Rescue Dog Aggression: A Veterinarian’s Advice On How To Deal With An Aggressive Rescue Dog

Difficult life experiences can influence an aggressive rescue dog. What should you do in this situation?
An aggressive rescue dog can cause a slew of issues. We all know that adopting a rescue pet is a big responsibility, but what should you do if you end up with an aggressive rescue dog? While some people may choose to surrender an aggressive dog to a rescue organization in the hopes of receiving treatment, many owners have already grown attached to their dog by the time aggression becomes apparent. If you choose to try to work through your dog’s aggression, you must be able to recognize aggressive behavior and address it quickly and appropriately.

First and foremost, develop a safety plan.

In the long run, you’ll need to figure out what’s causing your dog’s aggression and address it. However, in the short term, your main concern should be keeping yourself and your family safe. Work to develop and implement a safety plan that will reduce the risk of bites to you, your family, visitors, and anyone else who may come into contact with your dog.
Depending on your dog and the contexts in which aggression occurs, the specifics of your safety plan will differ. It will be far easier to keep people safe around a small-breed dog that is only aggressive around food than it will be to keep people safe around a large-breed dog that is aggressive!
Consider the instances in which your dog has acted aggressively. Are there any common triggers that you can identify? If that’s the case, your safety plan should revolve around avoiding that trigger. Consider the case of a dog who is only aggressive towards people who walk past his food bowl while he is eating. Feeding that dog in a separate room with a closed door would minimize the likelihood of aggression. You could also keep the dog inside during family mealtimes to minimize the aggressive risk of dropping food.
Consider having a dog that only shows dog aggression toward stranger dogs when you’re out for a walk. In that case, you can change your walk schedule and route to minimize the chances of running into other dogs. You can completely avoid leash walks until you can begin to address the aggression if you have a private yard where you can let your dog out.
You’ll need a more robust safety plan if your dog has shown aggression in a variety of contexts with no single identifiable trigger. To minimize the risk of bites, you could have your dog wear a basket muzzle. When there are visitors in the house, especially children, consider confining your dog to a dog crate or a separate room. Putting up barriers to stop aggression is not a long-term solution, but it is a great way to keep yourself safe in the short term!
Your safety plan’s goal isn’t to “cure” your dog’s aggression. That will necessitate a great deal more thought and effort. Instead, the goal of a safety plan is to keep people from getting seriously hurt until there are long-term ways to deal with aggression.

Aggression in dogs has underlying causes.

Aggression in dogs can be caused by a variety of factors. Understanding why your dog is aggressive can help you manage strategies for dealing with aggression.
Aggression in dogs is caused by a variety of factors, including:
  • Fear Aggression: When an anxious dog feels cornered or trapped, it becomes aggressive (e.g., your nervous dog bites you when you are trying to trim his nails).
  • Dominance/Social Aggression: This is when a dog is trying to establish dominance over other family members, whether they are humans or other dogs. For example, your dog might be fine with one family member but act aggressively toward other, lower-status family members.
  • Possessive aggression: This type of aggression entails defending toys or other valuables from others (e.g., your dog bites you when you try to take away a scrap of paper that he stole from the trash can).
  • Food Aggression: This is similar to possessive aggression, but it refers to the protection of food (e.g., your dog barks and growls when you walk by his food bowl during meals).
  • Territorial aggression: used to fend off an opportunistic intruder (e.g., your dog is aggressive towards visitors).
  • Protective aggression: a type of aggression used to defend a family member (e.g., your spouse goes to give you a hug, and your dog bites your spouse).
  • Redirected aggression: aggression directed at one person or animal is directed at another (e.g., your dog is growling at another dog on a walk and then turns to snap at you).
  • Predatory aggression: directed at an animal thought to be prey (e.g., your dog chases and injures your small kitten).
While an aggressive rescue dog may have a single underlying cause for his or her aggression, other dogs may exhibit multiple forms of aggression. Your veterinarian or trainer can help you identify what’s causing your dog’s aggression, but it’s an underlying idea to begin thinking about these issues and looking for patterns as soon as possible. Once you’ve figured out what’s causing your dog’s aggression, you’ll be in a better position to start managing your aggressive rescue dog.

Seek professional help to rule out medical issues and manage aggression.

Your veterinarian can assist you in managing your dog’s aggression. Your vet can help you make sure that your dog’s aggression isn’t caused by something medical and can also help you figure out and deal with the real reasons why your dog is acting out.
Your veterinarian will begin with a thorough physical examination. Laboratory testing, such as bloodwork, fecal parasite testing, and other tests as needed, will almost certainly accompany this exam. Aggression can be triggered by pain or an underlying illness. Your veterinarian will likely recommend spaying or neutering your dog if it hasn’t already been done; spayed and neutered dogs are less likely to be aggressive.
If your veterinarian cannot find a medical reason for your dog’s aggression, the focus will shift to identifying and treating the psychological cause of your dog’s aggression. Some vets offer behavior services in-house, while others may refer you to an animal behaviorist or a qualified dog trainer in your area.
Aggression is usually treated with a combination of trigger avoidance and behavior modification. The use of rewards to desensitize your dog to triggers and teach new responses to stressful situations is known as behavior modification. Depending on what is causing your dog to act aggressively, you may be able to help him change his behavior by giving him medicine.

The importance of having realistic expectations is crucial.

It’s critical to have realistic expectations when working with an aggressive rescue dog. With practice, you should be able to identify and avoid your dog’s triggers. With the help of a veterinarian or trainer, you may be able to manage the underlying cause of your dog’s aggression. Realistically, your dog may never be the type to enjoy dog parks or being in the company of small children. You must devote time and energy to managing your dog’s environment and behavior in order to provide the best possible quality of life for your dog and your family.