Puppy Aggression Towards Owner: What’s The Deal With My Dog’s Suddenly Aggressive Behavior Toward Me?
It’s scary and heartbreaking when Fido, who was once friendly, suddenly snaps or growls at you.
In fact, owner-directed aggression is the most emotionally difficult issue that pet owners face out of all the canine-behavior cases I see.
But don’t panic: there are things you can do to help your dog overcome his sudden aggression.
Below, we’ll go over everything you need to know, including not only some of the possible reasons but also what you should do about it.
How Can You Tell If Your Dog Is Aggressive Rather Than Just Grumpy?
To differentiate between grumpiness and aggression, we must first start with aggression.
Aggression is defined as a threat or harmful behavior directed at another person (be it a dog, human, or another pet).
The following are some examples of threats and harmful behaviors that dogs may display:
- Violent stares
Dogs, on the other hand, can easily become overwhelmed, tired, lonely, or even ill—they can simply become grumpy, for lack of a better term.
Grumpiness is simply another way of saying that you are less tolerant than normal. Any dog who is harassed or pushed beyond his tolerance level may react aggressively.
Grumpiness is not to be taken lightly, and these signals must be respected. A grumpy response could indicate that there is something more going on, possibly medically.
In such cases, dogs may do things such as:
- Alert growl
- Removing themselves from the situation
- Nip or air snap as a warning
- Bark or yelp
In general, if you continue to provoke your dog, “grumpiness” will not lead to bites. However, the more they are provoked, the greater the chance of a bite in the future.
What Should You Do If Your Dog Attacks You Suddenly?
You must always heed your dog’s warnings, whether he is growling at you because he is being aggressive or simply telling you off.
Your pup has every right to refuse to be cuddled, have his hair brushed, or feel his food with you.
We need to figure out what’s causing his aggressive behavior in the first place. What kind of dog aggression does he show? What’s causing your dog’s aggressive behavior, and how can we help him?
Owners often need the help of a qualified behavior consultant, positive trainer, or veterinary behaviorist to figure out why their dog is acting so aggressively.
Aggression is one of the most common reasons people seek professional help.
But there are no rules about how dog trainers do their jobs, and not all trainers have the same education or qualifications.
So do your research and find a reputable dog trainer or behavior consultant who follows an evidence-based ethos and is certified by a positive-based code of ethics organization. Don’t be afraid to ask questions as well.
If your dog has bitten you or someone else, it’s especially important to get professional help, especially if the bite was bad enough to need medical attention.
Regardless of whether you seek professional help (which is recommended) or try to treat your dog’s sudden aggression issues on your own (which is not a good idea), the basic plan of attack will be the same.
All dog behavior problems are addressed by addressing one or more of three components:
- Evaluating for medical interventions or ruling out medical conditions.
- Education (behavior modification).
- Making management solutions a reality.
We’ll go over each of these three aspects in more detail below.
1. Medical Solutions
If your dog’s aggression is unusual, you should consult your vet.
Your vet can perform a thorough examination to rule out or confirm any underlying medical conditions. People often forget about this step, but pain or a sudden loss of well-being can be a cause of aggressive behavior.
Even if the sudden aggression isn’t caused by a medical problem, your veterinarian may be able to give you behavioral medications to help.
Behavioral medications, on the other hand, should always be used in conjunction with behavior training. Otherwise, we are only treating the symptoms of the aggression rather than the root cause.
On the other hand, taking care of the symptoms may help with the training because it will make him feel calmer and less anxious, which will allow him to learn new ways to deal with things.
For example, because she has “stranger danger” issues, my dog is on canine anxiety medication (as well as generalized anxiety).
By implementing behavioral modifications to address her underlying issues, we have made incredible progress. With this two-pronged approach—medication to change the dog’s behavior and training to change the dog’s behavior—you can socialize a dog that is aggressive in a safer way.
As a result, we’ll be able to wean her off of these meds in the near future, knowing that we’ve helped her start better coping strategies and more positive associations with her triggers.
