Common Causes of Aggression in Dogs

Do you dread taking your dog for a walk because you know if he sees another dog he will start barking, growling, or lunging towards them? You wonder why your cute and cuddly pal all of a sudden turns aggressive when he goes outside. There are many underlying factors that can cause aggression in your dog, ranging from genetics to pain.

Types & Causes of Aggression in Dogs

The first step towards helping with your dog’s aggression is diagnosing the underlying problem. The following are different types of aggression in dogs, as well as common causes of canine aggression.

Genetics

Unfortunately, some dogs are selectively bred to be aggressive. There is a common misconception that certain breeds are genetically more aggressive than others. However, oftentimes dogs are aggressive because breeders have bred two aggressive dogs together.

Protective

This occurs when a dog believes that someone is trying to attack a member of their pack, whether it be another dog or human. Dog owners often see their pets try to protect new babies in the family from outsiders.

Territorial/ Resource Guarding

If a dog feels that another human or dog is invading his space, he may become aggressive. Every dog has probably experienced some form of territorial aggression when another dog has come to their house. This aggression is connected to dogs’ pack mentality and can be difficult to prevent.

Predatory Aggression

Many dogs still enjoy the thrill of the chase. Their natural instinct is to hunt. If you find your dog aggressively chasing smaller dogs, cats, or even children, it could be due to predatory aggression.

Frustration

When a dog is not allowed to do something that they want to do, or forced to do something they don’t want to do, they may act out or become aggressive.

Social Aggression

Social aggression occurs when a dog feels that his dominance in the pack has been threatened.

Pain-Induced Aggression

Animals instinctively protect themselves when they are not feeling well in order to prevent future pain. You may have noticed that your dog growls at you when you try to help him when he’s hurt.

Fear Aggression

Dogs have a natural fight or flight response, just like humans. When they feel afraid, and they cannot escape a situation, they may react aggressively. 

Learned Aggression

Learned aggression occurs when your dog has learned that his aggression helps him get what he wants. This type of aggression can arise from any of the aforementioned categories of dog aggression.

Managing Aggression in Dogs

When treating your dog’s aggression, keep in mind that it is coming from a place of fear and anxiety. Punishing him with shock collars, electric containment systems, choke chains, and similar items can make his anxiety and aggression worse because you are failing to address the underlying problem.

If you have a puppy, you can help prevent aggression by exposing him to things that could cause him anxiety later in life. Take him on walks to meet other dogs, introduce him to people, and slowly introduce him to other stimuli that may be anxiety-inducing.

If your dog acts aggressively from time to time, there are a few ways to help him get through it, including:

Desensitization Exercises

Try slowly introducing the subject of anxiety into your dog’s life. If your dog has territorial aggression, slowly start bringing a new person to the house. As your dog gradually adjusts to the new stimuli and stops acting aggressive or anxious, you can start to bring more people over.

When you’re done with each of your desensitization exercises, make sure to give your pet a small treat and lots of love. Positive reinforcement will help him learn that good things are happening, not bad.

Calm Environment

Maintaining a calm environment will help lower your dog’s stress levels. Sticking to a fixed routine will let him know what to expect for the day and keep him relaxed. It’s also important that you stay calm. Dog’s are excellent at sensing when people are stressed, and your stress may be rubbing off on him.

You can also get him a crate to act as his own designated safe space. Put toys, a bed, and a blanket in there to make him feel as comfortable as possible. In times of extreme anxiety, you can even put a blanket over part of the crate to make him feel safe.

Supplements

Calming, all-natural supplements can help your dog stay calm. Avoid sedatives at all costs. Some sedatives, such as acepromazine, can actually cause your dog to become more aggressive as it can make him more sensitive to lights and sounds. Sedatives may also increase your pet’s risk of seizure and low blood pressure.

Being a patient, loving parent will help your furry friend the most on his journey towards better managing his aggressive tendencies. Make sure you take the time out of your day to show your pet you care.

Give him small treats and a belly rub when he takes steps towards moving past his anxiety and aggression. Take him on walks and give him nutritious meals to keep him healthy. A healthy dog is a happy dog and with your teamwork, you can eradicate his fears.

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