Category: Dog Aggression to My Family

Solving aggression dogs show to family members

When your dog attacks members of your family you need to take immediate action

If your dog is snapping, snarling, biting or lunging at any members of your family it's serious.



IMMEDIATELY move your dog to a safe location away from family members until you have ascertained how serious this problem is.


With this form of aggression, there is significant risk involved. This is especially so if the aggression is directed towards children or elderly folk.  Removing your dog from its potential victims at least allows you more time to assess the problem and implement the targeted solutions below.

When solving aggressive behaviour towards your family your first step is to assess the risk.  Once the level of risk is clear, then you need to implement the solutions that will reduce the risk as your first priority.

But it's also important that you determine the underlying reason for the aggression.  Not all aggressive behaviours are equal and the more accurately you determine the reason  "Why is it so?" the better your solution will be.

So the three-step process you should follow is:

  1. Assess your dog's problem first and, in particular, assess the risk (use this assessment form for that)
  2. Then, as your first priority, implement the solutions that target the risks you/we identified in your assessment
  3. Then re-assess your progress as times goes on to ensure you are getting to where you want to be.


Assessing your dog's aggression and the risk involved

Firstly, read this member's sheet, Biting the Hand, because that goes into the risk in much more detail.

The risk of aggression that occurs to your family depends on:-

  • The age of the victims (e.g. are children involved?)
  • The frequency of the aggression
  • The severity of the injuries
  • The age of your dog
  • The breed and size of your dog
  • And your family's lifestyle and even the type of house you live in

When it comes to the risk of injury, young children and elderly folk are most at risk.

Young children are at risk because 'kids will be kids' and will inadvertently do things that arouse, upset or hurt dogs and that's when aggression commonly occurs.

For a detailed discussion on the risks and benefits of dogs associating with children read this sheet - Friend or Fiend. This page (Kids and Pets) also deals with similar concepts.

Elderly folk living in your home are at risk because they could have medical conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes or any condition that makes their skin frail, and because some elderly folk are on anti-coagulants that may mean injuries will not easily stop bleeding. That can be serious so be sure to read this page Elderly People and Savage Dogs.

While the information below is detailed, there is nothing better than receiving professional advice for problems as serious as this. You should not rely on this information alone to solve the problem you have with your dog. We strongly suggest you contact us via this assessment form for more advice.

So with a big alert to the risk of aggression, let's get started


But why is my dog aggressive?

That's not an easy question to answer on a website but we will try.  A proper assessment will lead to a diagnosis and your own veterinarian can help with that or we can help if you prefer - to do that start with this assessment form.

The most common causes of aggression your dog may show to members of your family are:-

  1. A fear-based response where your dog is suddenly scared by a family member who moves unpredictably near him or her - such as someone disturbing your dog when it is asleep or suddenly waving a stick or raising a hand near your dog - even in jest.
  2. An anxiety disorder created from previous traumatic interactions with people and not necessarily those in your family. The concept of flight/fight response is relevant to this. Anxiety-based aggression often involves growling and barking vocalisations, lunging, your dog's hackles being raised and sometimes the 'showing of teeth'. Anxiety-based aggression often grows from fear-based responses or harmful mistreatment.
  3. Predatory aggression particularly if your dog's aggression is directed towards people who move past quickly such as children playing. Rarely, predatory aggression is directed towards crawling toddlers when they are crying. Predatory aggression is quick and often silent so it's very dangerous.
  4. Protective aggression where the dog feels the need to protect itself when people approach, especially if they approach in a rapid fear-inducing manner. However, protective aggression is just another form of anxiety.
  5. Resource-guarding aggression where a dog will aggressively protect a bone or a rawhide chew. Sometimes resource-guarding aggression occurs when people touch a dog's toy and occasionally dogs can resource-guard their favourite family members from other family members.

There are certainly other causes of aggression to your family  and sometimes there is more than one cause. If you are in doubt or worried contact us via this assessment form for more advice.

Behaviour Key

Following is a useful key you can use to ensure you examine all aspects of your pet's behaviour and the information below is gathered under the headings of this key.

To structure your solution to this problem, consider this useful key which will help you to ensure all aspects of your pet's behaviour are considered.

1. Are medical problems relevant?

2. Can your pet learn, and, if so, how can you teach it to behave?

3. How is the problem best managed to help with a solution?

4. Will medications or pheromones be needed for this problem?

Are medical problems relevant?

When it comes to aggression that your dog shows to your family, many medical conditions can make aggression worse. It's important you know what to do.

For instance, if aggression occurs when you or your children handle or move your dog, then pain-related aggression may be the cause.

Common conditions such as arthritis, painful ear conditions and even itchy, painful skin conditions can be relevant.

Such conditions need to be properly diagnosed and effectively treated.

If aggression occurs suddenly and for no obvious reason, then disorders in various organs, including the thyroid gland are potential causes.

Changes in vision and hearing can also cause aggression to family members because your dog may be 'startled' by the approach of a person.