2. Training Providers
Once you’ve made sure your dog is healthy or started treating any health problems that might be causing his aggressive behavior, you can start aggressive dog training to help him stop being so aggressive.
We must address the emotional underpinnings of the aggressive reaction because it is an emotional response. This usually entails one or more of the techniques listed below:
Desensitization entails gradually, consistently, and repeatedly exposing your dog to his trigger at a distance or intensity that is tolerable to him. This is frequently done in “baby steps” until the end goal is reached.
If walking near your dog’s food bowl, for example, causes him to react, try sitting or standing far enough away that he doesn’t react at all. Then, as time goes on, you can get closer and closer to his bowl at mealtime.
I don’t recommend “poking the bear,” or, in this case, sticking your hand in his bowl while he’s eating. However, you may be able to walk by your dog while he is eating for days, weeks, or months without eliciting a reaction.
This is a big word that essentially means altering your dog’s emotional response. Instead of thinking a stimulus is bad or frightening, your dog will learn that it is harmless and thus not frightening.
If sitting close to your dog causes anxiety and aggression, for example, try tossing treats to him every time you sit on the couch with him. Start far enough away from him that he doesn’t react — you could even start on the floor.
The goal is for your pup to associate sitting next to her with her favorite things (such as cheese, peanut butter, or delicious sausage!). As your proximity begins to foretell good things, the associations she makes with you sitting near her will change over time.
Teaching Alternative Behaviors to Him
We need to give our dogs a different way to cope from time to time.
If your dog becomes aggressive when you get up to walk to the kitchen, for example, you can teach him that standing up means “go to your bed” (and get a piece of meat for doing so).
It will give him clear direction, a predictable outcome, and it will mean that he is about to enjoy something tasty and positive by teaching him to do something instead of reacting aggressively.
One of the first things I teach new clients is how to teach their anxious dogs to relax. This will assist the pup in coping with his overall environment as well as settling down. One tool to help with this is Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol, but there are others as well.
All of these training solutions, when you think about it, work together.
We can desensitize a dog at the same time as we counter-condition him. When we ask him to do something different, we are also desensitizing him. The reward he gets for the new behavior is an example of counterconditioning.
3. Management Alternatives
Management is an important part of assisting your dog in overcoming his difficulties.
Management can help stop people from being aggressive, and it may be all you need to do in some situations.
If your dog becomes aggressive when his food bowl is down, try feeding him in a different area and picking up and putting away the bowl once he is finished.
Staying safe can also be accomplished through management tools.
You could train your dog to wear a muzzle if he is triggered by scary situations while out on a walk and turns his attention to you (which is also an example of a management solution).
If your dog is triggered by strangers or other dogs, this may not only be a good way to keep everyone safe, but it may also cause strangers to avoid you, causing your dog to feel less anxious.
When confronted with sudden dog aggression, there are a few things you should avoid doing.
Aggression is often misunderstood to mean that our dogs are attempting to dominate us. So, people try to get the upper hand by using force, intimidation, and punishment.
But here’s the thing: Here’s the thing:
- Your dog isn’t attempting to dominate you. Your dog isn’t attempting to climb the social ladder by displaying aggressive aggression. Think of aggression as a way to protect yourself from something scary or that makes you feel anxious.
- If you punish your dog for growling or acting aggressively, you’re likely to aggravate the aggression. Punishment frequently causes stress and anxiety, which increases the likelihood of aggression.
- If you punish your dog for growling, the next time they bite, they may do so without warning. Growling serves as a warning once more, which is a good thing.
If your dog is acting aggressively, you want to avoid punishment or correction as much as possible. Instead, try implementing some of the previously discussed strategies.
What Causes a Dog to Be Aggressive to His Owner?
Every behavior has a motivation for its existence. Aggression can be caused by fear or anxiety in many cases, whether we realize it or not.
In fact, the most common reasons I’m called for aggression-related cases are fear and anxiety, and many of these dogs have reacted aggressively at least once in their lives.
When a dog is anxious or afraid, their parasympathetic nervous system (which operates on an involuntary basis) often kicks in and releases hormones into the bloodstream. The dog’s fight or flight response is triggered by this surge in hormones.
