While dogs are not naturally aggressive, situations in their life can make them so. Abuse, past trauma, or even poor training can turn a naturally friendly dog into a nightmare.

The good news? Most times, aggression can be dealt with at home, but that requires you to know exactly what to do and not scare your dog even more. In general, dogs are aggressive because they are scared, possessive, hurt or simply protective.

There are some common signs you will see in an aggressive dog, and it’s important to learn and recognize them. Even though their intention is not to hurt you, sometimes their reactions won’t be pleasant. A scared dog may growl, stand rigid, show his teeth, snarl, light biting or trying to snap someone.

Some of these signs can also mean playfulness, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog wants to attack you, but you will definitely see more than one in an aggressive dog. For that reason, even play biting should be discouraged. Consider this, a German Shepherd puppy biting during play may be adorable, but that puppy grows up into a powerful dog. His biting becomes anything but cute.

How to Train an Aggressive Dog

The first step into training aggressive dogs is to see what makes him aggressive. Is he aggressive in general, or towards specific people or animals? Or maybe he is getting aggressive when someone gets near his food or toys.

See what makes him behave this way, and work from there. Once you have this figured out, it’s time to work towards fixing the behavior.

Visit your vet

It may sound strange to make a vet the first person you call before training an aggressive dog, but it’s the smartest thing you can do. It’s vital to rule out medical reasons for dog aggression. For example, a dog that snaps and snarls when you touch a certain spot on his body may actually just have a physical injury rather than a psychological problem.

Decide if this is something you can handle on your own

Not everyone is mentally equipped to train an aggressive dog on their own, and that’s okay. Do the research, read the training books, and watch the videos. Then, ask yourself, “Can I handle this?” If you feel like you can, great! If not, move on to the next step. In fact, even if you think you can do it alone, you’ll want to check it out.

Consult a professional

If you feel like your dog is not listening to you or you don’t have enough authority, you can always ask for help from a professional dog trainer. If you do feel like you’ve got a handle on the situation, still consult a pro to go over your plan and evaluate any flaws. Usually, your veterinarian will be able to give you some recommendations after you rule out any possible medical cause.

Make Positive Reinforcement a Priority

You need to figure out a good plan in order to stop the aggression. Most times, a professional will be able to guide you through the process. Make sure you use positive reinforcement techniques as you train your aggressive dog, though. Aversion techniques, such as Alpha methods and shock collars, can actually increase your dog’s level of aggression.

Remember that dogs should never be physically punished. Ever. Hitting your dog isn’t just abusive, it’s counterproductive. Dogs don’t understand punishment. They don’t equate a “spanking” with their negative actions, but rather come to view your hand as a source of pain.

No matter what you do, you need to make sure that your dog is comfortable with your actions and ready for a change. Make sure to give him all the love and attention and work towards understanding and fixing his behavior.

Unlike other behaviors, aggression should never be ignored. If you don’t correct it as soon as possible, you may realize that your dog is hurting himself or other people and animals.