be done on the internet. I highly recommend that you find a good dog trainer in your area and get some help with this dog! Best wishes.

  10. Yvonnelenegar@hotmail.com says:

    my shepard hound cross does not let anyone near our car my grandaughter went to pet him he was raised with her not alot but he knows her and he nipped at her to bite her but when he is not in the car he is ok he is a little cranky with other dogs and puppies

  11. Rosana says:

    Younes, I suggest you re-read this article and think about how each point might apply to your dog. Not all will, but several will. For example, #1 is to immediately manage the situation for safety. So be sure the dog does not have the chewing bone when small children are around, for example.

    #5, which is similar, says to avoid situations that would bring out the aggressive behavior. Try giving your dog edible chew toy or Kongs, in other words, things that are similar to chewing bones but that she may not feel so much desire to guard them.

    If you can’t handle the situation yourself after trying for a while longer, then definitely go for #8!

    Best wishes!
    Rosana

  12. Younes says:

    1,5 year old huskie its a top dog and real kind! accept for 1 problem : she becomes aggressive when you come near her chewing bone. If somebody has some tips or experience about this please reply!

    Younes

  13. Kelli Smith says:

    This is a great article. If people would just know how to train their pets, the problem with agression would go down so much. The first thing I taught my dog to do was sit. I would go over it with her all day long and then I taught down. When we would walk up to people, the first thing she would do was try to jump on them. I didn't want people to get scared or get hurt so I made sure I trained her well on that. When she was a puppy and was still trying to learn, I made sure I put her in the crate when people came over to our house. As she got older, the calmer and better trained she became and more people enjoyed being around her. This is also a great article for someone who just got a dog and they have no idea where to begin training. When they read this, they should be able to get plenty of information.

  14. Rosana says:

    Alyssa, you are welcome to print the article from this page. Just be sure to print the url
    http://www.rosanahart.com/dogs/nine-tips-if-
    on your printout. It's ok with me if you cut and paste the article without all the other stuff on the page.

    Please add that the usual legal disclaimers apply. Neither I nor my business Hartworks Inc nor the website training-dogs.com shall have any responsiblity for how people apply the comments in the article.

    Rosana

  15. Alyssa says:

    Awesome article. Is there a way for me to print this and use this as a starting point for clients who have issues with aggressive dogs?

  16. Alyssa says:

    If this is how you reacted this time, imagine what your dog associates the word “no” with. Probably with all sorts of unpleasant things. Therefore, his reaction was a defensive one: He thinks “no” means “I'm going to do something scary to you,” so he was telling you “I'm threatened by you, leave me alone!” First of all, stop saying “no.” Most people over-use the word and it simply becomes a bad word to the dog (meaning mom's going to be mean to them), without actually changing the dog's behavior. When the dog starts to do something you don't like, use a different word (like “uh uh”) in a gentle tone and block or distract the dog away from the behavior in a non-confrontational way. This teaches the dog that “uh uh” means the behavior he's trying won't be successful and he'll simply quit. If you're always punishing your dog, this is bullying and he'll eventually get sick of it and start defending himself. Absolutely do NOT punish growling! You'll end up with a dog that jumps to a bite with no verbal warning. Punishing the growl doesn't change his emotional state and, in fact, will likely make it worse.

  17. Rosana says:

    I suggest you get some training help locally. Be sure to find a trainer who uses positive methods — one good source is apdt.com

  18. Oswoanne says:

    I have a 7month old cattle dog that has been a lovely dog up until now. This morning I said no twice to it and it reared its teeth at me. I then smacked it on the nose and it did this again. I know it was wrong but I just couldn't help myself. Any help?

  19. Rosana says:

    Brandee, this one is over my head, though obviously any dog who has recently bitten two children will need extremely attentive managing, perhaps including that muzzle when you take her out walking. And of course don't let kids pet her.

    I suggest you find a behavior specialist online to consult with. I am not a professional dog trainer myself. Take a look at dogstardaily.com where a number of top trainers blog.

    And best wishes!

    Rosana

  20. Brandee says:

    I could use some advice! My husband and I rescued a year-old, 16-pound cocker spaniel mix that we found abandoned on the side of the road… covered in ticks and spray-painted green. She took to us immediately… we took her to the vet right away and took care of her health problems… for the first 2 weeks she was fine… even some friends came over and she interacted with them with no problems.

    However, one day after about 3 weeks we took her out for a walk and she nipped at one little boy´s ankle and then right after that bit a little girl in the FACE who tried to pet her. Since then we are obviously very wary about having her interact with anyone besides us, especially children. She does fine with both of us in the house and gets along well with our other dog… but since then whenever other people come over she barks and barks; and the other day when I took her to the vet we had to put a muzzle on her so that the vet could check her teeth, because it seemed like she might bite the vet otherwise.

    I am living in Chile in a medium-sized city that doesn´t have any behavioral specialists; so I won´t be able to consult with one. Can you give me some tips about how to try to get to the root of her problem and start to solve it? I would like to be able to take her out and let her interact with children some day…

    Thanks so much for your advice!

  21. Rosana Hart says:

    Robin, nobody on the internet can tell you one way or the other. You need to find a good local trainer. Try http://www.apdt.com for a start.

    And do continue to put him away when the kids are there.

