Before we discuss what to do if you have an aggressive dog, we must first determine what aggression is. Some people may confuse normal dog behavior with aggression and more often, people tend to confuse normal puppy behavior with aggression. Let’s start by discussing normal puppy behavior.
How to Distinguish Normal Puppy Behavior from Aggressive Behavior
Dogs, including puppies, can play rough. They bite. They bark. They growl. So, how do you tell the difference between rough play and aggressiveness? Normal puppy play will include biting, barking, and growling. However, there are cues to observe to ensure it is play and nothing more. One of the best indicators that the puppy is playing is the play bow. The play bow is the action of lowering the head and lifting the hind end. This is also called “downward dog” which I’m sure you have heard in the field of yoga. Another sign that dogs are playing and not fighting is tail wagging or wiggling of the behind in the case of dogs that do not have tails. So, what about the barking and growling? If the growling and/or barking is high pitched, it is play. However, if the growling is deep and long it could be aggressive. Puppies and even adult dogs do nip when they’re playing, and this is normal behavior. What you do not want to see is a stiffened body posture and/or lip curling or snarling. Finally, make sure that the dogs are taking turns playing. If one dog is dominating the play session, it could turn into an aggressive situation. If you have observed your dog and determined they are, in fact, demonstrating aggressive behaviors, what do you do then?
How to Address Aggressive Behavior
Let me start by saying that correcting aggressive behavior will not happen overnight. You must work at it and it is up to you as the pet parent to remain patient and consistent. There are many types of aggression and identifying the source of the aggression is the first step. Sometimes the aggression is redirected aggression. To learn more about redirected aggression, click here: https://thefrenchiemamablog.com/2021/06/09/redirected-aggression-in-dogs/
If you can determine the cause of aggression and eliminate what is causing the aggression, this will be your most productive approach. If you cannot eliminate the cause of the aggression and your dog becomes aggressive, it is crucial to remain calm. Many dog parents react to aggressive behavior by yelling and with quick movements. This is undoubtedly going to escalate the situation. You want to approach your dog slowly and speak in a soft calm tone. It is important to train your dog to know what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable behavior. This is where positive reinforcement comes in. If you are able to approach them slowly and walk them away from the situation calmly, it is very important to give them a lot of praise and treats if they are treat motivated. Do not punish the dog. This will only worsen the aggression. Behavioral modification methods are very practical in many situations. To learn more about behavioral modification, click here: https://thefrenchiemamablog.com/2020/08/01/behavioral-modification-using-operant-conditioning-training-your-frenchie/
If your dog becomes aggressive seemingly out of nowhere or if behavioral modification methods are not successful, be sure to have your dog examined by your veterinarian to rule out any health problems. If you have done all this and you still have issues, it is time to consult with a behavioral modification trainer.
Of course, the best method is preventing aggressive behavior to begin with. If you have a puppy or a new dog, be sure to provide them with plenty of socialization. Socialize them often with other people and other dogs. If you see them displaying dominant behaviors, attempt to stop them and be sure to present yourself as the alpha. Watch carefully for behaviors that could become aggressive and redirect. Most importantly provide them with a stable loving environment and show them plenty of love. Be sure to provide positive associations to situations you desire. For example, when people come over and your dog is acting how you would like them to act, give them plenty of love, praise, and treats. Remember, it is best to teach what is right instead of correcting what is wrong!