In addition, dogs in our society are subjected to numerous restrictions; leashes, barriers, and the threat of repercussions can all heighten anxiety and trigger an aggressive response because the dog has no place to flee.
Fear and aggression aren’t the only reasons for a dog’s aggressive motivation toward you, though they are one of the most common.
Other common reasons for a dog to attack its owner include the following:
Resource Protection (AKA possession aggression)
Anxiety is at the root of resource guarding; he’s worried about people getting too close to his prized possessions. Food, toys, beds, and even people could be among these prized possessions.
When your dog is guarding a resource, he may act aggressively out of the blue, but he has been giving you subtle warnings that you haven’t noticed.
There are a variety of reasons why your dog may become aggressive as a result of pain or illness. If the aggression is new or a sudden change in their normal behavior, it is a good idea to speak with your vet and have a complete wellness exam.
Aggression that is redirected
This is frequently an aggressive response that is redirected at the nearest person or animal. If you try to break up a fight between two dogs, for example, there’s a good chance that aggression will be redirected at you.
Similarly, if your dog lunges and barks at a passerby at the end of his leash, he may turn and direct his rage at you.
In the dog-training world, we have a saying: “Never punish the growl.”
To begin with, punishing a dog for being aggressive is akin to punishing someone who has just been mugged for acting agitated. Second, punishing the growl may lead to him skipping the warning step and going straight to the bite the next time.
I’m not sure about you, but I’d rather have a warning! Finally, it’s been proven that using punishment and aversive training tools like shock collars causes dogs to become more aggressive.
Stacking of Triggers
What do you mean? The cumulative effect of multiple triggers is referred to as “trigger stacking.”
Imagine the following scenario: You’re watching the new IT sequel. Suddenly, a loud banging sound and the creaking of a door down the hall can be heard. Because you were already scared, that noise and squeaky door most likely caused you to jump higher and your heart to beat faster.
Similarly, your dog may be able to deal with one or two of his triggers calmly, but once the third one occurs, he loses his ability to remain calm.
Age is a factor.
Canine cognitive dysfunction (doggie dementia) causes dogs to suddenly become aggressive. Dog sundowners syndrome causes some senior dogs to become irritable in the evening. Aggression is a common symptom of CCD, and it is due in part to their confusion and memory loss, just as it is in humans.
If startled, dogs with hearing or vision problems may react suddenly. When your dog’s senses begin to deteriorate as he gets older, it can feel as if this happens overnight.
Consult a vet or conduct some at-home tests to determine if your dog is blind or deaf.
Rage Syndrome is a condition in which a person becomes
Idiopathic aggression is now considered idiopathic, despite the term that was coined in the 1970s (idiopathic simply means the cause is unknown).
This usually starts between the ages of one and three years, and it happens more often in some breeds, which suggests that it may have something to do with genes.
The most vulnerable dogs appear to be Cocker and Springer Spaniels, Dobermans, German Shepherds, and Lhasa Apsos. Despite this, “Rage Syndrome,” or idiopathic aggression, is relatively uncommon.
A behavior consultant or a veterinary behaviorist can assist you in determining the source of the problem.
Whatever the reason, keep in mind that aggression is a result of an emotional response, not a conscious choice.
What are some of the most common things that cause people to become aggressive?
Aggression is extremely rare.Something your dog does or something in his environment sets off the fight-or-flight response.
Triggers can vary greatly depending on your dog and his specific situation.
Some of the more common triggers I see are as follows:
- Being moved, lifted, or touched.
- Movement or sound-related triggers can be exacerbated in the dark.
- A person getting out of a couch or moving around the house. This could be a specific person or anyone who moves.
- Getting in close proximity to your dog’s bone, food, or favorite toy.
- When on leash, approaching strangers or other dogs.
- Having a visitor come to the house.
There are a plethora of scenarios and triggers, and each one could have a unique root cause.
Juno, my dog, is “people-selective.” This means that she likes some people and dislikes others.