  22. Robin says:

    We have a 2 1/2yr old male elkhound lab mix.We adopted him at 11 weeks fron the spca.He was always the nervous type but as he gets older he is getting worse.He doesnt really like people(or they just scare him).Whrn he is chained out and children walk by our house,his hair on his entire back stands up and he barks somethinf fierce.Our neighbor tried to pet him and he got bit.My daughter and her boyfriend were horse playing and the dog bit her in the back of the leg.The vet said he will always be the nervous type but we have small grandchildren now.He gets a little excited when they are running around.I have started putting him away when the kids are here,but I want to know if this is something he can overcome?PLEASE HELP!

  23. Rosana Hart says:

    Em, I certainly understand about money being tight — been there myself plenty. But if you can’t make some progress very soon, you really do need to find a GOOD trainer, someone who will use positive, painfree methods with your dog. As I mention above, there are recent blog posts on how to find a good trainer, anywhere in the world.

    That said, here is a possible approach. Do manage the situation for safety especially around children and your fiance. Do as many of the nine steps as you can.

    If you haven’t already downloaded my free ebook on clicker training — link on a tab at the top of this page — then get it and start clicker training your dog.

    Or even without a clicker, one way or another, start playing with food treats and your dog. I would try this first a short time AFTER she has eaten a meal, so hunger is not a factor. Here is what I mean:

    I would also use rather boring food treats to keep her emotional level lower. Just one piece of her dry food at a time would do. O

    Ask her to sit (or do some other behavior she knows) and then give her a food treat which she has to take out of your outstretched palm, if this is safe for your hand. If it isn’t, then set the treat on the floor or a chair for her to take. You want her to develop some self control around food.

    This is a whole long process that is worthy of an entire blog post itself, but in a nutshell, training any dog to actually reach the point where she is ok with you or your fiance being around when she eats is essential…

    BTW, I once had a veterinarian who was extremely relaxed about most things but he felt very strongly that rawhide chews were dangerous. I have never used one since. I highly recommend Nylabones (or there may be other brands) instead.

    Another resource: I am really impressed with the Clickertraining ebook that I’ve reviewed: http://www.rosanahart.com/dogs/clickertraining-4-secrets-review.html

    It would cost some money, though less than one session with a trainer, and these people really know their stuff. Way more than I do!

    Here’s what I wrote about them and dog aggression:
    http://www.rosanahart.com/dogs/dog-aggression-handled-by-clicker-training.html

    Also, click on the category Aggression in the sidebar for an article I did about other websites on dog aggression.

  24. Em says:

    Hi, there. I need help with my mini austrailian shephard/chow mix dog. She just turned a year old in February, however, she’s always had a bit of an issue with food agression. We’ve had her since she was six weeks old, so we know that she’s not had to fight for food or been mistreated. When she eats, if we get to close, she’ll growl and still eat while she’s growling so I’m always worried she’ll choke. And then when she has a porkhide twist or rawhide, she’s recently gotten to the point where she starts swallowing it whole to where she starts gagging, so my boyfriend will try to swoop the piece of rawhide out of her throat. Both times this has happened she growls like she’s a rabid dog, but lst night she bit him. to the point where he needed stitches on his thumb and his index finger. I know she’s passed needing training. I’m just really short on money for extras. I’ve put away all treats, atleast for now, so she won’t have the reason to get possesive and bite.

    I’m just worried that if we have kids over or, God-willing, kids of our own, then we willb e putting them in danger. Any ideas or tips? And I read the 9 here, and they are good, I just didn’t know if anyone had any personal success stories that may help me out.

    Thanks for reading!

  25. Rosana Hart says:

    Susan, it sounds like your situation is more serious than ours was. I suggest re-reading step 8, on finding a good trainer, even if money happens to be tight. I’ve also recently written a couple of blog entries this month on finding trainers and when they are needed.

    This sounds like something where an experienced person present will see things and be able to help you. I’d say it’s highly likely that you can work this out if you do find a good trainer.

    Best wishes!

    Rosana

  26. Susan Bryant says:

    I can totally relate to your situation in #5. My fiance (Alex) and I adopted a pet from the “Adopte a Rescue Pet” program. The dog tries to guard me from my fiance as well as our other dog (she is a teacup chiuahua). It’s especially obvious when we are all in the living room and the dog is laying at my feet in front of the couch. When Alex enters the room, the dog will growl at him.

    The dog plays with Alex and the other dog all the time. Alex spends lots of time with the dog, takes him for walks, and has trained the dog to sit, stay, come, lay down, and even roll over. Then, when I come home from work the dog has a completly differant personality! He growls at Alex and almost completly ignores him and his commands. He’ll only answer to me, if he answers to anyone. I’ve tried all the advice that has been given to me. I’ve tried ignoring him, and having Alex give him treats. I don’t pet him or try to confort him. I’ll usually take him buy the collar and lead him to the crate. But in the end, he does the same thing the next day.

    What did you do to stop this? When your husband gave the dog treats in the hallway, did he call him? Did he not let him back in to the office? How did he keep the dog from growling at him once all three of you were in the office? Any feedback would be great. Thank you!

  27. Rosana Hart says:

    Todd, see #6 above.

  28. Todd says:

    You might want to actually give tips on how to train an aggressive dog…

  29. Rosana Hart says:

    Cheryl,

    Get help locally from a certified trainer.

    Rosana

  30. cheryl lemke says:

    We rescued a texas rednose female pitbull not spayed .She had pups 6 months earlier .Brought her home she is very aggresive towards our 10 year old male pitbull since we brought her home 5 days ago .How do we introduce them safetly .Tryed spraying her face , are keeping them in seperate rooms they each get private time out what do we do ?