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How to handle an aggressive dog?

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Coming across an aggressive dog can be very scary, especially if you have a fear of dogs. However, as you’ll find out in this blog post, aggression in dogs can occur for many reasons and knowing how to react can create a safer environment for both you and the dog.

How to recognize signs of aggression in dogs

When seeing a dog bark and preparing to leap at us, our defence mechanisms automatically kick in, causing the flight or fight response. However, this natural reaction may not always be necessary because not every dog who looks aggressive wants to hurt you. Especially if you have a fear of dogs or you come across a particularly menacing-looking one, you may interpret their behaviour as aggressive, when in fact, it’s not.

Whether you’re a dog owner or not, it’s essential to educate yourself and distinguish between aggressive and playful behaviour:

If the dog has a funny face, with wide-open eyes and relaxed jaws, they want to play.

If the dog becomes rigid, shows their teeth, and barks or growls in a guttural, menacing way, they might attempt to bite you soon – that is when you should back away and avoid contact.

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Why are dogs aggressive?

There are a lot of misconceptions and controversies around aggressive dogs, with some people believing that dogs can attack unprovoked and for no reason because it’s in their blood. In reality, although some breeds can be more unpredictable than others, there’s always a reason why dogs show aggression. Understanding and respecting a dog’s range of emotions will reduce the chance of getting hurt.


The dog is aggressive because they perceive you as a threat and want to defend themselves.


You are on the dog’s territory, and they are trying to protect it, their owner, or their food.


The dog is in pain and experiences higher sensitivity. As a result, they perceive you as an additional threat and try to attack in their defence.

Inter-dog aggression

This form of aggression is prevalent and appears when a dog notices another dog. Up to 85% of dogs can display it.


Unneutered dogs that go in heat can suffer sudden changes in behaviour because of hormones, and this will make them aggressive towards other dogs and even their owners.


Dogs love chasing bikes and fast-moving objects, so that can trigger their predatory behaviour.

canadian french bull dogs

How to react when an aggressive dog tries to attack you

Keeping your wits about you and preventing contact with an aggressive dog is the best way to avoid an unwanted encounter. Pay attention when walking down the street and, if you see a stray or lost a dog that seems aggressive, it’s best to avoid it and call animal control. If it’s too late for that and you already caught the dog’s attention, follow these tips:

  • Do not raise your voice, wave your hands or provoke the dog in any way. Throwing rocks or other objects at the dog will only make things worse.
  • Stay calm and keep your arms folded or on the side of your body.
  • Do not try to touch the dog to calm them down. If you’re a stranger, they will feel threatened and become more aggressive.
  • If you run away quickly, this will incite the dog’s predatory behaviour, so stay calm and back away slowly. When dogs see that they can’t chase you and that you’re getting out of their territory, they typically back elsewhere too.
  • Most dogs who chase don’t want to bite, and they’ll stop after a while.
  • If the dog tries to bite you, put a shield between the two of you, like a backpack, an open umbrella, or a purse.
  • If the dog takes you to the ground, don’t fight back. Instead, curl up in a ball and protect the back of your back with your hands. However, this is unlikely to happen if you reacted calmly and didn’t trigger the dog.

What to do when your dog is aggressive

If you’re at the other end of the encounter, and it’s your dog that continually shows signs of aggression towards you, strangers, and other dogs, it’s essential to keep in mind that the problem won’t go away on its own. Take your dog to the vet to rule out possible medical causes for aggression, and see a behavioural specialist for tips on how to train them.
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