How to Train Your Dog to Not Play Aggressively

Medium
2-8 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

You’ve just settled down to watch this week’s episode of your favorite show, but your dog is demanding attention. He’s had had his walk for the day, but still wants to play! Perhaps he’s a puppy or just particularly energetic, but whatever it is, he won’t take no for an answer. But their idea of playing can often lead to aggression, such as growling, nibbling and even full on biting. Everyone wants to be able to play with their dog, but a dog that displays aggressive behavior when playing could potentially be a risk not just to you, but children, strangers and other dogs too.

Training your dog to NOT play aggressively could save you from a world of future problems. Not to mention it means you can play with him without the risk of losing a finger. Thankfully, with patience and a proactive attitude, you can nip displays of playful but aggressive behavior in the bud relatively quickly.

Defining Tasks

Training your dog not to be aggressive can be done through a variety of methods. You can try and encourage them to play with toys instead of your body, you can ensure they have a cool off period when they start to show signs of aggression, plus you can let them know when you are dissatisfied with their behavior.

The key to training aggressive behavior out of your dog is consistency. You need to keep up the training until all displays of aggression have gone. Combating aggressive play is seriously important, otherwise, their aggression could manifest itself outside of play and could lead to serious injury. It is not a straightforward and easy road to tackling aggression, but with persistence, in several weeks or months you could have a transformed dog. While training aggression out of puppies may be easier, even graying dogs can respond to this sort of training too.

Getting Started

Before you begin tackling aggressive behavior, you’ll need to get a few things together. It is firstly worth getting a toy for your dog that will be used instead of your hands and arms. You may also want to get some treats to reward your dog for playing gently. These could be actual dog treats, or their favorite food, be it cheese or some lean meat. The only other thing you need is patience and a proactive attitude.

You’re now equipped with the knowledge and some tasty treats, it’s time to get to work!

The Toy Substitute Method

ribbon-method-1
Most Recommended
8 Votes
Toy Substitute method for Not Play Aggressively
Step
1
Begin playing with your dog gently
Try to keep play gentle, soft and strictly friendly. You don’t want to get them too worked up, but if they do...
Step
2
Introduce a toy into the mix
Encourage your dog to chew and play with the toy instead of your hands, arms and legs. Try to keep your hands away from his mouth and on the toy only.
Step
3
Tug of war
Encourage the dog to pull the toy with its mouth while you pull at it too. But always let your dog win so they feel encouraged and want to play again in future.
Step
4
Stop when a line is crossed
If your dog gets too aggressive and starts growling, barking or biting, then it’s time for a cool down period. Leave or ignore your dog until he has calmed down.
Step
5
Praise your dog for gentle play
If your dog has behaved well during play, be sure to praise him or give him a treat – he will then associate gentle play with rewards in the future.
Recommend training method?

The Distract & Discourage Method

ribbon-method-2
Effective
9 Votes
Distract & Discourage method for Not Play Aggressively
Step
1
Exercise, exercise, and more exercise
If he is well and truly tired out, your dog won’t have the energy for aggressive play. If you can’t walk him anymore than you already do, throw a ball for him regularly while walking to tire him out.
Step
2
Teach tricks and obedience commands
Teaching your dog to ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘stay’ and ‘roll over’, will all help you control your dog’s behavior. It will help him respond to your commands promptly, making it much easier to stop aggressive behavior quickly when they start to exhibit signs of it in play.
Step
3
Use positive reinforcements only
Never punish your dog when he is aggressive, it may work your dog up even more. Instead, focus on praising your dog with words or treats when he is gentle and well-behaved. This will encourage him to repeat that good behavior again.
Step
4
Discourage aggressive attention-seeking
If your dog does get too excited and starts to growl or bite, move your arms behind your back, lean away, and look away to show him you will not engage with them if he is going to be aggressive.
Step
5
Stay off the floor with an excitable puppy
Puppies can get overly excited very quickly if you’re down at their level. Instead, stay above them, this will help them to see you are the pack leader and prevent them exhibiting signs of aggression.
Recommend training method?

