Five Ways to Help Your Aggressive Dog

Aggression in dogs is a complex behaviour with various underlying causes. Because of its intricacy, it is largely misunderstood. Aggression is not a character trait in our dogs but a natural, automatic response to particular triggers or stressors.

Dogs have many of the same emotions we do, including becoming defensive when they feel unsafe. We can sometimes forget that the world can often be a scary and confusing place for our dogs!

It is commonly thought that “good dogs” never show any signs of aggression. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Dogs are sentient animals with their own individual emotional responses. When they feel pain, discomfort, or sense threats, they will do what all animals do – protect themselves.

In this article, we will explore five ways to prevent aggression in dogs while promoting their overall well-being.

Recognising Aggression in Dogs

Before addressing aggressive behaviour, it is crucial to recognise the different categories. Aggression in dogs can present itself in multiple forms, including:

Territorial Aggression in Dogs

Dogs may exhibit aggressive behaviour when they perceive a threat in a place where they usually feel safe and comfortable. This could be their home environment, a place they visit frequently, or the space around their body.

Fear Aggression in Dogs

Fearful dogs may display aggression as a defensive response to perceived threats. This can occur in social situations when a dog feels threatened or challenged by another dog or person. The dog will exhibit other signs of fear and may try to flee before becoming defensive. If fleeing is not possible, fight takes over.

Possessive Aggression in Dogs

Dogs may become defensive over resources like food, toys, or humans. Resource guarding can be a result of things like learning history and genetics. It can also be associated with fear (losing a resource).

Redirected Aggression in Dogs

Dogs might redirect their aggression towards a different target if they cannot reach the source of their concern. This is due to the body’s automatic fight or flight response, where an animal lashes out without awareness of what they are doing. This can look similar to a panic episode in humans.

How Can You Help Improve Your Dog’s Aggression?

Each different category of aggression in dogs requires an individual therapeutic approach. However, there are some simple steps that you can take yourself too.

These five tips will help improve your dog’s emotional responses, reducing the amount of aggressive behaviour they display and the stress they experience.

1. Learn Your Dog’s Language

A good understanding of dog body language will help you discover what your dog is “saying”.

Dogs wish to avoid conflict, so if your dog is displaying aggressive behaviour, it is very likely that your dog is experiencing distress.

Being able to read your dog’s body language cues means you will be more likely to pick up on lower levels of communication before it escalates to aggression.

2. Identify and Avoid Stressors

Pain, illness, and disease can cause a change in behaviour in all animals, so a thorough vet check is a great place to start.

Once you get the all-clear from your vet, take some time to brainstorm what causes your dog to become aggressive. Is it in certain places? Is it at certain times? Who is around when it happens? What was happening just before?

Managing your dog’s environment and/or interactions can help reduce the times they feel the need to defend themselves.

3. Avoid Punishing Your Dog

It can be extremely frustrating (and embarrassing) when our dogs react to things, but avoid losing your cool. Punishment can exacerbate fear and anxiety. This can escalate aggressive behaviour and make the situation worse for your dog – and you.

Instead, focus on reinforcing desirable behaviours and redirecting your dog by scattering food. You can also remove yourselves from the situation if your dog ends up having a reaction.

4. Counter-Conditioning and Desensitisation

These are effective techniques to modify aggressive responses in dogs.

Gradually exposing your dog to the triggers that provoke aggression at a safe and controlled distance (desensitisation) can help them become less reactive over time.

While doing so, pair these triggers with positive experiences, such as yummy food or play (counter-conditioning).

5. Work with a Qualified Professional

The best advice is to seek professional help from a qualified, ethical dog behaviourist as soon as possible. Behaviourists can thoroughly assess your dog’s behaviour, identify the underlying triggers, and design a tailored behaviour modification plan that will have you and your dog less stressed in no time!

Addressing your dog’s aggressive behaviour can feel overwhelming and isolating. Just remember that aggression does not define your dog – or your relationship with them. Aggressive behaviour is a cry for help from your dog and nothing more.

Seek out reputable sources for learning about your dog’s body language so that you can learn to read the signs of stress. Recognising the triggers and working proactively to reduce stress and anxiety can help your aggressive dog feel more confident and safe.

If it does all feel like too much, that is absolutely normal! Reaching out to a qualified dog behaviourist can give you support and guidance, making the journey much easier.

When you approach your dog’s behaviour with empathy, compassion, and respect for your dog’s emotional well-being, you can’t go wrong.

Struggling with your dog’s behaviour? Discover how Renee can elevate your wisdom and transform your relationship by visiting

Renee Rhoades MSc, dog behaviour expert
About Renee Rhoades, MSc

Renee Rhoades, MSc, is a distinguished authority in canine behaviour and welfare, recognised for her unwavering commitment to improving the lives of both dogs and humans. The founder of R+Dogs, a virtual dog behaviour consultancy, Renee offers cutting-edge private coaching and online courses to dog guardians worldwide. Renee specialises in transforming fearful and high-energy dogs, addressing aggression, reactivity, generalised anxiety and hyperactivity.

Beyond client-focused coaching, Renee is also the co-host of DogLogical, a podcast dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of our dogs. In addition, she extends her expertise by mentoring fellow dog professionals, contributing to the growth and development of the industry.

Struggling with your dog’s behaviour? Discover how Renee can elevate your wisdom and transform your relationship by visiting