The upbringing that a puppy has is the most pivotal factor in how he or she will behave as an adult. If your dog exhibits aggressive and untameable behavior, it's highly likely that your canine companion was taught to be that way as a result of the people who owned them as puppies.
Whether your dog was intentionally bred to have aggressive traits, or your dog's aggression stems from significant violent history, it's highly probable that your dog's aggressive nature is how they cope with the fear they have as a result of their past. This behavior is known as fear aggression.
Understanding Fear Aggression and Behavior Problems in Dogs
No matter the specific reason that caused your dog to be aggressive, your dog has a chance to live life aggression-free. It will take quite a lot of time and effort to revert your dog to a place where they exhibit obedience and good behavior. It all starts with replacing fear aggression with confidence and undoing the reactions your dog has to things.
Behavioral therapy is an excellent addition to the lives of aggressive dogs, but not all dogs with aggression will take well to behavioral therapy alone. Sometimes, aggressive dogs require medication, as well. You can think of the situation as being similar to that of human beings who've experienced trauma, mental health disorders, behavioral issues, or any combination of the three.
Therapy alone doesn't work for people suffering from a variety of behavior-oriented issues, so it's no surprise that the same rings true for dogs as well. If medication appears to be the best treatment option for a dog with aggressive tendencies, then there's absolutely no shame in that. However, you'll want to do your research and ensure that your dog is being seen by an experienced professional.
Medication is not something to take lightly, especially in the context of dogs with aggression problems. Today, we'd like to talk about the treatment and medication options for dogs with aggression. We will start by defining aggression in dogs and make a list of the most common behavioral medications used for treating dog aggression.
Then, we will explore the possibilities that dog aggression medication will backfire and ultimately worsen the situation instead of bettering your dog's life. From there, we will discuss the likelihood of your dog's behavior going away entirely as opposed to being capable of resurfacing.
Aggressive dogs need love just as much as calm and level headed dogs. You could even argue that dogs with aggression are in more need of love and attention. Whichever way you look at it, the truth is that dogs with aggression are the way they are for unfortunate reasons, and there is hope. It just comes down to knowing where to start.
What is Aggression? Classification of Aggressive Behavior in Dogs
By definition, aggression refers to hostile reactions in response to a non-threatening environment, typically without being provoked in the first place. Aggression in dogs is categorized by behaviors that reflect the qualities of being standoffish, unpredictable, and ready to attack if they feel threatened enough.
All aggressive behaviors are marked by a dog's need to defend himself or herself against what they view as a threat. Behavior is defined as aggressive, particularly when the intensity of the response doesn't quite match the situation at hand. When dogs exhibit aggression, it tends to be more explosive and defensive than it should be, all because the dog feels threatened in an environment where there are little to no actual threats.
The dog simply perceives something as a threat, which then causes them to act aggressively to protect themselves from the perceived threat. There are so many different ways in which behaviors manifest, ranging from slightly dangerous to uncontrollably rage-filled.
More specific examples of these behaviors in dogs include:
- Tensing up
- Staring intensely
- Barking with force
- Squinting the eyes
- Enlarged pupil size
- Deep belly barks
- Leaning forward
- Facing the perceived threat
- Puffing out their chests
- Ramming their nose into the threatening source
- Nipping and/or biting
- Snarling and repeated barking
- Charging or cornering the threat
Some Examples of Aggressive Behavior in Dogs
As mentioned, there's a lot of fear attached to the frightening behavior that aggressive dogs exhibit. We touched on the idea that the behavior is rooted in fear aggression. Still, another highly likely possibility is that the aggressive tendencies your dog leans towards are more the by-product of anxiety than anything else.
Since dogs can't express the root of their aggression, pet owners are left to figure out exactly what's going on with their dogs, so it becomes a guessing game. However, there are many suggestions as to what causes dog aggression, and you can use these ideas as ways to identify what could be going on with your puppy pal.
Some veterinarians suggest that pet owners look at the daily elements in a dog's life and see if any clues are surrounding the dog's aggression. For example, there are instances in which dogs act aggressively because the food they are being given is not their cup of tea. This is primarily true for dogs that express aggression in the form of territorial behavior concerning eating habits.
If your dog becomes aggressive around the time they usually eat, especially if another dog is present, the aggression could very likely be centered around food. Maybe your dog grew up in an environment where he or she had to fight for their food, leading them to associate feeding times as moments to be overly aggressive.
This is indicative of food-related anxiety. In such a situation, your dog might think that they won't receive food if they aren't aggressive. Or it could be the case that your pet is scared of another dog taking their food from them, so they act aggressively to fend off the other pup. This is simply an example of aggression in dogs.
How To Figure Out What's Triggering Your Dog's Aggressive Behavior
It might not fit the mold of your dog's aggression, as dogs with aggression have their backstories and reasons for being aggressive. As a dog owner, you will likely have some sort of insight into examples of your own dog's aggression because you'll notice a trend. When does your dog exhibit aggression most often? Is there a common denominator?