The React to Behavior Method

ribbon-method-3
Least Recommended
8 Votes
React to Behavior method for Not Play Aggressively
Step
1
React
Say ‘NO’ in a firm voice if your dog displays aggressive behavior and bites you. Also ensure you relay that you are unhappy by walking away and ignoring him until he has calmed down.
Step
2
Use taste deterrents
Dogs that have a habit of biting when playing can be deterred with unpleasant tastes. These deterrents can be bought online and from pet shops and once your dog associates biting with a horrible taste, they should soon stop biting.
Step
3
Keep your hand away from his mouth
If your dog has a habit of trying to bite when you playing, then stick to stroking their body and handling their toys only, don’t play with their mouth or head. This will reduce biting and direct their attention to the toy instead.
Step
4
Never play roughly
It sounds obvious, but if your dog has a habit of aggressive play, then don’t allow him to get worked up by also roughhousing with them. Remain quiet and soft so he can’t get overly excited and aggressive.
Step
5
Don’t be afraid to use a muzzle
If your dog consistently bites and you cannot stop him getting aggressive, then it might be time to consider a muzzle. This will prevent him biting, and when he plays gently you can remove the muzzle to signal to them they have behaved well and should continue to play in the same manner.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Amy Caldwell

Published: 09/21/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Gigi
Rhodesian Ridgeback
1 Year
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Question
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Gigi
Rhodesian Ridgeback
1 Year

One of many of Gigi's issues is that when I let her loose in the backyard she becomes incredibly excited and playful which is nice. However upon leaving my back porch she feels as if I am there to play with her and takes it to far by constantly jumping on me and biting me in the process which has hurt me and torn several clothing of mine. I have tried throwing toys and using treats however she either quickly disregards the toy then focuses on jumping at me or eats the treat aggressively followed up by "playing" with me. I typically stay on my porch to avoid her aggressive behavior and some days shes like this others she isnt. Latley I've been purposely staying off the porch to grab and stop her whenever she gets to aggressive and telling her no to try and teach her to stop usually followed up by putting her in her cage as a form of punishment. I am looking for assistance if there is any better way to handle this and get her to calm down or atleast avoid the biting and jumping on me and others. Thank you.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tommy, I would start by desensitizing her to a basket muzzle so that you can address this without getting bitten in the process. I would work on teaching Leave It, Sit, and Out, so pup understands what you are asking of her in those situations later. I would then practice, with the muzzle on, giving those commands when pup gets too excited, rewarding obedience with a treat, then correcting any attempts to bite or jump in disobedience to your command. To correct, you may need low level remote collar training, or to leash pup like the video below. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcwvUOf5oOg Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Step Toward and Leash methods: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-australian-shepherds-to-not-jump Out: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
rocky
labrador/mastiff mix
6 Months
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Question
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rocky
labrador/mastiff mix
6 Months

