Identifying Stressors

Identifying Stressors and Situational Factors in Aggressive Dog Behavior

Aggressive dogs have made headline news in recent years. However, as a pet owner, it’s possible to identify the triggers for aggressive behavior before an attack happens. In the best possible situation, you should take a proactive approach to training and socializing your dog when they are a puppy and before they display aggressive behavior. This will help them be more adaptable to multiple different situations and people they may encounter. Yet, if you get a dog later in its life who may not have been properly socialized, learning to recognize the triggers of possible aggression and addressing them right away is key for you to help your dog best and give them a better quality of life. 

Pandemic Pooches

Millions of people picked up a puppy to keep them company during the pandemic. This made sense, as a canine companion can do wonders for your health. They can alter your mood when you’re feeling low and are the perfect playmate any time, including those times when you have to self-isolate from the rest of the world. 

However, those same pandemic pooches are now grown up and displaying bad behavior. This is likely because the dog you picked up during the pandemic did not have the opportunity to socialize with other dogs as a puppy or was not handled with neonate handling techniques. This can become a real problem if you enjoy your pup’s company but are concerned by issues like separation anxiety and aggression towards other dogs. 

Owners have to manage the aggression carefully and be aware of potential triggers every day. These dogs will never be "corrected" away, or even well-behaved or sociable if the threat of the trigger is around. This can take a lot of training and awareness on the owner’s part. This is crucial as dog owners have legal obligations to their pooch and society at large. As an owner, it’s up to you to remove your dog from a stressful situation and help them de-stress. This may mean you need to make some lifestyle changes of your own, as situational factors like illness and pain can significantly increase the risk of an attack. 

Causes of Stress

Like humans, environmental stimuli can cause stress in dogs. Typically, environmental factors include things like access to triggers (they can see people, other animals, delivery men, squirrels - whatever triggers them) outside a window. It also includes factors that compound frustration/aggression, such as being kept on a chain. This is understandable, as dogs are intelligent and want to feel secure at all times. This is confirmed by researchers in Helsinki, who surveyed 13,715 dogs and found that common causes of aggression included Fear, pain, age, and environmental factors.

As expected, pooches who feel threatened or are in pain are far more likely to lash out themselves. This means that, as a dog owner, it’s your job to make sure your pup is properly socialized and feels secure in their home environment. This makes a world of difference to your dog’s health and happiness and, as such, reduces the risk of aggression. 

To be the most effective, socialization needs to be done during the critical developmental periods of socialization during puppyhood, or else the dog may never learn to accept other dogs or people. If you miss those windows of socialization, the opportunity to learn to accept and interact with other dogs/humans decreases dramatically, and you'll likely spend the rest of the dog's life managing every interaction as if it were a trigger for an aggressive response. If you take an aggressive dog and try to socialize it with other dogs as you would puppies, the results and reactions could be very bad.

You should also take steps to make sure your home environment is healthy and calming. This is crucial, as common pollutants like radon, tobacco smoke, and lead can result in issues like behavioral problems, shortened attention spans, difficulty breathing, and respiratory problems. Knowing that dogs are more likely to be aggressive when ill and in pain, this should be a major red flag. Make proactive changes to keep your space clean and healthy. 

Preventative Measures 

Understanding the root cause of dog aggression is crucial. However, as a dog owner, you still have to remain vigilant and learn to read your dog. This is important, as you cannot eliminate bad behavior from a dog with an aggressive personality. Instead, focus on trying to improve obedience and adapt your approach towards training. Understand that aggressive dogs aren't trying to be a ‘top dog’ or dominant, as many people believe. They're insecure and feel as if they have to fight for their lives. You’ll need to modify the way you approach things like walking and socialization. You simply cannot trust an aggressive dog to relax around others and should always keep them leashed. 

Ideally, however, you’ll be able to prevent aggressive habits from ever forming. This means that you should take your puppy to things like puppy socialization classes, where they’ll be in a controlled environment with experts who can give helpful tips to promote positive experiences and learning. By socializing your pooch, you can help your dog be more adaptive and reduce the risk of aggression. If you do miss the boat on socialization, you will need to keep a close eye on them for the rest of their lives and learn to predict how environmental factors, like hot weather, influence their behavior. Professional dog trainers can be especially helpful in these situations and are recommended.


Environmental factors can have a huge impact on your pooch’s behavior. If your dog is sick, in pain, or fears others, they are far more likely to display aggression. As an owner, you are legally obligated to help dogs overcome these environmental factors and reduce the stress they are under. Identify their situational stressors and take a proactive approach to stop aggression before it starts. This reduces the risk of an attack and helps you socialize your pup properly. 

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