Managing and Overcoming Pet Aggression

Does your dog suffer with behavioral issues? Learn about the different types of aggression and how to manage it.

Stephanie Minturn · August 22, 2018

Aggression refers to hostile behavior toward others and can lead to an attack when animals are in threatening situations. Warning signs indicating that an attack is imminent may include growling, snarling, snapping, showing teeth, lunging and/or aggressively pulling or nipping. These signs usually intensify as an attack grows closer but can sometimes happen so quickly that it leaves little chance to respond before being bitten. 

Managing a pet who is suffering from behavioral issues can be very difficult and downright frightening at times. Our furry loved ones are unable to communicate their aches, pains and frustrations, which in turn makes it difficult to correct the problem in the safest and healthiest manner. The first thing to remember is that changes in a dog's behavior can sometimes be warning signs of underlying or unresolved health complications. This is why it is crucial that you talk to your Vet first, if Fido is exhibiting symptoms of aggression. Handling behavioral issues can be troublesome and even dangerous in some cases by recognizing and identifying aggression classifications, risk factors and possible paths of treatment, you can overcome your pet's behavioral issues and help keep your family and your pet safe. 

When facing the challenge of an aggressive pet, it's best to take a proactive approach by first investigating whether the behavior is psychological or physiological. While some forms of aggression may derive from instincts or mental factors, some may actually be the result of a physical issue such as an infection or an underlying disease process. Working with your Vet to rule out possible physical health problems is always a good idea before going further into the investigation process. 

After determining that your pet's behavior does not stem from a physical ailment, it is essential to then establish the "who, when and what" strategy to help identify the types of aggression your dog is portraying. Once you identify the type, you can begin the appropriate treatment, which of course, provides the optimum result. 

The "who" specifies towards whom the behavior is directed. Is the behavior directed towards children? Is gender a factor? Does it occur only with strangers? What about with Groomers and Vets? Note this information so that you can share it easily with your Vet or Professional Behavior Expert. The "when" refers to when the aggressive behavior takes place most often. Do these incidents only occur when you leave the home? Do they only occur in the mornings or at night? Finally, the "what" refers to what factors affect the situation. Does your dog display this behavior when presented with a specific stimulus or does removing a stimulus worsen the situation? Asking yourself these questions will make it much easier for you to address the issue. 

Click Here for more information on how to identify the classifications of aggressive behavior in dogs, provided by the ASPCA. 

Some general guidelines to keep in mind when handling an aggressive pet include:
  • Working with your vet, professional pet behavior expert and/or a responsible and experienced dog breeder or trainer. Provided that they are properly trained in behavior modification techniques, each can offer suggestions for the safest and most effective methods of treatment.
  • Always remember, safety comes first! Protecting yourself and others from a potentially harmful situation is top priority.
  • Identify what type of aggression is being displayed and then react accordingly by removing triggers and targets. If your dog growls and snarls each day at the mail carrier, distracting him during that time or moving him to a different part of the house is a great example of removing a target.
  • Predicting when aggressive behavior occurs can help you avoid triggers, thus avoiding aggression all together.
  • It is no secret that dealing with pet aggression is challenging but if you're experiencing this issue, remember that you are not alone. Many pet parents, just like you are faced with this problem. With the support and guidance from professionals, patience, love and diligence, the outcome can definitely be in your favor.

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Stephanie Minturn

Stephanie Minturn

Stephanie is a Registered Nurse and proud mother of 4 who has always loved animals and the purity and beauty they bring into the world. She enjoys researching current trends and evidence-based practice in the pet industry and relating it to the healthcare industry for humans. She has passion in discovering new-found knowledge with other pet owners like herself.


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