What is Aggression in Dogs & How to Help Manage It
Dog aggression can be a serious problem as it can lead to not only make your pet difficult to be around, but could cause them to bite or hurt others. Because of this, it’s important to help manage it as soon as possible. Below is more information about what dog aggression is and some ways you can help to stop it.
What is Dog Aggression?
Dog aggression is when a canine acts very aggressive toward another. This can be due to numerous reasons, such as dominance issues or fear. When dog aggression occurs, a dog will show various signs including barring their teeth and growling.
What Makes a Dog Aggressive
There are various reasons as to why a dog might be aggressive.
They are Stressed or Fearful
If your dog is suddenly aggressive for no reason, it could be because something has made them stressed or fearful. This could be because of a new living location or a new family member or pet.
They are Hormonal
Sometimes aggression can be caused by nothing more than hormones, especially with males. Because of this, it’s often recommended that you spay or neuter your dog which can help to calm down aggressive dog behavior.
They are Not Properly Socialized
Dogs could also be aggressive because they have not been properly socialized. They might not know how to correctly be around other dogs and people which could make them act in ways that are aggressive. This is often one of the main causes of dog on dog aggression as some dogs might not understand how to properly behave around each other resulting in a major confrontation.
They Have Learned the Behavior
Surprisingly, sometimes dogs can be aggressive because they have learned that their aggressive behavior removes whatever they don’t like. For instance, if they dislike a certain dog, they might use aggressive behavior to get the dog to be away from them. They then believe that because that dog left due to their aggressiveness, it will work for other things they are fearful or stressed about.
They are Possessive
Some dogs might be aggressive in certain circumstances because they are possessive over certain items. This can include them not wanting you to touch their special toy, bone, or food dish. Because of this, they might become aggressive to help protect their claimed treasure.
How to Tell if a Dog is Aggressive: Signs of Dog Aggression
If you’re unsure as to whether or not your dog might be aggressive, there are a few things you can watch out for.
They are Growling
Growling is a common sign of dog aggression. This is often because the dog feels their position is being challenged in some way and needs to show who is boss. Overall, growling is a sign that the dog is upset and could bite.
They Try to Bite
Most aggressive dogs will try to lunge at people or other animals and try to bite them. This is a major sign of aggression that can be very problematic as it could lead to injuries. Usually, a dog will growl a bit before biting so as to give a warning to the person or animal it feels angered by.
They Show Their Teeth
Another sign of an aggressive dog is that they will show their teeth. They will lift the upper portion of their mouth to show the top of their teeth. This is usually the beginning sign of a dog becoming upset and will often be followed by growling and attempts at biting.
They Have a Stiff Body Posture
Dogs who are aggressive will also tend to have a very stiff body posture. You’ll find they keep still, put their ears back, and might be slightly moving their mouth. As with other signs, this is a sign that the dog is skeptical, upset, and will eventually start to show more extreme signs of aggression like biting and growling.
How to Tell if a Dog is Playing or Being Aggressive
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether or not a dog is playing for being aggressive. However, there are a few ways you can tell the difference between them.
The Growls are Short
Many dogs will growl when they play, but these are much different from aggressive growls. Playful growls are usually shorter and louder in pitch. On the other hand, aggressive growls are usually longer and much deeper.
They Freeze Up
If a dog is uncomfortable, they will freeze and make their body completely stiff. This is a sign that they are becoming stressed or fearful and it could lead to aggressive behavior.
They Stare Intently
While dogs will usually watch other dogs or people play, playful pups might wag their tails or blink while doing so. An aggressive dog will not blink if it feels threatened and will stare intently at the person or animal it feels angered by.
How Can You Tell if a Dog is Nervous to the Point of Being Aggressive?
As mentioned above, you can tell if a dog is nervous to the point of being aggressive by looking at their body behavior. If they tense up, start to do low growls, or show their teeth, it could be due to them being so nervous they have no other choice. This usually happens if they are cornered, feel threatened, or don’t like the person or animal that is near them.