By answering these questions and paying attention to when your dog is most aggressive, you can start eliminating irrelevant possibilities and zero in on the exact triggers. If you are having difficulty pinpointing the times your dog is most aggressive, reach out to other dog owners and seek assistance from your dog's veterinarian. Having a community of people who understand dog aggression can make all the difference in treating your dog's behavior.
Common Behavioral Medications Used for Treating Dog Aggression
There are four general categories of medication used to treat behavior problems and aggressive tendencies in dogs. The four types of dog aggression medications are:
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs
- Tricyclics, or TCAs
Although these four types of medications are well suited for the treatment of aggression in dogs, it doesn't mean that all four medicinal categories can be successfully applied to your dog's situation. For example, dogs that take well to SSRIs might not react positively to beta-blockers.
And even though a TCA prescription will calm an aggressive dog, it doesn't mean that it can be switched out for an anti-anxiety medication without any adverse reactions. The brains of dogs are so wildly different that it's hard to know which medication will work for each dog, but that's where the expertise of licensed professionals comes into the picture.
Professionals who specialize in veterinary medicine will take it from there. But even though you will not be the one to figure out which behavioral medication your dog should take, it still helps to at least loosely understand why your dog's medical specialist is choosing one drug over the others. Let's take a brief look at these four categories of medicine for dogs with behavior issues!
A few widespread types of anti-anxiety medications used for treating dog aggression include Anafranil, Clomicalm, and Buspirone. For dogs with less extreme cases of anxiety, Buspirone is generally the go-to medication. There are many positive side effects of Buspirone, including a sense of calm that is void of sedative properties, as well as lowering anxiety levels without the likelihood of potentially increasing them instead.
The class of drugs known as beta-blockers is fantastic for treating the physical manifestations that anxiety disorders can cause for your dog. Most often, these physical side effects encompass symptoms like an increased heart rate, rapid eye movements, labored breathing, and high blood pressure readings, to name a few.
Beta-blockers are otherwise referred to as beta-adrenergic blocking agents because they actively slow the heart so that it reaches a healthy beating rate. In succession, beta-blockers also reduce high blood pressure, all because these beta-adrenergic blocking agents make it impossible for a particular hormone to act upon the body.
This hormone is epinephrine or adrenaline, and it causes an increase in energy levels all by acting on the heartbeat of your dog. With beta-blockers, the increased heart rate, as well as other physical side effects of anxiety. Beta-blockers make for excellent treatment options in instances where dogs have certain behaviors rooted in anxiety.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors
Known more commonly as SSRIs these are medications that quite literally interact with the reuptake of serotonin. SSRIs make it impossible for neurons to absorb serotonin molecules.
As one of the neurotransmitters associated with mood regulation and emotional responses, there is often a deficit in serotonin for dogs that exhibit behavior associated with depression and anxiety. Both of these mental illnesses have the potential of being a couple of contributing factors to dog aggression.
Two of the most recognized selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors for dog aggression are called Sertraline and Fluoxetine. If you're familiar with the antidepressant brand names of Prozac and Zoloft, they are the same as Fluoxetine and Sertraline, respectively, but for dogs.
Your dog will not ever be prescribed both SSRIs options at the same time, as that can be a potent combination. Sometimes, a licensed professional will prescribe anti-anxiety medication in tandem with an SSRI for dog aggression. Still, each case is different, and some dogs might benefit more so from an SSRI on its own.
Abbreviated as TCAs, tricyclics are medications such as Clomicalm and Anafranil, to name a couple of examples. Collectively, these types of behavior altering drugs are antidepressant medications that are often incorporated into the behavior modification plan of dogs that exhibit signs of anxiety, particularly separation anxiety.
The reason tricyclics are directed toward dogs with separation anxiety, among other forms of anxious behavior, is that the likelihood of side effects is less common. However, there are always risk factors, no matter the medication prescribed, and medicine for separation anxiety is not as easily tolerated as SSRIs.
Just like SSRIs, tricyclics work to adjust the chemical imbalance in a dog's brain. Separation anxiety could be situational, but it is also possible for the anxious behavior to stem from neurotransmitter imbalances, which TCAs strive to fix. Dog aggression rooted in significant anxiety, typically diminishes when treated with tricyclics.
Can the Medication Used to Treat Aggression Make it Worse?
If your dog's prescription drugs are worsening their symptoms of aggression, contact the animal behaviorist immediately. Fear aggression and other behavior problems can be worrisome enough when they are at the early stages.
When dog aggression escalates as a result of the wrong medication, the situation can become dangerous. Rather than trying to take things into your own hands, reach out to your dog's medical professionals so they can determine the best next steps.
