Aggressive Dog Behavior

How to deal with dog aggression? What are the signs of dog aggression? What to do if your dog gets aggressive?

First of all, it is important to understand the source of aggression. Dogs tend to show an aggressive attitude due to:

  • Fear;
  • Territorial instincts;
  • Protective instincts;
  • Protecting food;
  • Pain;
  • Rival dogs;
  • People;
  • Poor leash acceptance;
  • Medicine.

Knowing the triggers is an important part of working out the aggression problems. Pain-related reasons or other medical causes should be investigated as soon as possible: if your usually peaceful and calm dog started acting hostile and ill-tempered lately, he may be dealing with the pains he cannot tell you about. Thyroid disease is another reason for dog aggression – a sudden mood change is usually a first sign that something might be wrong with your dog’s thyroid.

Another essential moment of dealing with an aggressive dog: keep children, people and other pets out of this. If you know that your dog has anger issues or leash aggression, keep him muzzled during walks or refrain from walking your dog in crowded dog parks and choose other locations.

Note: Walking with your dog is a good way to deal with his aggression, because it gives him an opportunity to vent out all the energy that is boiling within. Once he is tired, he will become much more mellow.

Do not try to stop serious aggressive dog behavior on your own. Use the help of a qualified behaviorist. Here are some links that will help you find an expert in your area:

IAABC – International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants

CCPDT – Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers

APDT – Association of Pet Dog Trainers

Composure For Dogs: How To Begin

Once your dog undergoes a thorough vet examination and you are sure that there are no medical reasons for your dog’s issues, your next step is to find out what triggers your dog’s aggression. There are things that can scare or intimidate your dog, causing it to react violently.

Common Dog Triggers

  • Uniforms (mailman, police, etc.);
  • Sex: some dogs hate being around men and some can’t stand women;
  • Eye contact: in dog body language staring directly into the eyes is perceived as an aggressive intention;
  • Frustration: this is typical of chained dogs. Imagine being collared all day, have limited movement freedom and not being able to reach something. You will be going for the throat as well!
  • Rough play style: dogs are not always good at reading other dogs’ body language. Sometimes a rough manner of playing can result in conflict and aggressive behavior;
  • Certain sounds;
  • Tension, created by the leash;
  • Touching;
  • Food;
  • Bones;
  • Toys.

After you get to the roots of the problem, you will have more ideas on how to change aggressive dog behavior. Remove the reason of your dog’s aggression or teach him carefully how to deal with it.

Dog behavior: aggression and how it starts

Is it possible to recognize when your dog is getting aggressive or going to bite someone? Snarling or lunging are direct acts of aggression, not warning signs. If you want to be able to prevent any messy conflicts, it is important to read canine body language.

The most fascinating thing about dogs, at least, in my opinion, is how they use their gestures and body language. They always tell us, when they are happy, worried, sad or angry. All we need to do is read and respond.

Dog body language

Note the “whale eye” look. This dog is clearly aggravated by something.

Common signs of dog aggression

  • Dilated pupils;
  • Whale eye;
  • Changed posture;
  • Tense breathing;
  • Muscle tension;
  • Fast, rugged movements;
  • Ears standing up and forward;
  • Lip licking (can be a calming sign);
  • Freezing in one spot;
  • Tense closed mouth: the corners of the lips form a “C”;
  • Showing teeth and wrinkling the muzzle (also can be a sign of submission).

Whale eyeRegardless of these signs, there can be exceptions. Sometimes, dogs undergo a very wrong and unnatural aggressive dog behavior modification: they are trained not to show their budding aggression, because their owners prefer to remove the signs of aggression, instead of dealing with the reason. They manage to make their dog stop growling or becoming restless, so if you unnerve such dog, he will attack you immediately, without giving you any warning. This is why you NEVER train the aggression signals out of dogs – it is dangerous for you and unhealthy for them. Nobody wins.

Note: To learn more about the canine body language, I suggest you to watch “The Language of Dogs” DVD several times. It is over 2 hours long, but it gives a lot of insight into the way dogs communicate, so it will really help you out.  There is also a great page about the body language of canines on the ASPCA website.

