Preventing Aggressive Behavior in Your Dog Starts With You

Research, training and the right tools will help you decide how to choose your newest canine family member.

Despite their bad reputation, pit bulls can make great family pets. By: Carly Jane Casper

Adding a dog to your household is one of the most exciting and rewarding decisions you will ever make. But your “mental lifting” doesn’t stop with the decision to get a dog. Once you’ve thought it through, you’ll find there are many other considerations — not the least of which is what breed you’re looking for.

Many factors go into this. For example, what size house or apartment you have may dictate how large or small a breed you’re looking for. Your activity level may be another factor — higher-energy breeds need a lot of exercise. And, of course, we need to address the elephant in the room: What are your chosen breed’s aggressive tendencies?

What if your heart is set on one of the breeds generally categorized as “dangerous” or “aggressive”? Fear not — you can add any breed to your household, provided you accommodate each breed’s needs.

Understanding Aggressive Behavior

The first thing to do is educate yourself on how a dog behaves when aggressive and what might be triggering the behavior.

In the Dog Aggression Workbook, 3rd Edition, James O’Heare defines dog aggression as: “Attacks, attempted attacks, or threats of attack by one individual directed at another individual. Attack behavior for dogs usually means bites. By ‘threats of attack’ I mean communication signals that tend to predict that an attack will occur unless the dog achieves what she wants.”

Dogs become aggressive for many reasons. O’Heare believes that genetics have a great deal to do with why some dogs are more aggressive than others, stating, “Animals that have made use of aggressive behaviors in specific circumstances have been successful in reproducing and passing their genes on to the next generation, including the genes that allow for the aggressive behaviors. By this mechanism, genes associated with aggressive tendencies become more common in the population.”

Many others believe that dogs only become aggressive due to life experience or mistreatment. Whichever camp you happen to fall into (I myself believe it’s a mixture of both “nature” and “nurture”), be proactive in preventing aggressive behaviors in your dog.

Training is important when seeking to curb your dog’s aggressive behavior. By: Ty Konzak

Do Your Homework

Before bringing a dog into your home, do some research on the breed itself. Pit bulls, unfortunately, by far outweigh other breeds in fatally aggressive attacks. According to, in 2016 there were 31 fatalities directly attributed to dog attacks; pit bulls were responsible for 71% of those attacks.

This in no way means that you cannot own a pit bull. Pit bulls can be lovely dogs to add to your family. But you’ll need to have a deep understanding of the breed before you bring one home.

For any breed, know what triggers their aggression, what training methods are most successful and how you can help prevent aggressive behavior.


Dog training is both crucial and lifelong when it comes to handling aggressive behavior and/or tendencies. Spending 2 lackadaisical weeks on the “come” command and never practicing it again will leave you unpleasantly surprised when, in the heat of an aggressive moment, your dog completely ignores you.

“If you are not committed to managing the dog’s behavior in every situation, the risk is higher and the likelihood of success is lower,” O’Heare says. “You must be able to handle tense situations and maintain this vigilance for the lifetime of the dog, as well as committing yourself to management and training for the dog’s lifetime.”

Plan on training your dog every day, even if it’s just to reinforce already-learned training. The deeper the training, the more likely it is your dog will listen to you. Never strike your dog to reinforce a lesson — or for any reason. It teaches them to be more aggressive, not less.

Watch this sweet pittie get a thorough teeth cleaning from a couple of ducks:

Use the Right Tools

The more help you have with your dog, the better. Use approved and licensed trainers, veterinarians’ input and tools such as harnesses, leashes, appropriate collars and other devices designed to keep your dog safe. There are even special jackets for dogs that state right on them that your dog needs space.

Whether you’re adopting a dog or purchasing one from a breeder, ask for the dog’s history. Armed with this information, you can better create a training plan for you and your dog.

Genetics or experience, nature or nurture — the truth is that any dog can display aggression. So be proactive to prevent triggers and confrontations, but also prepare for when aggressiveness rears its head.

Most of all, enjoy the experience of having a dog in your family — there is nothing like it in the world.

Melissa Smith

View posts by Melissa Smith
Melissa Smith, discussions manager for Petful, has been researching and writing about pet behaviors for several years. A longtime pet lover, she lives in Massachusetts with her teenage son, their cat Harrison and the spirit of their German shepherd named Gypsy. Melissa is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in multimedia design and hopes to adopt as many needy animals as she can.

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