What to do if your dog is aggressive


Dogs can bite a person or other animal when they feel fear or perceive us as a threat

  • Author: By EVA SAN MARTÍN
  • Last updated: August 17, 2015

Dogs that growl, teach their teeth violently and dogs that can even reach bite people or other animals These canine gestures show aggressive dog behavior, which can have dire consequences. This article explains what causes the aggressiveness of the dog (fear, territoriality, dominance), why you have to be especially careful with children and eight tips to stop violence in dogs on time.

Dog aggressions to people, why do they occur?

"The aggressions of dogs towards people or other animals is the most common canine behavior problem, and also the one that motivates a greater number of professional consultations," explains the Society for the Fight against Cruelty to Animals.

A dog can develop a territorial feeling between the year and three years of age, and will try to defend its area from the entry of intruders

But, Why are these, sometimes, dangerous canine attacks? The first reason that experts point out is the feeling of dominance in the dog, which may become excessive. The dogs are social animals, which live in a herd, of which their human family is part, as well as the rest of the animals with which they live.

When the dog sees its hierarchical position in danger in this pack, it can react with violent behavior. "If the dog feels that he occupies a hierarchical position superior to ours, it is not strange that he tries to challenge us on certain occasions, "the researchers add.

A dog also has a territorial behavior inherited from its ancestors the wolves. A dog that develops this feeling will defend the area that he considers his against the entrance of intruders (house, his usual walking area, etc.). These territorial behaviors in dogs are very strange in puppies, but they can arise during the youth stage of the dog, around the year and three years of age.

Dogs that bite a person out of fear

Fear or fear of the dog is another frequent cause of canine attacks on people. The situation of violence then arises when the animal feels threatened by us or believes that someone intends to cause harm. This attack responds, consequently, to a defensive attitude on the part of the dog.

A dog that throws its ears back may be warning that it feels threatened, and that it will try to defend itself

It is not always easy to interpret the fear of the dog, and its possible dire consequences. "A dog that throws its ears back and opens its eyes a lot while looking up is saying with its body something like: 'don't even think about approaching you, as you get closer I will have to defend myself', and it is likely that he will bite the one in front of him, "adds Karen Pryor, animal ethologist and author of' Don't kill him. Show him '! (Kns, 2012), a reference book in the world of dog education.

Misunderstandings are not, however, exclusive to people. That is, dogs also have difficulties, sometimes, at the time of understand the intention of our gestures. Therefore, it is not strange that a game behavior with the dog, such as raising the arm to throw the ball, can be deciphered by the dog in a wrong way. The animal can interpret that he will be beaten and he may try to defend himself With an attack.

The different body language used by dogs and people explains that precautions must be taken in the case of babies. The dog will not always understand the innocent intentions of the child, and may try to bite if he feels threatened by the child.

Dogs that bite people: eight tips to stop them

1. Dog aggressiveness can be dangerous, so it is advisable to contact a professional or canine education expert to work it and stop it in a positive way.

2. Pain in the dog may be the reason for some aggressive canine behaviors. Therefore, it is advisable to consult with the veterinarian to discard diseases that may be the origin of the violent behavior.

3. Avoid the dog stressful situations, that arouse their aggressiveness. Fear, excessive noise or mass dog meetings (in the case of a shy dog) can unleash their fears and cause combative behavior.

4. A dog can develop aggressive behavior when deprived of an object (shoe, rope, canine toys) for which he feels a strong attachment. In the case of personal items (family clothing) it is convenient to offer the animal a more attractive prize (food) in exchange for the stolen garment.

5. The sterilization of the dog usually lowers its violent behavior, as well as the level of anxiety to achieve a sexual partner.

6. Punishments do not stop the aggressiveness of the dog. In fact, reprisals (as well as physical, cruel and ineffective reprimands) often increase fear of the dog and, with it, its violent defense reactions.

7. Retaliation is also not useful to correct canine territorial behavior. The dog will understand that its space is threatened and its impulse to defend it can be increased.

8. Do not wake up the aggressiveness of the dog. Some canine games may further incite the dominant behavior of the dog. This is the case of proposals such as the tug of war, which involves pulling a rope caught from one end by the owner and, from the other, by the can.

Discover the causes of aggression>

In order to deal with a dog that is aggressive or reactive, it is necessary to know what the cause is. If the root of your problems is treated, they will disappear. So if your dog is aggressive, the first step is observation: when he reacts, what and what gestures and body posture he has to be able to know what he is thinking.

It is very different if a dog is aggressive for fear than if it is because it has had a bad experience And he doesn't trust the other dogs. In the same way, an animal that seems aggressive will not have the same treatment, but it only happens that it does not know how to play delicately or another that does it because the other dogs dislike it.

When your dog starts having reactions that may seem aggressive, make a record of them. When does it happen? What had happened just before? What is your body posture? The more data you have and the better you have registered them, the sooner you will discover what causes such discomfort.

Discard that is caused by pain or illness

In the same way that humans are irritable and in a bad mood when we have a tooth or ear ache, something that justifies his bad character may hurt your dog. So when your pet starts having problems with other dogs or aggressive reactions, the first step is a veterinary review.