How to break aggressive dog behavior

There are tricks to pacify an aggressive dog. However, keep in mind that they do not work on the dog that is about to attack, so do NOT use them if you see that the dog is too aggravated.

Ear strokes

Apply a firm, yet gentle pressure at the top of the ear. Stroke downward slowly and softly. Calming ear strokes work best on scared and aggressive dogs. Here is a great calming ear strokes manual.

Anti-anxiety massage

There is a special acupressure massage for dogs that allows owners to easily get through to aggressive, scared or highly nervous dogs by massaging points on their body. The aggression reducing point is called GV20: it is located on the top of the skull, in the central indentation.  It is recommended to massage this point regularly in a clockwise direction for half a minute. Use this dog acupressure point chart to find GV20 and see other important points.

Acupressure massage for dogs Dogs' massaging points


Thundershirts® are another way to use acupressure for dogs against the dog aggression. This pet gear constantly applies soft pressure, calming fearful dogs and relaxing anxious dogs. A snug adult or baby shirt can be an effective alternative to a Thundershirt®.

Food and herbal supplements

Natural and organic calming supplements exist in a huge variety and are often offered as delicious treats to pamper your dog with. The supplements you need contain the following components:

  • L-theanine, which is very useful for overactive dogs and even dog depression;
  • Trytophan;
  • Lavender;
  • Skullcap;
  • Chamomile;
  • Valerian root;
  • Passionflower.

PetAlive offers a product called Aggression Formula. It is a Homeopathic Medicine to help calm and reduce behavior problems.

Note: Other treats to deal with a dog with aggressive behavior are Pet Naturals of Vermont – Calming Support for Medium & Large Dogs Soft Chews Chicken Liver Flavored. These 21 Chewables are full of natural calming ingredients and are very delicious to dogs. Make sure you keep the bag of treats out of your dog’s reach all the time: not only is it wrong for your dog’s diet, but also it can result in an overdose.


Pheromones that mimic the mother dog’s hormones, help dogs feel calm and secure. Such pheromones can be contained in special collars, plugins, diffusers or sprays. I suggest looking for such manufacturers as D.A.P. and Sentry, because they are one of the most reliable brands.

Increased training

Give your dog some real challenge: teach him new commands or practice the old ones. Completing tasks will tire him out and redirect his energy to something more constructive.


This is the best way to help your dog release the pent-up energy that is constantly bearing down on his emotional state.

If you see that these methods do not stop aggressive dog behavior problems and your dog’s aggression keeps escalating, consult a dog behaviorist immediately.

Aggressive Dog Behavior Toolbox

What will you do if you become a witness of dog fighting or see aggressive dog behavior with other dogs? Personally, I have an emergency toolbox at hand, which contains the things that may come in handy for breaking up dog fight or protecting a person from an attacking dog:

  • A blanket: throwing a blanket over the fighting dogs is a disorientating move that will make them stop in their tracks.
  • An umbrella: an open umbrella, placed between the fighting dogs creates a barrier.
  • A pet-safe spray: I suggest the Petsafe Spray Shield Animal Deterrent Spray. Although it is pet safe, do not forget to wash it off your dog’s face and eyes.
  • A face spray: this is a harsher spray and will make the dogs vomit. Use it with caution.
  • An air horn: a loud, booming (we are talking about boat air horns here) sound of an air horn is a good distraction to snap the dogs out of their fighting rage.
  • A whistle: same as an air horn. If you do not have loud noise-making devices around, bang pots and pans together to shock dogs out of fighting with clanging noises.
    • Lemon juice: stingy, sour and sharp-smelling substance will break the dog fighting. However, lemon juice is still an acid and it can cause eye damage, so it also should be thoroughly rinsed off after the fight. If the signs of eye irritation persist, a vet’s assistance is obligatory.

Remember to NEVER touch a dog when it is in a fight. Dogs cannot assess their surroundings when they are in a fight, so if they feel that someone tries to grab them, they will attack. I went through this many times and I assure: even the most mellow, loving dogs can snap at you or bite you in the heat of a battle.

Check out Natural Dog Guide Shop for more Homeopathic Medicine and Herbal Supplements for your dog.

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