Nervous dogs showing aggression will usually be happy and playful otherwise. However, the downside is that sometimes it can be difficult to tell what exactly will make a nervous dog frightened. Because of this, they might end up being aggressive unexpectedly in certain situations.
Why is My Dog Being Aggressive all of a Sudden?
A dog who is suddenly aggressive out of nowhere can be concerning sign. This is because it can mean multiple things, including that they are suffering from some type of medical problem. For instance, sometimes if a dog feels sick, they will try to hide their symptoms by being aggressive. This gives them a way to help protect themselves. On the other hand, your dog might not be sick, but could have somehow injured themselves. Because of this, they might be trying to heal themselves secretly and want you to stay away from them.
These are the two main reasons why a dog might suddenly be very aggressive. Despite this, it could be also due to them feeling “abandoned” due to a new family member (whether human or animal) joining the home.
How to Tell if a Dog is Aggressive Towards Cat
It can sometimes be difficult to tell if a dog is being aggressive toward a cat. A dog will usually show signs of aggression such as growling, chasing, and lunging at cats.
Keep in mind that cats aren’t always innocent. Sometimes they might swat at or chase a dog. This could end up making the dog aggressive toward them because they are tired of it. Some dogs and cats might also be trying to claim dominance in the home and could be aggressive toward each other because of that.
If you want to prevent your dog from being aggressive toward cats, there are a few things you can do. The first is to try to get them to socialize with cats while you carefully watch them. This way, they can understand how cats react and get used to them.
If the method above doesn’t really work well, you could also try to use humane consequences. If you find they are being aggressive toward a cat, remove them from the situation and put them in a dog crate for a few minutes. Make sure to tell them “No” so they clearly understand their behavior is wrong. You can continue to keep doing this until the behavior stops. However, make sure to reward them when they are being calm around a cat. This can involve giving them a treat and using positive words and phrases around them.
What to Do with an Aggressive Dog: How to Manage Dog Aggression
Thankfully, there are a few ways that you can manage dog aggression. Below are some tips you can consider using to help stop it.
Use Dog Aggression Training
Dog aggression training is a very helpful way to teach your dog to stop being aggressive toward others. You can learn tips online you can try to do yourself, or take your pup to a trained professional. This professional knows how to properly train dogs to stop being aggressive in a safe and humane way. They will often try to get them to socialize with other people and animals and use various other methods to help stop their aggressive behavior.
Get Them Spayed or Neutered
As mentioned previously, sometimes aggression can be caused by hormones. Because of this, it’s important to get your dog spayed or neutered if you feel that their aggression is too much. Because spaying or neutering your dog will lower their hormone production, it will help to keep them calm which can lead to less aggression.
Do a Check-Up at Your Vet
If your dog has suddenly become very aggressive, it could be due to medical issues. Certain problems, like hypothyroidism, brain tumors, and hidden injuries, can make your dog change. Because of this, make sure to take them to your vet so they can do a check-up to make sure their aggression is not due to some type of medical problem. If your vet does find that it could be caused by a medical condition, they will do tests on them and try to find medication that can help to alleviate the symptoms it is causing.
Don’t Overdo Consequences
When pet owners see their dog becoming aggressive, they often get angry with their dog and try to get them quickly away from that situation while chastising them. While it’s important to tell your dog that what they are doing is wrong, sometimes doing so in the heat of the moment can make their aggression worse. In fact, your dog may eventually turn against you because they feel you are becoming a new threat.
Due to this, it’s important to learn how to handle aggressive situations. Ideally, you should keep your dog away from situations that make them upset. However, if they do become aggressive, stay calm, tell them no, and put them in a type of time-out. This will help them to learn that aggressive behavior will result in a time-out.
Remove Things that Make Them Stressed or Fearful
Sometimes the only thing you can do to help manage aggression in dogs is to remove the things that might make dogs stressed or fearful. For instance, if they dislike a certain room or object, keep them away from it.
