aggressive dog

What to Do When Your Roommate Has an Aggressive Dog

aggressive dog

Nothing is quite as scary as an aggressive dog. If your roommate’s aggressive dog is threatening you at home, you’re probably stressing-out and wondering how to cope with this unsettling situation.

I was once the owner of such a dog, and I had roommates who were scared and unhappy about the situation. We had some close calls and a few scary dog fights before I understood my dog’s aggression problem and how to control it.

In the end, I learned that my dog’s behavior was actually my problem: I did not step up as the leader of the pack and train her properly when she was a puppy.

Since then, I’ve learned:

Dealing with a roommate’s aggressive dog involves:

  • Understanding what triggers the aggression
  • Training the dog using positive reinforcement or desensitization


  • Keeping the dog away from whatever makes it aggressive
  • Never using punishment against an aggressive dog

These are the 14 things you need to go through, and then you will know how to handle your roommate’s dog’s aggressive behavior.

1.The Roommate is the Problem When Their Dog is Aggressive


As it was in my case, most aggressive dog problems start with the dog’s owner not training the animal properly from the start. If a medical condition is the cause of the aggression, then the owner is also responsible for dealing with that.

If you are finding yourself terrified and angry with your roommate’s dog, don’t take it out on the dog. Dog’s need training from early puppyhood to learn how to get along with people and other animals. When an owner fails to train their pet, it is the human’s fault, not the dog’s fault.

Helping your roommate see this fact may be hard, but it is the best place to start. You can often train an older dog to behave better, although you may need an animal trainer or behaviorist to help you figure out how.

A dog trainer is like a coach for an animal. A trainer is the person to go to when a dog is a puppy and for less serious behavioral problems. An animal behaviorist is more like a therapist, and this is the type of help you need for more severe problems.

If a dog has bitten someone or is not responding to training, the next best solution is to use humane methods to keep the dog away from aggression triggers and situations where someone could get hurt. This is what I had to do with my dog.

So, if your roommate’s dog is hostile toward you, see if you can talk him or her into taking the dog to a dog training professional for help, and read on for more ideas about what you can do on your own.

2. Why Your Roommate’s Dog Becomes Aggressive

dogs fighting

Dogs are emotional animals, and this may be why they get along so well with their emotional human companions.

We share a surprising number of emotional reactions with our canine companions, including fear, possessiveness, jealousy, and other unpleasant emotions. We also both sometimes lash-out when we’re injured or feeling ill, and just like humans, some dogs are more hot-headed than others.

What sets off aggression, anger, and irritability varies between individuals and situations in both humans and dogs. However, aggression in dogs usually falls into one of these categories:

  • Aggression toward other dogs
  • Aggression toward other animal species
  • Aggression toward people
  • Aggressive reactions toward something in the environment
  • Aggression caused by physical discomfort from a medical condition.

The breed and individual history of a dog may also play a part in their behavior. Dogs rescued from abuse often need extensive training and support to recover, and some breeds of dogs are more prone to aggression than others.

 3. Signs of Aggression in Dogs

Your roommate’s dog may only be growling and snarling from a distance now, but dog aggression often starts with less threatening behavior and then escalates. Any sign of aggressiveness in a dog is a serious problem which could get worse.

Here are the main signs to look out for:

  • Staring obsessively
  • Becoming riged
  • Growling
  • Curling of the lip
  • Barking
  • Lunging
  • Nipping and biting

Your roommate’s dog could be showing these signs for a variety of reasons.

4. Types of Aggression in Dogs

When a dog gets aggressive, it’s almost sure to be for one of these reasons:

  • A need to protect members of its group, human or animal
  • Territorial behavior when a dog protects its home turf
  • Fright from a scary or unexpected event
  • Guarding resources when a dog becomes protective toward food or objects it values
  • Separation anxiety when the owner is not present
  • Social aggression toward other dogs when establishing dominance
  • Sexual aggression between competing mates
  • Predatory behavior which can be triggered when playing with people or other animals
  • Pain-induced aggression if the dog is sick or injured
  • Frustration-elicited aggression when dogs are on a leash, confined in a yard or kennel, not receiving needed care, or are abused.

The source of aggressive behavior may or may not be immediately apparent, but your solution must fit the problem. Hopefully, your roommate will help you find a solution for their dog’s frightening behavior, and you won’t have to do this alone.

