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Your Dog Isn't Aggressive, It's Stressed!

US President Joe Biden's dog, Major, was in the news last month after he nipped someone when out on a walk.

This is something that most dog owners fear and can easily happen, especially as lockdown has meant that our dogs have missed out on all-important socialising. But it doesn't necessarily mean that your dog is aggressive. In fact, more often than not it's actually caused by anxiety.

Anxiety is usually caused by triggers in your dog's environment. It stems from fear of the unknown, so if your dog wasn't well socialised as a young puppy, they can develop stress and anxiety around new encounters, such as people, animals, new places and even objects around the home.

Even then, any dog can become fearful under the right circumstances. Head vet Sean McCormack from says: "Even the most well-trained and socialised dogs can be aggressive if they feel threatened, trapped and afraid. The first step to take would be recognising when your dog is feeling stressed or anxious, then take some time to help train your pooch to avoid and prevent any incidents."

As dogs rely on body language and behaviour to communicate with us, it's important to keep an eye out for the more common behaviours a stressed or anxious dog might display. Here are some of the signs you should watch out for:

  • Ears back

  • Restless or at high alert

  • Destructive behaviour

  • Loss of appetite

  • Shaking, cowering or hiding

  • Panting

  • Growling or baring teeth

  • Biting or snapping

  • Barking or howling

  • Unwillingness to interact

If these behaviours are frequent and ongoing, it's important to speak to a vet or behaviourist to help you identify the source of your dog's anxiety.

Lockdown Training

Lockdown has meant that dogs have missed out on essential socialisation during the last year so being around other dogs and people can be scary. This could lead to aggressive and anxious behaviours. To help, here are some steps you can take to train your dog in preparation for lockdown easing...

Socialise Your Dog

Dogs that are familiar with people and other dogs are less likely to be aggressive and anxious. That's why socialising them is incredibly important. But make sure to do this gradually, especially if your pooch is a rescue.

Do remember that dogs with a history of abuse may have unpredictable triggers so seek expert help from a behaviourist for specific advice.

Reward-based Training

Rewarding your dog with treats or fuss when they see a trigger is an effective way to de-escalate a stressful situation where they could become aggressive. It all comes down to building up a training-based bond with your dog. This way they are more likely to trust you and respond to commands. Plus, it can help you identify your dog's moods, behaviour and triggers.

Use a Lead

Using a lead is essential when you're in a new or unfamiliar situation with your dog. It will not only make it easier to control your pooch but can also be useful evidence that you have taken the precautions necessary to prevent an incident, should one occur.

Situational Awareness

Be aware of your surroundings and how they are affecting your pooch. Know your four-legged friend's mood and triggers and if you see any, try your best to avoid them.

Always be cautious of other dogs and people around you. If you notice signs of stress or aggression from your dog, warn people who may approach you and remove your dog from the environment or situation. Consider buying a high vis lead or harness with the words 'reactive' on it. This is a clear indicator for other pet owners that your dog isn't happy with being approached.

Pet Insurance

Insurance won't reduce the likelihood of an incident happening, but it could help with the financial consequences if one does become a legal matter.

Not every pet insurance policy will cover legal fees and compensation payout relating to a biting incident, so make sure to check your policy as defending a dog attack injury claim can become expensive.

Happy training!

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