However, this can be a little difficult if they are stressed or fearful due to a human or animal. While it’s important to try to get them to socialize with them, sometimes this won’t always work. Because of this, it’s a good idea to keep them away from the human or animal as best as you can.
Use Natural Means
You could also try to stop aggression in dogs through natural means.
This herb can help to calm your dog down in numerous ways and even work to keep them relaxed. It might also make them happier which can be a significant help for dogs who might be scared or fearful often.
Just as with chamomile, scullcap is used to help relax aggressive dogs. However, it tends to be a little stronger than chamomile, which is why you’ll need to visit your vet to get it.
Passionflower is often given to dogs with anxiety or aggressive behavior as it calms them down. It can also encourage them to sleep better as it boosts their body’s levels of serotonin and dopamine.
Vitamin B-1, also known as thiamine, is a way to help naturally calm down stress in the body and works alongside the immune system to do so. Because of this, Vitamin B-1 is ideal to use on dogs whose aggression might be due to stress or fear.
You could also try giving you dog various types of supplements. Some to consider using are Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) and 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). GABA works as a neurotransmitter which can result in a much calmer dog. 5-HTP also works the same way, but it a bit more powerful. It helps to increase levels of serotonin in the brain which is what releases a calming effect in their body. Otherwise, a low serotonin level could lead to aggressiveness.
Essential oils can be rubbed on your dog as a way to help calm them down. The oils will soak into their skin will they will then get to work relaxing them. Some of the best options to use are lavender, chamomile, and sweet marjoram.
You can buy special pre-made essential oil mixtures for dogs at a pet store or make your own. However, if you do make your own, make sure to dilute the oils with a carrier oil, like olive oil. This will help to prevent the oils from burning your pet’s skin.
CBD oil is yet another holistic method to try with an aggressive dog. It has been shown to not only reduce anxiety in pets, but calm down their body, which can lead to them feeling more relaxed and less tense as it works to level out their endocannabinoid system. Unlike other parts of the cannabis plant, CBD oil doesn’t contain THC so it won’t have a psychoactive effect. Because of this, it’s very safe to use.
You can give your pet special CBD oil treats or rub the oil on their body. You can massage the CBD oil into their paws, stomach, or legs where it will absorb into their skin. Ideally, test a small area with the oil first though to ensure that it doesn’t react negatively with your pet.
If you have other questions about CBD oil, make sure you talk things over with your vet. They will be able to tell you how much of the oil to give them and if it’s safe to do so.
While these ways will usually help calm aggression in dogs, if a dog’s aggression is severe, it might not be the most helpful. Because of this, it might be a good idea to consider using other methods.
An aggressive dog can be very difficult to handle and be around, especially if they are a family pet. While they might be a great family member, their aggressiveness could end up becoming dangerous and result in injuries. Because of this, it’s important to manage their aggression whether that be through things such as training or by doing a medical check-up. By working actively to help stop aggression in dogs, your pet will eventually learn their behavior is unacceptable and will start to calm their aggressiveness down.
Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, University of Belgrade
Ivana Vukasinovic grew up in Serbia and attended the University of Belgrade where she received a degree in Veterinary medicine in 2012 and later completed surgical residency working mostly with livestock. Her first year of practice was split between busy small animal practice and emergency clinic, and after two more years of treating many different species of animals, she opened her own veterinary pharmacy where an interest in canine and feline nutrition emerged with an accent on fighting animal obesity. In her free time, she acts as a foster parent for stray animals before their adoption, likes to read SF books and making salted caramel cookies.
Thanks for stopping by!
P.S. We Love You!
The Innovet Team
Please do not ask for emergency or specific medical questions about your pets in the comments. Innovet Pet Products is unable to provide you with specific medical advice or counseling. A detailed physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinarian are required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet requires emergency attention or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic health conditions, please contact or visit your local/preferred veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.
Please share your experiences and stories, your opinions and feedback about this blog, or what you've learned that you'd like to share with others.