my dog is very aggressive when it comes to playing or just in general when he feels like it sometimes he is a very nice dog and he can be gentle at some points. he does listen to commands like sit down shake when given his food or toys. he likes to bite a lot and he rips shirts and leaves pretty serious injuries. but i do know that it’s because he wants to play. he is very playful and kind it’s just that the part where he bites and gets on top it’s not okay especially because of his size. what can i do so he stops this type of behavior and plays nicely and doesn’t bite so hard thst it leaves injuries?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Angela, I would start by stimulating pup more mentally - giving pup jobs to do, dog food in things like kongs, kong wobbles, puzzle toys, or automatic treat dispensers. You can also incorporate obedience into things like Fetch or Heeling Walks to wear pup out during those activities faster and help alleviate boredom. Depending on how hard pup is biting, you may need to desensitize pup to wearing a basket muzzle in general - so pup doesn't mind it and so that it's not only associated with situations pup jumps in. After pup is desensitized, then set up scenarios where pup commonly jumps and bites and practice your commands like Leave It and stepping toward. When pup doesn't jump when you do things that normally cause them to, like jump up and down, turn away from them, hold a toy, first get home, ect...then reward pup with a treat hidden in your pocket through the muzzle's holes. A basket muzzle should allow you to do this, opposed to a standard muzzle. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s Out - leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Check this article and the tips on teaching Leave It using the Leave It method. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite For the excitement with other people, once pup gets to the point where they are fine but still excitable with guests, I would recruit friends and practice the Passing Approach method - with people instead of other dogs in this case. Only do this yourself if pup is friendly and not at all aggressive with people (pup might be mouthy but that's a bit different than true aggression, even though I would still keep space between and use the basket muzzle as needed to ensure no one is bitten, even in play). Passing Approach: https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs Check out this article for helping with polite greetings if pup tends to jump, to teach pup to Sit instead. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-australian-shepherds-to-not-jump Finally, you can teach pup a 1+ hour Place command and give pup a dog food stuffed chew toy on Place. Start small and work up to the longer time and distractions very gradually through frequent short practices. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Katy
French Bulldog
7 Months
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Question
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Katy
French Bulldog
7 Months

She jumps up at my legs, growls and bites my hands when she wants to play or during play. I’ve tried the sit and no commands, the stop and ignore and put her in another room to calm down but nothing works. She loves zooming around the garden and then launching herself at me teeth and claws at the ready. Help!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lesley, Check out the two articles linked below. If pup is biting to try to get your attention, opposed to true aggression, then I would work on teaching pup Leave It to build their self-control and understanding of what you want, as well as use the Step Towards method to move into pup as soon as they are about to jump, or the Leash method when you have a leash on pup or when guests visit, and finally the Out command. Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Step Toward and Leash methods: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-australian-shepherds-to-not-jump Out: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Depending on how hard pup is biting, you may need to desensitize pup to wearing a basket muzzle in general - so pup doesn't mind it and so that it's not only associated with situations pup jumps in. After pup is desensitized, then set up scenarios where pup commonly jumps and bites and practice your commands like Leave It and stepping toward. When pup doesn't jump when you do things that normally cause them to, like jump up and down, turn away from them, hold a toy, first get home, ect...then reward pup with a treat hidden in your pocket through the muzzle's holes. A basket muzzle should allow you to do this, opposed to a standard muzzle. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s Example of this behavior being addressed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcwvUOf5oOg For the zoomies, I suggest practicing something called "Jazz up and Settle Down". Which is a bit like red light, green light for dogs. During training, get pup a little excited, then command "Stop" or something puppy knows like "Sit", and freeze. Wait and completely ignore them until they calm back down. As soon as they get calm or sit, praise and give a treat. Tell pup "Let's Play!" again, and start playing and getting them a bit excited again. As soon as they start to get a little worked up (not too much at first), command "Stop" or "Sit" again, then wait, reward with a treat when they calm down, then continue the game after they are rewarded. Repeat this a few times each training session, then end the session (have lots of frequent shorter sessions throughout the day at this age). As pup improves, and can really calm down quickly, let them get a bit more excited before calling Stop. Gradually work up to pup becoming more and more excited and having to calm down quickly from a higher level of excitement as they improve. For her protection and comfort, you may need to start out this game with pup wearing that basket muzzle you desensitized them to beforehand. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Sophie
Terrier mix
1 Year
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Sophie
Terrier mix
1 Year

