How to reduce dog aggression and attacks

Vets4Pets share advice to pet owners on how to recognise and manage territorial aggression in dogs.

Following the announcement that pet owners could now face a five-year prison sentence if they fail to prevent their dog from biting a postal worker, vets are revealing how to recognise and manage territorial aggression in dogs.

This comes as lockdown has led to a huge spike in home deliveries, many of which need photographic ‘signed for’ delivery due to social distancing, putting delivery staff at greater risk of coming into contact with dogs.

Dr Huw Stacey, vet and director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, said: “Canine aggression remains a common problem in the UK and territorial aggression specifically continues to be particularly misunderstood.

“Many dogs that have never displayed territorial aggression before may also now have developed new behaviours after spending more time sharing their home and space with their owners during the lockdown. And so that, combined with the recent High Court ruling that dog owners can be criminally liable if their dog attacks a delivery worker, means it is now more important than ever that both pet and non-pet owners learn how to recognise aggressive behaviour in dogs and how to properly manage the situation in order to prevent the incident escalating into an attack.

“Aggression isn’t a personality trait or inherent characteristic of a specific breed, it is a normal part of canine behaviour, intended to signal when a dog is feeling uncomfortable and to enhance its safety from whatever it is finding threatening. This means that any dog can act aggressively if it feels threatened enough and its more subtle warnings are not being heeded. Dogs naturally place a high value on their home environment, or their territory, as this is where they have all their basic resources such as food, water, shelter and companions. Territorial aggression is triggered if they think that these resources are under threat from an intruder, and they feel the need to protect them.

“Just because their dog hasn’t bitten or attacked anyone, many owners believe their dog isn’t aggressive at all, but aggression can be very specific to situations and individuals and unfortunately delivery workers can be the target of this because of the job they do.”

Top tips on how to manage and prevent territorial aggression:

  1. Keep your dog securely in another room, with no physical or visual access to visitors, when opening the door
  2. Give them treats or a puzzle solving toy to occupy and focus their attention elsewhere when visitors knock. That way the dog should develop a positive association between the arrival of visitors with opportunities for high quality entertainment in an alternative part of the home
  3. Mount a letterbox cage inside the door, or alternatively fit a secure outside mailbox
  4. Do not leave your dog unsupervised outside in an area where it may come in to contact with visitors to the property
  5. Our attention is so valuable to our dog that even if we are reprimanding our barking dog they will enjoy that we are giving them some form of attention. Therefore, when visitors arrive it is best to remain quiet and calmly lead your dog to a secure area of the house instead
  6. Prevention is always better than cure, so when owners first get a puppy, they should socialise them with visitors, including postal workers, as often as possible so that they do not fear them. Delivery workers could even give them a treat at the door
  7. If you are concerned, then you should visit your vet for specific advice – they may well recommend working with a qualified dog behaviour counsellor