August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Aggression is a form of communication. This is how dogs attempt to resolve conflicts with people and other dogs. Aggression usually starts with warning signals such as tensing or freezing of their whole body, staring, guttural barking, lunging, showing teeth and/or growling. If warnings aren't heeded, dogs may progress to snapping, nipping, and/or biting. When aggression happens, safety always comes first. Keep pets and people safe by preventing aggression from occurring. Observe your new dog's body language for warning signals and seek help from qualified professionals when needed.


  • Stop the aggression from continuing or escalating. Stop what you were doing when the aggression happened. If you were petting your dog when they started growling, stop petting your dog. If your dog is barking at a stranger, move your dog away or tell the stranger to stop approaching your dog.
  • Redirect or distract your dog away from the person and/or item that they are reacting to by getting their attention and then throwing a toy or treat away from the person and/or item.
  • Move away from whatever you dog was reacting to. Safely cross the street if needed.
  • If your dog is showing aggressive behavior toward you, don't turn your back on your dog and don't stare into their eyes. If needed, go slowly into another room while moving sideways.
  • Avoid situations that bring on aggressive behavior in your dog.
  • Remember some aggression can be health related, especially if it is sudden in onset and has never happened before. Your dog should be examined by a veterinarian.
  • If your dog has snapped or bitten and/or you feel that you are in danger, ask for professional advice from the shelter/rescue organization, a positive reinforcement trainer or veterinary behaviorist.
  • If you have been bitten, seek help and see a doctor. If the dog is a foster pet, contact the foster coordinator as soon as possible.


  • Don't use confrontational methods. Yelling, hostile body language, and physical correction can escalate the situation and cause more fear and aggression. Don't corner your dog or hold them down with your hands.
  • Don't run away from an aggressive dog, as this can trigger a chase.

Tips That Can Help Prevent Aggression

  • If your dog won't give up a toy, trade it for a treat or another toy. Don't attempt to pull it from their mouth.
  • If you can do it safely, gently groom and handle your dog on a regular basis while giving them treats.
  • Try not to startle your dog from behind or while they're sleeping. Approach your dog quietly and speak softly to get their attention.
  • Always supervise and monitor your dog's interactions with strangers.
  • Use basic training cues for your dog to gain access to the things they want. The Say Please Program is an excellent way to do this.
  • Give your dog plenty of exercise and enrichment like walks, food toys and puzzles. Play games such as fetch and find it.
  • Careful introductions can help dogs who are mildly aggressive when meeting new dogs.