With the seemingly endless risk factors associated with all kinds of prescription medications, there's always that small chance of a dog reacting negatively to the behavior drugs your dog's veterinary medicine specialist prescribes. Just because one treatment plan didn't bode well, in the long run, doesn't mean there isn't a better treatment plan out there.
The professionals who are treating your dog's behavior problems can work on crafting a behavior modification treatment plan that yields the desired side effects, so don't lose hope! While adverse side effects are not desirable, they are not uncommon either. Medication for an aggressive dog is an ever-evolving industry.
Just like prescription medicines for people, medication may cause the exact opposite side effects that the behaviorist is seeking, but that only calls for a behavior modification plan. Canine behavior problems are fickle, but there's a solution out there!
It could very well be the case that medication may not be enough for your dog's canine behavior problems. Sometimes, modifying your dogs behaviour requires therapy on top of medication directed toward lower bouts of fear aggression. Has your canine companion ever worked with a dog trainer? If not, a dog trainer might be the perfect addition to the equation.
How to Cure Dog Aggression
If you were only to treat the behavior of aggressive dogs, you would not accomplish the task of curing aggression. This is because the symptoms of aggression are just that — symptoms. And like all symptoms, they stem from a root cause.
So, to cure dog aggression, you must first localize the source. We've talked about this in a few sections above, but it all comes down to asking questions until you find the right answer. For example, what is the leading cause of your dog's aggressive behavior? Is it a situational response, or does your dog have a chemical imbalance?
These questions, and many others, just like them, can lead to answers that point you in the right direction. Curing these behaviors is not the same as curing the cause of aggression. If you don't cure the cause, the behavior will resurface at a later date.
How to Calm an Aggressive Dog
Dog aggression is a behavioral problem that dog owners should never try to deal with on their own unless they have professional experience in handling dogs with aggression. If your dog is acting aggressively, it is in everyone's best interest to hire an experienced dog trainer. When you invite a dog trainer to help your dog work through his or her aggression, you can rest assured that your dog is in excellent hands.
An experienced dog trainer will have tricks up their sleeves when it comes to treating dog aggression. A dog trainer knows the ins and outs of dog behavior, so they can offer insight into how the side effects of aggression are impacting your dog in terms of behavior. Additionally, a dog trainer will know what to do in response to a dog acting aggressively, which is something the average dog owner might not be well equipped with handling.
Common Myths Surrounding the Use of Behavior Drugs to Treat Aggression in Dogs
Not all dog owners are on board with the suggestion that dogs take prescription medication for aggression. It's understandable, too. Many people are hesitant to rely on drugs for their cognitive issues, so why would they want to administer prescriptions to their dogs?
As much as we respect the opinion of pet parents, there seems to be a trend amongst owners who don't want to medicate their dogs. A lot of people are reading myths about dog behavior correcting drugs and taking these false statements as truth. So, let's take a look at a few myths surrounding medication for dogs with aggressive tendencies!
Medication for Aggression Makes Dogs Sleep 24/7
The concept behind this myth is the idea that all anti-aggression remedies are sedatives, but that's factually not the case. The majority of behavior correcting drugs for dog aggression are either antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. None of these act as sedatives, nor are they intended for use as a sleep agent. There are certain medications that will help your dog fall asleep, but medicines of this nature are not prescribed for dogs with aggressive tendencies.
Behavioral Modification Medication Will Alter a Dog's True Personality
This is untrue, seeing as medications intended to minimize aggression in dogs is focused on changing behavior, not personality. Your dog's aggression stems from anxieties and specific fears, neither of which are personality-based.
Your dog's personality is separate from their behavioral impulses, especially when it comes to aggression. Personality is innate, but aggression is learned. Medications seek to undo the learned responses, not change anything your dog was born with, such as their personality.
Prescription Drugs are Inherently High Risk Remedies for Aggression
Prescription medications have a bad reputation as being unsafe. While you could argue that artificially designed medications are not the safest, this doesn't make them dangerous as a whole. It's essential to read the labels and keep all of the potential side effects in mind, but there is a very slim chance of your dog experiencing the possible adverse effects of these medications. Also, your dog will only begin taking an anti-aggression medication after being evaluated by professionals, so a lot of thought goes into the prescription before it is written and fulfilled by the pharmacy.
Can Dog Aggression Be Fixed?
Aggression in dogs can be fixed. Dogs are not doomed to a life of aggressive responses, even if they are older and well developed. There's a colloquial phrase that says you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, but when it comes to treating aggression, all dogs are fair game.
Just because a dog is aggressive doesn't mean the canine companion can be taught to unlearn those aggressive reactions. Some dogs might require more intense intervention methods and stricter training regimens than others, but not a single dog is a lost cause. Never stop believing in your dog! They'll be less aggressive sooner than later, especially when they know you're supporting them every inch of the way.