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How to curb pet aggression

man and dog on beach at sunsetBy Tom Cropper

A recent incident in which a ten year old girl from Dundee was attacked by two Rottweilers has revitalised the debate surrounding dangerous dogs.  Campaigners are now renewing calls for further bans of certain breeds. However, this argument misses one important fact. Most pets can show aggression in some circumstances. But by understanding the causes, owners can take preventative action before the problem gets out of hand.

Here we investigate some of the most common factors that can provoke problematic and dangerous behaviour in pets.


This is the most common cause of aggression, especially in dogs. It might be sparked by previous bad experiences with people, a change in circumstances or a desire to protect territory.

Rescue dogs can be particularly problematic. Previous traumas can lead to aggressive behaviour towards particular individuals or people as a whole. Overcoming past associations is no easy task. It takes time and effort. Use praise and treats to teach the dog to view the presence of humans as a welcomed experience.

Stress caused by a house move can also lead to a number of problems, especially for cats. Removal from familiar surroundings cuts the link to a regular hunting ground. While they receive regular food from you, they still crave the security of familiar ground.

Dogs are more relaxed. They need nothing more than a happy owner – namely you. However, if you become stressed, they will follow suit. For this reason, it is safer and easier to remove both cats and dogs to kennels and catteries until you become settled in the new surroundings.


When choosing a new pet, owners often choose the liveliest and most energetic individuals. This can cause problems as these are just the sort of individuals that can go on to challenge your dominance.

Dogs, and to a lesser extent cats, are social animals. They operate according to a group hierarchical structure. If given the opportunity, they may challenge you or another member of the family for dominance within the group.

When this happens, they may focus aggression towards that one individual. If left unchecked, it can lead to violence. Owners need to assert their dominance at an early age. However, once behaviour progresses it can become difficult to remedy. Don’t be afraid to call in the services of a dog trainer. Over time, even a difficult dog can learn to be an obedient.


A tired pet is normally a well behaved pet. Provide plenty of opportunities for exercise. Dogs need to be walked every day and cats, ideally, require plenty of access to the outside world.

Boredom manifests itself in various ways. Dogs may bark continuously, or dash about – the equivalent of fidgeting. Cats may start to scratch. Pent up aggression can occasionally cause the pet to lash out. They may not intend any harm but can still cause quite serious injuries.

Owners often try to remedy the situation by playing with the pet. This is perfectly normal, but can still get out of hand. Excessive play can lead pets to go over the top. Their behaviour might change. Pupils may dilate. They may become over excited. In cats, the tail may start to move rapidly and the ears pin back.

As with any behavioural problem, owners must understand the issue from the pet’s point of view. That way, you can pre-empt any problems. Knowing when to back off and when to assert dominance are crucial factors to maintaining a happy and obedient pet.

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