Sweet as can be except when running at the dog park to catch up to a dog. Will literally bowl them over and twice have seen her try to bite their necks. Haven't taken her back since. Someone suggested a muzzle, another person suggested a shock collar. Not aggressive in play at home or any other time. Great when dogs are chasing her. She is a rescue mix (mainly boston terrier & dachshund with other part chihuahua, toy fox, and rat terrier) We have only had for 2 months. Not sure what her life was like before being rescued.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Gail, The environment of the dog park can be highly arousing for many dogs. Sometimes that arousal can lead to aggression when pup doesn't know how to calm themselves back down, especially with a strong prey/chase instinct and a group of dogs running after one or two. It's the packs level of energy versus the level of energy just one or two dogs would have. I recommend not taking pup to that environment. It's probably not a good fit for them, and could lead to aggression in other situations too if pup gets used to behaving that way often. Instead, I would pursue calm activities with other dogs, like joining a dog walking/hiking group with pups on leash, an obedience class or group, some of the canine sports that are more structured, or potentially one on one play date with another dog of similar play style in a private fenced location (test how they do on walks together first) and be ready to intervene if play gets too rough. I would work on teaching Out and Come on a long training leash, so those commands can be used around other dogs when you can tell pup is starting to get too aroused. Interrupt pup before they are in the intense state, when they first get excited, calling them to yourself, using a drag leash around just one other dog if you need to practice pup coming in that environment, then having pup practice a couple commands, giving treats for obeying, until both pups are calm again and can play if they want to again. Have the other dogs owner call their own dog to themselves as well, instead of both dogs getting treats from just you, so they dogs aren't next to each other competing for the food, but having a break from one another. When you see pups' ability to take turns chasing vs being chased, wrestling being on top vs. on bottom, and giving each other breaks when the other dog needs one, becoming less even, then it's probably time for another activity until the dogs have had at least an hour to rest. Once overtired or over aroused, many dogs have a hard time regulating their excitement and aggression. If you aren't certain if pup is okay with one on one playdates, have them go on walks together first and observe their body language. Do introductions with a basket muzzle in play if needed to ensure safety.. This isn't the long term option, since you don't want pup attempting certain behaviors at all and the behavior getting worse, but to evaluate whether pup can learn to play calmly with just one other dog, without putting pups in danger. Passing Approach and Walking Together method https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Rex
Black Mouth Cur / Border Collie cross
6 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Rex
Black Mouth Cur / Border Collie cross
6 Months

We cannot get our pup to play gently with our kids. He’s not mean aggressive with them, he is genuinely trying to play, but he is so rough they want nothing to do with him. He does not do this with my husband or me, so he seems to be conditionally playing rough. He gets so over excited that none of his “sit” “off” “lay down” “leave it” etc get through. The kids don’t even have to do anything more than walk by him or sit on the couch. This has been an ongoing issue and we’re at our wits’ end. To make things more complicated, he seems to be starting his adolescent fear period and I cannot get a harness or lead on him without a full on freak out. I don’t want to just push through it as I’ve read that cements the fear, but how am I supposed to try and wear him out to a manageable energy level if I can’t walk him? As you can imagine, this is making the rough play issue so much worse.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Megan, First, once you can get pup comfortable putting the leash on him again, when you are home to supervise and ensure it doesn't get caught on anything, I would actually keep a drag leash on him around the house for a while, both to help with the roughness and to further desensitize him to wearing it. To get him more comfortable putting it on again, first ensure that it's not chafing pup or squeezing uncomfortably. Since pups grow a lot that commonly happens with pup. I always recommend harnesses that are padded, or something like a martingale collar or other collared training device when a no pull tool is needed. Check out the video below on desensitizing to the harness. You may need to break this into several sessions since pup is protesting it, using something like a martingale collar for a bit while you reintroduce the harness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title With the kids, I recommend using the drag leash once that's an option again, teaching Leave It from the article I have linked below, teaching Out, using the sections on how to teach Out and how to use out to deal with pushiness to enforce boundaries on behalf of your kids. I would also involve the kids in training, having one kid at a time with you practicing telling pup things like Sit and Drop It and Off, with the child rewarding pup when they obey, and you using pup's leash to follow through with pup obeying the child if pup ignores them. This can help build respect and listening for the kids with your help. Those commands can also start the process of the kids being able to play with pup by doing a structured fetch and drop it training and doing trick training with pup, so pup has a structured way they expect to play with the kids instead of trying to play with them like another dog. Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Youtube channel for trick training ideas: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZzFRKsgVMhGTxffpzgTJlQ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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