What is Aggression?

“Aggression” is any behavior that’s meant to harm or threaten harm to others. It can be as obvious and growling and lunging, or as subtle as stiffening and staring. It takes many forms and is considered a normal behavior in animals (including people!) in many situations. Sometimes, aggression gets to the point where it’s not functional for the health or welfare of pets or people, or it starts to show up in ways we wouldn’t expect, and it’s a smart idea to address it.

What Might Be Causing It?

So many factors can contribute to aggression! Your pet’s genetics, early experiences, health status, and everything they’ve learned throughout their life so far can contribute. The most common motivations we see are:

  • Fear: Dog and cats who are fearful of their triggers can learn that reacting with Big Feelings gets their trigger to leave them alone or even give them space.
  • Frustration: Some pets have a particular goal and when that goal is prevented from being reached, they get frustrated!
  • A combination of both fear and frustration: “I want to meet you and I’m exited, but also I’m nervous!” Animals can experience conflicting emotions, just like we can.
  • Predation: Some pets are responding to triggers as if they are prey. Predatory aggression usually looks a lot like hunting behavior and lacks signs of fear or frustration.
  • Protection: This one is less common than the others. It’s usually marked by pets whose aggressive behaviors are confident and lacking signs of fear.

What Does a Behavior Plan for Aggression Look Like?

  1. Manage your pet’s world to prevent or reduce practice of the unwanted behavior. Most often, this means avoiding trigger situations entirely, or using a gate/leash/door/or crate to safely separate your pet from whoever they may aggress towards.
  2. Teach your pet their Training and Behavior Games (Like the 123 Game and Mat Game) at home, then in the yard, then on walks with no triggers present. Most pets need 2 to 3 weeks of practice doing these without triggers before we go to the next step.
  3. Practice Set Ups for Success around your pet’s triggers. You’ll be using your Management and Behavior Games, which is why you both need to get good at them first, before doing them around triggers.

While you’re training, it’s also important to:

  • Address any health concerns that might be affecting your pet’s behaviors.
  • Talk to your vet about behavior medications or supplements if you think that your dog or cat might benefit from these.
  • Meet your pet’s daily needs through enrichment and exercise.
  • Remember, your dog needs to go to Middle and High School before he can do College level work. (Check out our short article on Training Steps!)


What Does Success Look Like?

Clear improvement in your pet’s aggression and way less stress for you both! This can mean:

  • Your pet is able to be around their triggers and stay calm much more often. (Reactions become the exception, rather than the usual!)
  • Your pet can get noticeably closer to their triggers without a negative reaction.
  • Your pet recovers faster and easier after stressful encounters.
  • You feel more confident about reading your dog or cat’s body language and what to do when things go right, as well as how to help when it’s too much for them.

With any form of aggression, there is always a risk that the behavior can happen again at any point during your pet’s life. A behavior plan can significantly decrease the chances of aggression, reduce the intensity of your pet’s response, and lower her stress levels, but it is not a guarantee. Most pets need lifelong management in order to maximize safety and minimize risk.

If you haven’t already, please check out these two short articles that can help you better understand what to expect:

Behavior Program Expectations

How much will my dog improve?


What Do I Need to Do?

We’ll give you the tools and know-how to help your dog. Your role for your dog is:
  1. To carry out the behavior plan. While we wish we could wave a magic wand and help your dog just within our sessions, behavior change takes time and practice. Your dog’s behaviors won’t change unless your behaviors do. And they won’t be consistent unless you are. We’ll help you find ways to maximize your success and fit training into your lifestyle.
  2. To let us know if you have questions, concerns, or struggles. We want more joy and less stress for both you and your dog! Email us so we can help you both out ASAP 🙂 Timely, honest communication helps us do our best for you.
We’re here to help you succeed, and we’re always rooting for you and your dog!