What to Do With an Unpredictably Aggressive Dog

img_35361.jpgIf your dog, like mine, is overly aggressive or unpredictable with other dogs, it can be hard to socialize them, take them to parks, concerts, or even take them for a walk without avoiding a dogfight.

After monitoring our dog’s behavior, we realized the problem is not usually with the dog; it’s with US. The first few times she lunged at other dogs, we got scared, and for a while we didn’t let her around other dogs, period.

She’s a Border collie mix and what most people would describe as an “alpha dog” (the alpha model of dog behavior is based on extremely wrong research done on WOLVES which are about as distant from dogs as we are from apes). She DOESN’T. WANT. OTHER. DOGS. SNIFFING. HER. BUTT. But she’s fine sniffing theirs.

IMG_3360The most important thing to do in this situation with a dog that is unpredictably aggressive around other dogs is to stay calm. When we panic, they sense our feelings and panic, too. But their panic is often released as aggression, which is what we’re trying to tell them NOT to do.

The second thing to do is to identify the type of aggression they have (fear aggression, food aggression, aggression induced by something in the environment around them, aggression in self-defense, or just plain old aggression).

To identify a dog’s aggression, you should watch for particular signs associated with each aggression. Some types of aggression can actually be good, while others are extremely difficult to handle and bad for both dog and owner.

IMG_3418Aggression in self-defense is definitely the best type of aggression in a dog, and one that is actually a very likeable characteristic in many. Aggression in self-defense is very useful in many situations; for example, if you are being attacked, your dog has full rights to attack back in defense; they, after all, were protecting you.

If your dog is being attacked by another dog, aggression in self-defense is completely understandable, as long as it has a good database underneath it as proof.

After identifying the type of aggression, take the proper steps to treat that type of aggression.

However, never punish a warningsignBindi profile photoal from your dog. If your dog is standing a little ways away from another dog and growling softly, take this as a warning signal that your dog wants to be removed from the situation.

If necessary, take the proper steps to exit a potentially harmful situation. Always exit a harmful situation before the damage occurs. For example, if you and your dog are walking in the park where there usuallyaren’t dogs, and you see one, you may want to call out to the owner that your dog is in training and needs his or her space.

Don’t avoid training your dog. Avoiding training your dog is potentially the worst thing you could do. Training your dog is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY if your dog has aggression problems of any sort. If your dog is in training and needs his or her space, you may want to consider having them join the Yellowdog Project.

IMG_3305The Yellowdog Project is working on making yellow bandanas and bows a global sign for dogs. Your dog wearing ayellow bandana or bow means that they’re in training and need their space. The Yellowdog Project is not an excuse not to train your dog. Many pet owners still haven’t heard of the Yellowdog Project; they may just think your dog is wearing a yellow bandana for fun and ignore it.

Stay calm, identify the form of aggression, take the proper steps to treating that aggression, take the proper steps to exit a potentially harmful situation, and don’t avoid training your dog and you and Fido should beon your way to puppy paradise.


Our dog is now fine passing other dogs on the road, though she is yet to make friends. We now take her to many places. In this shot, she’s enjoying the view at Crater Lake in Oregon.

3 responses to “What to Do With an Unpredictably Aggressive Dog

  1. I would love to find some guidance on dealing with a dog who is aggressive without warning. No growling or backing away. Literally fine one second and attacking (a person) the next.

    • Hi Marlene! I’m not an expert (everything I’ve learned has been from my own pup, who fear-reacts to other dogs), so I can’t offer any advice, but working with a professional trainer was very helpful to get the basics down with my dog. Hope you can find what you’re looking for!

      • This is my sons dog. He (son and dog) is currently living with us after a recent break up. My son is a part time dog trainer and this dog is well trained but has unpredictable, no warning aggression. He has bitten my (adult) daughter three times in the last month. This unpredictable aggression is not new and we are all at a loss as to what sets him off. The hard part is nothing to alert us to whatever it is that sets him off. Otherwise we would change the situation to prevent an issue arising. 😦

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