The first thing to realize is that your dog is normal, and aggression in dogs is also normal. That is not to say you should make allowances or concessions for an aggressive dog, quite the opposite, you will have to learn how to handle your dog’s aggression suitably, but it’s helpful to know that wild dogs use aggression to hunt, form a place in their pack and to survive.
In a domestic situation, your dog doesn’t need to stress about these pack behaviors, but that may take a while for him to realize. So we need to assist him and the first steps to doing that are to ascertain the type of aggression he exhibits. This is as easy as determining whether your dog is aggressive to strangers or aggressive to you or your family? This is important because the motivation is very different based on your answer.
If your dog seems on code red alert, looking around, perhaps pacing or even sitting dead still staring at someone, then you can probably conclude that your dog is not comfortable with the situation.
This is liable to be because your dog hasn’t had an opportunity to get to meet many other people, in other words socializing. This is a very important skill for any dog to learn, so unless you want to have a guard dog, you need to get him out and about as often as you can, especially while he is a puppy.
Start by socializing with other dogs – puppy school is great for this and then carry on with park visits and playtime with his canine friends. In addition, start taking your dog everywhere you go – school pickups, to the shops, when you walk to friends places etc. Teach your dog how to behave on these outings and over time he will become more and more used to seeing and dealing with different people.
Remember to follow your dog’s lead, so to speak – if he’s really nervous going to doggy school and walking around the block, don’t push him into a situation like taking him to an outdoor shopping mall. Let him get used to it slowly and pace his progress based on his results, slowly increasing the number of people he sees and plays with.
Also always be safe, keep your dog on his lead always when away from the safety of your home.
If your dog is showing aggression towards you or another family member it’s usually due to one of two reasons:
Resource Guarding – This is where your dog is protecting something from you. Quite often this occurs with food and toys, but it could be anything. So by you reaching for him or it, he may interpret this as a threat and therefore will become aggressive.
It happens because your dog believes that he is the alpha in the house, that is, he believes he ranks higher in authority than you (or the person/people) that he is showing aggression to. So in order for you to quell his aggression you need to teach him that his place is not as the alpha. The best way to do this is through regular obedience training each day, these will teach him key skills, help him develop a routine and teach him to curb his aggression.
Dislikes the Treatment He Gets – This doesn’t necessarily mean that you are being unkind to your dog, it could simply be that he just doesn’t like being hugged, he feels uncomfortable near small children, or he has had a bad experience (such as with grooming).
If your dog is in this category and is still fairly young then you will need to be patient and start to re-train him or her. First, identify what makes your dog uncomfortable, and then slowly start to address it. For instance, if it’s a fear of having his nails clipped, start with small steps such as holding his paw every day for a week, letting him see the clippers each day for a week, then next, move to touching his nails gently with them each day for another week, then try clipping one nail. Encourage and reward him along the way, and if you notice signs of aggression or stress, back off, let him calm down and try again another day.
Unfortunately, some dogs who have had little handling as a puppy or a very bad grooming experience may have trouble dealing with their problems, particularly if they are older. In this instance ask your vet for help and potentially use a professional to do his grooming in future.