How to Prevent Aggression in Your New Dog or Puppy

All dogs are capable of aggression, and many will use it depending on the situation. However, you can prevent unnecessary aggression in your dog by coaching a positive attitude to everyday aggravations. Keep reading for some tips to help you control aggression in your new dog or puppy.

Sarah Hodgson, Writing for
5-minute read

Before I tell you how to prevent aggression, I want to set the record straight. Aggression is not a four letter word. 

All dogs are capable of, and many will use, aggression—if they feel that a situation is life threatening or that a prized possession might be stolen. Some dogs are assertive around moving targets (a holdover from their hunting days), and others may defend their personal space just because they don't like crowding. People are no different. 

I thought of titling this blog post, "How best to comfort your dog when he's feeling stress so that you can limit his need to be aggressive," but it was getting too wordy. So I ran with this title. But the real truth is: if you can coach a positive attitude to everyday aggravations, you'll be doing both yourself and your dog a big favor. 

Want to live happily ever after? Help your dog overcome his fears and deal with his frustrations.

That's it? Yes, that's it. Let me expand. 

Let go of any assumption that a dog who shows a little aggression from time to time is a lemon, or a dog that needs to be rehomed, put down, or dropped off at the local shelter. Whether it's growling, snapping, or biting, a dog will resort to these actions only if he's feeling anxious, annoyed, or overstimulated. If you can help him overcome these reactions, he'll be fine.

Here is a fun and important fact: science has learned through brain scans and experiments that dogs are similar to toddlers in their ability to feel, learn, and develop attachments. Both are born with emotional centers that ritualize their routines and help them cope with everyday life.

Here are the five master emotions, divided into two groups: positive emotions and stressful ones (which lead to aggression).

Positive Emotions


Curiosity is the master emotion. Curious dogs want to know what's going on. They are confident and will explore and ponder their surroundings. Think of it from your perspective: on any given day you might be curious about a meal, a trip, a present, or a text message.  


Dogs, like kids, are most playful when they feel comfortable in their surroundings. The ability to connect through play is the surest sign of happiness and the #1 sign of a non-aggressive dog.  

Does your dog live to play? Although some of her playings may lead to wild antics, take heart as you're on the right path!

Stressful Emotions


Is your dog fearful in certain situations? If you're not sure, check the poses illustrated (find more illustrations in my book Modern Dog Parenting, St, Martin's Press, 2016).

Fear develops when a dog is anxious about an unknown, e.g. a random sound, sight or interruption. Overly fearful dogs shut down. They're not curious or playful; they often stop eating. Think back to your childhood: what happened when you were startled or scared?

If a dog can't get away from the stressful thing or place, the emotional intensity can build and leave the dog no other option than to use aggression to defend himself. While tensing or freezing up is a natural response for some dogs, it doesn't have to be. You can do a lot to help your dog shift his focus from fear to fun.