If you encounter an aggressive dog you should know how best to communicate with it in order to prevent it from injuring you. Most dogs are not naturally angry and aggressive, but on occasion they may feel threatened or cornered, or just unwell.
At times like this they will lash out at whoever they meet, and if the dog is big or powerful (Dobermann, Rottweiler, Komondor) it may hurt you or someone else. We look at why dogs sometimes behave in this way and how best to control an angry dog.
In order to be equipped to deal with an angry dog we thought about putting together 10 methods used by animal behaviourists and trainers that you can call upon if you find yourself face-to-face with an aggressive dog.
Why do dogs become angry?
It is first important to know why a dog becomes angry because only then, when you know for certain the reason for its behaviour, can you act accordingly. Of course, sometimes, especially if the dog is homeless we may not be able to find out.
Nevertheless, some pointers to the causes of anger in dogs could prove useful:
- Dominance: Particularly seen of uncastrated dogs, a fighting instinct will cause a dog to be angry.
- Fear: If a dog thinks he is in danger he will exhibit defensiveness which to us looks like anger.
- Frustration: Dogs left alone for long periods of time or kept in confined spaces are liable to become aggressive due to frustration.
- Illness and injury: If a dog does not feel well he may seem unhappy and want to be left alone; he may use growling and aggression towards you. Blind or deaf dogs are especially prone to defensive aggression.
- Mirroring our behaviour: In 2009 Science Daily published an interesting article about how a dog’s aggression mirrors our own behaviour.
- Possessiveness: Some dogs are possessive of other family members; others are possessive of their food and quiet space.
How do you tell when a dog is angry?
You may encounter an angry dog that is not known to you or you may witness your own pet become angry. But how can you tell an angry dog from a docile one?
Some signs of aggression follow:
- Barking threateningly
- Tail between the legs
- Teeth bearing
How to communicate with an angry dog
Here we outline 10 methods for communicating with an angry dog. These are not failsafe, and on most occasions the best course of action when encountering a dog that is aggressive is to back down (more on this later). But for now, let us talk about what options there are for controlling an angry dog.
#1 Communicate gently: Body language
It is natural for us to stand tall when we deal with aggression, but to approach a dog that is already scared and stand over it will make matters worse. Approaching a dog in a less looming form is preferable. Be careful not to move within the animal’s striking distance.
#2 Communicate equally: Crouch down to the dog’s eye level
If you believe you can eventually control an angry dog by effective communication then crouch down where he can see you. You may even choose to squat, lie or sit down on the floor close to the dog. Ensure you approach at the same height or less; this will go some way to putting the dog at ease. Body language is an important part of communicating with dogs.
#3 Communicate wisely: Strike a sideways pose
In addition to crouching you should try to approach an angry dog in a sideways motion. In terms of communicating with the animal this proves to him that you are no threat. You may even need to turn your back very slightly in order to put the animal at ease.
#4 Communicate sympathetically: Avoid eye contact
When we humans greet each other we make eye contact. That is our way of engaging. To not make eye contact may appear rude. The opposite can be said of communicating with a dog. Looking a dog directly in the eye can make him feel very uneasy. If you want to control an angry dog you should turn your head as well as your body and avoid making eye contact.
#5 Communicate subtly: Raise the pitch of your voice
A deep voice is often perceived by a dog as threatening. The Vet Times writes about a “sing-song” voice, which analysts believe can lead to our positive interaction with a dog. Try to talk to the dog in a lighter, higher tone.
Such a way of speaking, writes Vet Times, “Makes them pay more attention to you and, importantly for a vet, those animals are more likely to show affiliative behaviour to the person who uses that type of speech.”
#6 Communicate with love: Don’t berate a dog for being angry
It is said that some dogs behave aggressively because of the way they have been treated by an owner. But others may use their owner’s behaviour as a guide to their own. If you come across an angry dog, your berating him will only worsen the situation.
#7 Communicate slowly: Don’t try to push things along
Patience is a virtue. Dogs are creatures of habit, and when things in their lives change they become upset and volatile. In order to control an angry dog you will need to be patient with your attention, and wait for the dog to approach you in his own time.
#8 Communicate positively: Be a confident trainer
Dog training should play an important part in your ownership of a dog. Whether the dog is prone to anger or of a peaceful nature, training ensures your dog knows his place. Training will also allow your dog to be more confident because he will be aware of his boundaries. When communicating with an angry dog you must try to be calm yet confident with your instructions.
#9 Communicate generously: Use food and treats
Rewards work wonders for dogs, especially rewards they can eat! When you are faced with an angry dog (that is not poorly) try tempting him with treats. If he takes a step towards you then reward him with food. A great way to communicate with a dog is by treating him.
#10 Communicate cleverly: Know when to back down
Know when the time has come to back away and call for a professional dog warden. If a dog is sick he will be unlikely to want to come to you and probably unable to calm down. If you overstay your welcome in a situation such as that you are liable to get bitten.
As causes, illness and injury pose the biggest challenge when it comes to communicating with an angry dog. A sick dog is unable to calm himself down and will only become normal and placid when his illness is treated.
Of the remaining causes, each poses its own difficulty of remedying. However, a fearful dog can be trained to learn his place and to become braver, a dominant male dog may be castrated in order to calm him down, and a dog that is angry because we are angry may be put at ease when we deal with our own behaviour.