The main causes can be in the teeth or ears, but we cannot forget about joint pain, digestive problems and even some hormonal imbalance that can only be diagnosed with veterinary tests.

When you go to the consultation, Tell your veterinarian that your behavior has changed. Professionals will know what to look for or what are the most common discomforts that can affect their behavior and well-being.

If the cause of its reactivity was rooted in a physical problem, by eliminating it, its behavior has been solved. Do not stay with the doubts: if your dog behaves badly, consult a professional, even to rule out that your dog is suffering pain or has some kind of discomfort.

See if only your dog is aggressive only in times of heat

Sometimes we forget that During times of heat, dogs change their behavior. Both males and females, when we enter one of these seasons, they can become aggressive or territorial.

In nature, an adult dog would encounter a bitch in heat very occasionally. However, in our cities it intersects with dozens of animals every day, and In the epochs of heat all hormones and the tension of the rest of dogs cram the parks and the squares.

There are several possible solutions to this problem: to sterelize your pet is one of them. But nevertheless, This reactivity will only occur temporarily and will pass by itself when the females leave the heat. Make the forecast that in spring and autumn your dog will act strangely to not take any fright in a few months.

Avoid bad reactions

Discarded the physical cause and while investigating what are the reasons for their behavior, avoid as much as you can the bad experiences in your dog. Exposing it to what worries you so much that it causes aggressive behavior will not help.

Choose the walking hours in which fewer dogs will be found. If he barks and throws himself against trucks and motorcycles, avoid them, in the same way if your problem is children or adults. It won't do you any good to find yourself repeatedly with what causes bad reactions, Nor will it suit you to deal with this problem on every walk.

Consult an educator

You know that your dog does not have an organic cause that is causing a problem, more or less you have clear the cause of its aggressiveness, and although you have avoided encountering what causes bad reactions, You don't know how to fix it.

The solution you have left is to contact a canine educator. Aggression is a serious problem that only gets worse over time. A positive canine educator will listen to you and the dog, and after knowing the cause of your discomfort will decide a personalized treatment for your case.

Choose an educator who treats you with respect and does not harm your pet. Reject professionals who use spiked, electric collars or the theory of dominance with your dog: these methods only hide the reasons for aggression and aggravate the problem.

Aggression, fortunately, is a rare problem in dogs. In order to treat it, It is essential to know the causes of these reactions: After ruling out that there is a physical problem, it is best to choose a canine educator to help you both.

Are there dangerous dog breeds?

Dogs are not born being aggressive. Although it is true that there are some races that have by nature a greater protective instinct and perhaps a lower tolerance threshold. However, it is rare for an animal to bite for no reason. Experts agree that every dog, whatever the breed, can learn to behave properly in different situations. A pit bull, a rottweiler or a doberman does not have to be more dangerous than a golden or a farmer. The root of aggressive behavior in dogs is not so much in their genes but in defects in socialization, fears and phobias, poor management of frustration, anxiety, excessive excitement, etc.

Your dog's behavior is in your hands

First of all, the main thing that needs to be done is to accept that our partner has a problem and that we must help him solve it in order to have a better quality of life. You should not reproach yourself for the aggressive behaviors of your furry, most of the time they are a consequence of insecurity and ignorance. Sometimes, this attitude is not due at all to the bad management of the problem by the owner, but to previous traumatic experiences that the animal has lived, as may be the case, for example, of some adult dogs that are adopted from a animal shelter.

My dog ​​is aggressive, do I need help?

The important thing is to recognize the problem and try to tackle it. If your furry threatens or comes to bite a person or an animal, then you have to act! Experts such as canine educators or ethologists can help you. You should not worry, there is nothing wrong with asking for help, it is neither a failure nor a sign of weakness, but of determination and commitment towards your dog.

Fear is the common denominator

It is not necessary that a dog has had a bad experience to become fearful. In fact, it is the dogs that have had the least opportunities to socialize that become more fearful. So socialization is very important (for advice on socialization click here). If your puppy gets used to seeing people, both adults and children, as 'providers' of fun, pampering and treats, he will not have to exhibit threatening behaviors.

To help your puppy overcome his fears, you should expose him to noises and situations as 'terrifying' for him as vacuuming, traffic or mailman. Make him understand that they are part of everyday life.

First step: identify the causes

That our actions influence the aggressiveness of the dog is, in reality, a comfort. Just as an erroneous education can produce a reactive character, an adequate education can end these answers and make your best friend a pleasant companion.

So what should you change for the future? You have to study the triggers of aggressive behavior. The better you know them, the easier it will be to avoid them and desensitize the dog to that stimulus that makes him react.

Your puppy and the rest of the people

People, whether they are friends, relatives or strangers, are very different from each other: different ages, different aspects, different sizes, which can be very confusing for your puppy. Therefore, make sure that from a very young age, get in touch with as many people as possible. In this way, strangers will seem less rare and learn to calm down and be more confident. Just don't let your new friends overwhelm you with your show of affection.