People she dislikes either appear unusual to her, do unusual things, or try to approach her.
Her reaction is a result of her general anxiety and fear of unusual or novel stimuli. I can better control her environment now that I’m aware of her specific triggers, and we can work on positive and controlled socialization.
Making a list of all of your dog’s triggers is a good idea. People are also required to keep a journal. We don’t always know what the trigger is (or all of them) until we start writing down the situations as they occur. However, by keeping a journal, you may notice a pattern emerge.
Sudden canine aggression is a common occurrence.
The fact that sudden canine aggression occurs so suddenly is part of the problem. After all, you wouldn’t consider sudden displays of aggression if your dog is normally prickly.
These dogs that exhibit sudden aggression are frequently happy and easygoing in their normal lives. They’re usually friendly dogs, rather than the cujo-like canines we might imagine.
But that doesn’t rule out the possibility that these dogs are indicating a problem. One common fact about sudden aggressive behavior is that it occurs “out of nowhere.”
Our dogs, on the other hand, give us plenty of warnings. These warnings, however, can be subtle and often go unnoticed or unheeded.
We’ll go over a few of these indicators further down.
What Are Some Symptoms That Your Dog Might Be Aggressive?
Dogs use their bodies to communicate. We simply do not always succeed in learning their language.
We bring our own human biases to the table, and we frequently misinterpret our dogs’ body signals, assuming that they are equivalent to human behavior, which could mean that we are completely missing what they are trying to tell us.
Several early warning signs are shown in the video below.
Aggression is akin to climbing a ladder. At the bottom of the ladder are avoidance behaviors, signals to calm down, and small signs of stress like yawning and licking your lips.
The warnings become more overt as we climb the ladder, such as stiffening of the body, freezing, or a hard stare. It might be too late once we’ve climbed to the top of the ladder. Lunging, snapping, growling, and/or biting are common here.
The more you learn about dog body language, the easier it will be to recognize early warning signs of aggression in your dog. You can prevent a problem from escalating.
Why is my dog hostile to my husband but not to me?
There are a variety of reasons why your dog may be more aggressive toward one family member than another.
It’s possible that your dog feels safer with you because you’re more consistent or because you’re not doing anything to provoke the aggression. Other family members may be unintentionally causing an aggressive reaction and, in turn, becoming a trigger.
Your dog may also be protecting you from predators. When other people are near his prized human, he may become anxious.
When my husband came home from work, my previous dog, Stewie, used to growl. This was due to my husband’s inability to read Stewie’s body language as well as I did, and he frequently provoked him by getting too close.
By paying close attention to Stewie’s signals, on the other hand, I was able to avoid this type of reaction. He eventually learned that my behavior was predictable and safe (I never asked for his cuddles) and that my husband’s behavior was predictable and dangerous (he would try to force him to cuddle).
Stewie’s growl and avoidance were all that happened, and as soon as my husband went to bed, he’d just get up and leave the room. It could, however, have easily gone in a different, more aggressive direction.
How Can You Prevent Your Dog From Becoming Aggressive When You’re Around?
Take the time to learn about your dog’s normal and abnormal behavior. Our main goal is to avoid getting bitten in the first place. These bites often occur without warning or when we least expect them, but there are some things you can do to prevent being bitten:
- Always be considerate. When it comes to our pets, we often forget about the idea of consent and put them in situations they see as bad.
- Have your dog examined by a vet at least once a year. As he gets older, you may want to take him to the vet every six months for routine blood work.
- Notice any subtle changes in his daily routine or behavior. Try to figure out what’s going on right before the behavior shifts.
- Keep your dog’s mind active by providing mental stimulation. This means providing a variety of enrichment, such as walking games and puzzle toys, allowing him to sniff a lot while walking, and engaging in other types of brain games.
- Avoid putting yourself in a bad punishment. If your dog thinks you’re scary, he or she won’t come to you when they’re scared or worried, which can hurt your relationship.
- Be dependable. Having a consistent routine is important if your dog is anxious. It can help your anxious stomach feel more at ease if you act in a predictable manner.