Prevent Aggression in Your New Dog

All dogs are capable of aggression, and many will use it depending on the situation. However, you can prevent unnecessary aggression in your dog by coaching a positive attitude to everyday aggravations. Keep reading for some tips to help you control aggression in your new dog or puppy.

Before I tell you how to prevent aggression, I want to set the record straight. Aggression is not a four letter word.

All dogs are capable of, and many will use, aggression—if they feel that a situation is life threatening or that a prized possession might be stolen. Some dogs are assertive around moving targets (a holdover from their hunting days), and others may defend their personal space just because they don’t like crowding. People are no different.

I thought of titling this blog post, “How best to comfort your dog when he’s feeling stress so that you can limit his need to be aggressive,” but it was getting too wordy. So I ran with this title. But the real truth is: if you can coach a positive attitude to everyday aggravations, you’ll be doing both yourself and your dog a big favor.

Want to live happily ever after? Help your dog overcome his fears and deal with his frustrations.

That’s it? Yes, that’s it. Let me expand.

Let go of any assumption that a dog who shows a little aggression from time to time is a lemon, or a dog that needs to be rehomed, put down, or dropped off at the local shelter. Whether it’s growling, snapping, or biting, a dog will resort to these actions only if he’s feeling anxious, annoyed, or overstimulated. If you can help him overcome these reactions, he’ll be fine.

Here is a fun and important fact: science has learned through brain scans and experiments that dogs are similar to toddlers in their ability to feel, learn, and develop attachments. Both are born with emotional centers that ritualize their routines and help them cope with everyday life.

Here are the five master emotions, divided into two groups: positive emotions and stressful ones (which lead to aggression).

Positive Emotions


Curiosity is the master emotion. Curious dogs want to know what’s going on. They are confident and will explore and ponder their surroundings. Think of it from your perspective: on any given day you might be curious about a meal, a trip, a present, or a text message.


Dogs, like kids, are most playful when they feel comfortable in their surroundings. The ability to connect through play is the surest sign of happiness and the #1 sign of a non-aggressive dog.

Does your dog live to play? Although some of her playings may lead to wild antics, take heart as you’re on the right path!

Stressful Emotions


Is your dog fearful in certain situations? If you’re not sure, check the poses illustrated (find more illustrations in my book Modern Dog Parenting, St, Martin’s Press, 2016).

Fear develops when a dog is anxious about an unknown, e.g. a random sound, sight or interruption. Overly fearful dogs shut down. They’re not curious or playful; they often stop eating. Think back to your childhood: what happened when you were startled or scared?

If a dog can’t get away from the stressful thing or place, the emotional intensity can build and leave the dog no other option than to use aggression to defend himself. While tensing or freezing up is a natural response for some dogs, it doesn’t have to be. You can do a lot to help your dog shift his focus from fear to fun.


Frustrated behavior is easy to recognize by comparison. First, think about what aggravates you: a computer glitch, traffic, changing cell carriers? Now identify how you feel. Name the top three things you do to calm yourself.

Dogs can feel frustration throughout their day when they:

  • want to go outside but can’t
  • want to come in but can’t
  • want to play unleashed
  • want things they can’t reach
  • want to greet, chew, nip, tug, and play but are not allowed

Can you understand their frustration?

But while a little frustration is OK, constant frustration can push a dog to the edge of their sanity. When frustration mounts, aggression often follows to relieve stress. Does that mean your dog is a bad one? No, not really. Just a totally aggravated one. I can relate—can you?

When frustration mounts, aggression often follows to relieve stress. Does that mean your dog is a bad one? No, not really.


Panic is the emotional dark horse of this list. The first experience often happens in puppyhood (>12 weeks old) when he or she is either isolated or left in an unfamiliar or unpredictable situation. Think thunderstorm, rough handling, transport, or starvation.

Panicky feelings often replay throughout a dog’s life if not counter-conditioned with positive reinforcement.

What To Do?

There are a few other emotions I didn’t address, like lust and reproductive bonds, but I’ll assume you’ve either planned or have spayed or neuter your dog. This is a rated G blog!

So back to the topic: how can you prevent aggression in your new dog or puppy? Remember the insider’s secret: Play and inspire your dog’s curiosity as you keep his fear and frustration to a minimum.

What does keeping fear and frustration to a minimum look like? It’s a happy picture and one I’ll help you create.

First, don’t get hung up on structured obedience. Getting your dog to listen like a soldier is about as much fun as a military school. Instead, teach your dog games and new words to inspire happy thoughts and cooperation. Think up every excuse to reward his participation with treats, toys, and affection. As you’re teaching him a game, present it on a buddy system: you can’t play these games without me, and I can’t play them without you, so let’s play together!

Start playing the games listed below in a distraction free zone. Once your dog catches on, pick his top three favorites and start playing in more distracting places.

Are you noticing a change in your dog’s attitude? Life’s a lot more fun when you have a buddy versus a nag or tormentor.

Now play his favorite game when your dog your dog is fearful or frustrated, like when the doorbell rings, or he sees children at play. Instead of shouting at him for barking or jumping, run away from the distraction and encourage your dog to play! Remember: the less attention you give your dog during his outburst, the easier it will be to get him to turn away from them. The message you’re sending your new dog or puppy is a great one! Instead of adding stress on top of his worry you’re letting him know that all your experiences lead to fun!

So shelf the long downs and well-formatted heel patterns for now. To help your new dog or puppy escape the performance stress of long structured obedience lessons and learn to focus on you whenever life gets too distracting, stay positive.

Remember life’s an adventure. Grab your dog and come on let’s play!

Source: Quick And Dirty Tips

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