Dog Aggression

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A blog by guest Blogger Holly Barry

What to do if your dog displays aggressive traits and how to deal with a dog fight

Dogs really are ‘man’s best friend’ - they are loyal, devoted, loving, fun, friendly and intelligent. It can therefore be heartbreaking and confusing when your beloved dog shows some aggressive traits.

Aggressive behaviour in dogs includes biting, growling and lunging towards other dogs and people. This behaviour can also come with some displays of fear such as tucking the tail under, backing away or crouching.

 Causes of aggression in dogs

Unlike people, dogs are not aware of displaying a tough or hard image, or the attraction of notoriety - their aggression is a natural response.

There are a number of things that can cause aggression, including:

  • A past history of abuse and neglect

  • An owner's behaviour

  • Fear

  • A natural instinct to protect status with the ‘pack’ and territory

  • Pain

How to deal with aggressive behaviour

Find out the cause of the aggression

You can not change the aggressive behaviour of a dog unless you find out what is causing it, so that you can stop the cycle. Some dogs are aggressive towards strange dogs, whilst others growl if they are eating to protect their food.

How to break up a dog fight

It's a mistake to say that your dog simply won't ever fight. It’s not whether you have a good or bad dog - it is all about how two dogs’ personalities interact. It may be that another dog has attacked your dog, so you still need to know how to deal with this frightening situation.

If the aggression comes from your dog, the crucial point is to stop the aggressive behaviour before it escalates into contact with another dog.  

Signs that show that a fight might be imminent include:

  • An unwavering stare at the other dog

  • Lips pulled tight against the teeth

  • Tail held stiffly up or down

  • Dominant movements such as mounting

  • Stiff movements

If it is not possible to nip the fight in the bud and the fight has already begun, figure out which dog is at the high level of dominance and focus on that dog, trying to touch that dog’s ribcage so force the dog to open his mouth and therefore let go of the other dog.

Act calmly, quickly and assertively and use a loud voice to command and pull the dominant dog up from the hind legs. You have to make sure you do this from the back and pull up, or you could be accidentally bitten.

Do not get in between the dogs as you will get hurt. Throw water on them or put a barrier between them if you can, such as a blanket, dustbin lid or piece of cardboard - anything that you can see in the moment that can do the job.

If there is another person there, focus on one dog each.

Managing aggressive behaviour

In most cases you will be using positive reinforcement to teach your dog new behaviour with lots of treats and praise. For example, reward your dog with a treat and praise if they show courage in a situation that scares them and repeat the process as many times as you can.

Positivity is key!

Shouting at a dog can mean the dog feels the innate need to defend itself by biting.

A dog growling is a warning. If you punish a dog for growling, next time he may skip that part and simply go in for the bite.

If you are anxious and pull tighter on your dog’s lead when another dog comes near, your dog will soon get into the habit of seeing other dogs as a threat.

Punishing your dog for aggressive behavior can make the situation worse. They will then bark and pull on the lead to try and scare the other dogs away, so that they don’t get punished again. The other dogs will naturally see this as threatening and potentially go in to attack.

If you are happy and relaxed when you see other dogs, your dog will sense this and no longer see them as a danger.

Consistency is important and this is going to take some time. Seek professional help from a dog behaviourist or psychologist if you are struggling.

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