Your veterinarian can advise on treatments for all of these conditions.

Now here's a job for you. If you are intending to ask the team at Cam Day Consulting to assist with the solution, or are being referred by your own veterinarian, we prefer pets to have a health check and MBA blood test done before your consultation with us. Ideally a thyroid function test is also useful especially if you feel the aggression is 'abnormal'. So, please ask your vet to complete those tasks before attending your referral.

Will homeopathic preparations, pheromones, or medications be needed for this problem?

Some aggressive dogs cannot be calmed by training alone and need other 'agents' to reduce their anxiety and to create a safe state for all.

For low-level cases of anxiety that cause aggression the homeopathic preparation Homeopet anxiety relief may be beneficial.

Pheromones such as the Adaptil Diffuser may help but they are not usually used for this purpose.

The neutraceutical calmative Zylkene may help.

What about medications?

For the right problem, which has been professionally diagnosed, medications can literally be life-saving.

Medications used for pet behavioural disorders are true mood-modifying medications and, when used correctly, should have minimal to no side effects.

Are they always effective? Certainly not.

All medications are prescription-only preparations and you will need to see your veterinarian or the vets at Cam Day Consulting for the supply of medications. Click this link for more information on medications for pet behavioural problems.

How is the aggression best managed?

Management of a behaviour refers to those things you may do that won't solve the underlying 'emotion' that causes the problem but stops the problem from occurring usually by AVOIDING it.

For aggression to your family - managing the aggression expertly is your most important task.

This article talks about managing aggression in detail.

To give an example, management often means keeping your dog away from the situations or locations that cause aggression.

There are many ways of doing that but they include:-

  • not feeding your dog bones and rawhides if they cause aggression
  • ensuring your family does not touch (or is not able to touch) your dog when it's sleeping if it is aggressive when lying down
  • avoiding confrontations you know will cause aggression such as claw-trimming or grooming - let an expert do that for you
  • having a separate area for your dog where it can rest and relax  and be away from, for instance, your children when they are playing. We call this a Polar Bear Enclosure because the area is fully secure but also comfortable and caters for your dog's behavioural needs. You will need advice on that.

There are many other examples.

Management of aggression is quite complex and you will benefit from seeking personal advice from us on that.

How can you teach your dog to be non-aggressive?

Teaching a dog not to be aggressive to your family is important, but, depending on the type of aggression your dog is showing, it's complex and potentially dangerous so you need to be cautious.

Use what follows as a general guide but it is much better to seek professional advice from your Veterinarian or by contacting us - this assessment form is the easiest way of doing that.

The KISS principle of teaching dogs not to be aggressive

Rule # 1:-Replace the aggression with a 'good behaviour' and precisely reward that behaviour when you get it.

Rule # 2:-  Repeat Rule # 1 until the aggression reduces or extinguishes altogether.

However, when it comes to teaching a dog to be non-aggressive remember that dogs usually cannot learn when they are 'immersed in the emotion of the moment'.

That means, when your dog is lunging, growling and barking at a person, no amount of yelling, screaming or hitting will prevent them being aggressive next time. Dogs don't learn like that. It won't work and it will make the aggression worse.

So, punishing your dog or dogs AFTER THE EVENT is a total waste of time.

It is usually not helpful to concentrate on punishing the aggression because in most cases that makes the aggression worse, especially as so many aggressive dogs are anxious anyway and punishment makes them more anxious.

So, solving aggression is best done in incremental steps that are successfully achieved 'before' your dog is aggressive.

Considering that your dog is aggressive to your family, the gentle creation of leadership is an important goal. This needs to be done in a simple way so that all members of the family, including your children, can achieve the same outcomes using identical techniques. That's what our reward-based leadership training technique called the circle of rewards and the leave routine is all about.

The Leave Routine is like a speed-teaching system that's created from reward-based cognitive therapies. In simple terms, it's a fun, game play routine where your dog learns that the human English word 'leave' means the dog-lish action of 'don't bite'.  But there's nothing magical about the word LEAVE unless you know how to use that to reward a targeted and defined outcome behaviour.

That's way too detailed to be shared here so follow the links in the paragraph before - they will take you to the member's section and will open up a whole world of advice on how to teach your dog to be well-behaved in many situations - not just for aggression.

However, sometimes with aggression, teaching dogs to be non-aggressive is very difficult and extremely risky and particularly so because you don't know how people will respond to your dog when it is aggressive.

A summary of the process

So, solving aggression to your family involves the following:

  1. Being aware of the risk involved and avoiding aggression at all costs to minimise that risk.
  2. Considering any medically-related problems such as painful conditions and having them treated as needed.
  3. Carefully teach your dog not to be aggressive by teaching your dog what he or she needs to know with the leave routine and then applying that sequentially to the problem - but don't rely on teaching alone.
  4. Consider if your dog needs calming with homeopathic preparations, neutraceuticals, pheromones or medications.
  5. Reviewing your success honestly to ensure you are progressing
  6. And seeking professional attention if you can't do it on your own.