It is also important that children get used to it. Few children can resist the temptation to play with a puppy and even if they don't intend to harm him, they can scare him. It is a good idea to walk with him near a school, before you know it, the children will come to make you laugh. But you should keep in mind that puppies get tired right away, so it is better that their encounters with people be brief so that your puppy has time to rest.

Why can aggressive dogs become?

A dog does not become aggressive overnight. Aggression is the result of continued or repeated negative feelings, especially from poor emotional management in the face of fear or that have been reinforced over time. However, also the pain caused by a disease can drain the animal and lead to unwanted behaviors. Nor can a dog bite because he likes to fight or because he enjoys intimidating or harming others. An aggressive dog is almost always an insecure animal that does not know how to resolve a situation itself.

Don't let him play bite ... hands

Before you took it, your puppy was used to playing with his brothers and sisters. To bite each other. So when he gets home he'll want to play to bite you. To get him not to bite you, you'll have to make his attention turn to his toys.

You should know that when you spend time with your puppy, caressing him or making him laugh, he will want to bite your hand. It is best to always have one of your toys at hand. Make it difficult for you to bite your hand by clenching your fist and offer a toy in return, waving it around the puppy. It won't take long to realize that toys are much more fun than the 'giant fist'.

Causes and forms of aggression

The reasons for this insecurity and the inability to behave otherwise in a given situation must be sought, as we have said, in the environment. A lack of socialization from a puppy, a poor education, as well as a lifestyle that does not meet mental and physical needs are the main reasons for bad behaviors in dogs. It can also happen that an animal has suffered in the past negative experiences, traumatic experiences or chronic pain and these can be triggers of fear and, as a consequence, of aggressiveness.

Actually, listing the exact reasons is not that simple. Because, the first thing is to observe when the dog reacts aggressively. Under what circumstances do you start to growl or show your teeth? Are you nervous about other dogs? Do you feel he has to defend you? Are you afraid that someone can take your things away? Depending on the reason, the aggression can manifest itself in different ways:

  • Self defense: You feel uncomfortable before another dog or feel your freedom alibi.
  • Protective aggression: The members of the family of the enemy must be defended.
  • Resource protection: as for example the fight for an own object such as toys or the bed. The dog feels he has to protect them from others.

Do not forget that the learning experience you may have had with your aggressive behaviors is also decisive. When a dog learns that biting removes the stimulus that causes fear, this behavior is reinforced. Could aggressiveness be his way of venting frustration? Could it be that even these behaviors were positivized? It is clear that there are not many people who consciously reward their dogs for growling or biting, but it is true that many, in an attempt to calm them, speak to them in a reassuring tone ("calm, everything is fine") or even pet them gently.

1- Contact a canine ethologist

Only a professional can really help solve a problem of canine aggression directed at people. It is wrong to think that "everything will improve" if no means are put into it.

A canine ethologist will do the following:

1.1- Risk analysis

How is the dog and what potential does it have to harm? Do you live with children, people with disabilities, the elderly or those at risk? How long ago did the problem start? Is the dog impulsive or throws warning signs before biting? Have you ever come to bite? What was the actual severity of the bite? Is it possible to start a treatment or will the necessary conditions not be met? Can safety measures be implemented for the duration of the treatment or will it not be possible?

1.2- Discard organic cause

Before starting a behavior modification treatment, it should be ruled out whenever there is an organic cause. If so, the first thing would be to solve that organic cause.

1.3- Make a diagnosis

The ethologist must assess the target of aggression (the dog attacks strangers, or only a specific person, or only certain people in a very specific situation, etc.), what is the position of the dog when shows aggressive (offensive, defensive or ambivalent) and what is the context in which aggressiveness occurs.

1.4- Pay for a treatment

Each case is particular and only an expert can assess, for each dog, which is the most appropriate treatment. However, the following point generally summarizes what any treatment for canine aggression consists of.

2- Avoid confrontation and give the dog an alternative

The risk of a dog biting and hurting is so great that one should never be tempted to fate. Therefore, the basic idea when dealing with a case of canine aggression directed at people is:

2.1- Avoid putting the dog in the situation that activates the aggression: If we do not want the dog to learn to attack, do not give him opportunities to do so.

2.2- Offer an alternative: If the dog has learned to achieve what he wants or move away from what he does not want through aggression, we will have to give him an alternative that works just as well.

That is, if, for example, a dog barks and growls at strangers and has learned that, when he does, they move away, we must teach him another way to keep them away other than barking and growling. For example, we can teach him to come to us and place himself behind our body, so that we can act as a barrier.

Your puppy only learns what you teach him

You should keep in mind that everything you teach your puppy will become normal for him when he grows up. So when you play with him, imagine him when he grows up and judge if you like what he does or not. If he starts to growl, or tries to bite the hand holding the toy, or harasses a small child during the game, stop dry and leave with the toy. You will soon learn why the fun is over and will not repeat the action that has caused the game to end.
If you are concerned about your puppy's behavior, or would like more information on available books, courses or training classes, consult your veterinarian.