Dog owners often need the help of a professional dog trainer, animal behaviorist, or veterinarian when figuring out the cause of aggression in their pet and finding a solution that works.

5. Finding the Cause of Aggression in Your Roommate’s Dog

dog trainer

Sometimes the source is obvious. If a dog growls and snarls every time you get near its food dish, you don’t need a degree in animal psychology to understand what the problem is. This type of behavior is called resource guarding.

Other times the source can be harder to determine. In my dog, aggressive behavior only occasionally appeared when she was playing with other dogs. It took me a while to understand the problem stemmed from conflicts about social dominance and my lack of socializing her with other dogs when she was a puppy.

She was also a pit bull mix, and her breed may also have contributed to her tendency to fight.

As you look for the cause of the behavior, ask questions like:

  • What breed is the dog and what type of personality and history does it have?
  • When does the problem arise, and what else is going on at the time?
  • Is the dog’s aggression specific to individual people, other dogs, or generalized?
  • Is the dog only like this towards people in uniforms, tall people, people wearing hats, or people with a particular scent, sound of voice, or physical habits, such as moving around quickly or laughing loudly?
  • Does the dog get upset if you move toward it suddenly or try to touch it?
  • Is the bad behavior caused by predatory instincts when the dog sees another animal, a person, or a car moving in the distance?

6. Depending on the cause of the aggression, you have three options:

  • Use a training program to improve the behavior,
  • Make changes in the home to help the dog feel less stressed,
  • Figure out a way for keeping the dog away from whatever triggers the aggression.

You may also discover a medical issue or physical limitation, such as failing vision or hearing. In that case, you can accommodate the animal as best as possible to keep it calm and get it to a veterinarian, if possible, for treatment and recommendations.

7. Sudden Onset of Aggression

If your roommate’s dog suddenly becomes aggressive, it may have an underlying medical condition causing the problem. Ask your roommate to take the animal to a vet for a complete medical exam.

If a medical condition is not the problem, use the trip to the vet to ask for his or her recommendations for controlling the aggressive behavior.

8. Training Your Roommate’s Dog to Reduce Aggression

Training a dog to obey and behave itself is best done in the first three or four months of the dog’s life. If the owner misses that training window, it can be harder to train the dog, but it’s still possible in many cases.

If the problem is caused by inadequate puppy training, you may be able to use a training program to reduce the problem. A few types of aggression you can control with training are:

  • Being protective of people and things, known as guarding behavior
  • Being unfriendly toward certain people
  • Being fearful of sounds or sights going on in the environment
  • Exerting dominant toward other dogs

Effective dog training uses rewards to increase the behavior you want: a training method called positive reinforcement.

Punishing an animal for aggressive behavior does not work and can make the situation worse. For success, you need a training program using the right reward system and timing of reward.

If you aren’t familiar with dog training methods, read on to learn the basics. You can often teach an old dog new tricks, but you have to be patient and use the right techniques until you see an improvement.

9. Training Your Roommate’s Dog to Like You

dog treat

The dog might be getting upset because you moved into its turf and are getting near its owner or valued objects. If this is the problem, you can try making friends by offering small treats as a reward for good behavior.

For example, sit quietly until the animal stops paying attention to you, then toss it a small treat. Or, drop a treat on the ground as you pass by it, but only if the dog is behaving nicely. Make sure the dog knows that you are the one providing the treats.

Over time, you may be able to train the dog to see you more positively and maybe even to bond with you.

Training a dog in this way involves having a supply of small rewards the dog likes and keeping them handy when you need them. Keep rewards small, and don’t reward every instance of good behavior. Intermittently rewarding good behavior produces the most lasting results.

You can use this same method to teach a dog many types of behavior. The important points are:

  • Train frequently in short sessions until you see improvement in the behavior
  • Use small rewards
  • Do not reward for every act of good conduct.

10. Desensitization Training for Aggression in Dogs

If a dog is aggressive toward other animals or people, you can try a desensitization program. Desensitizing a dog to an aggression trigger takes multiple sessions. You must be consistent and keep up with the training, working with the animal daily for short periods.

Here’s how desensitization works:

We’ll call whatever upsets the animal the object.

Each day, expose the animal to the object, but start by having a large distance between the two.

As soon as the dog notices the object, and starts getting excited, talk to it gently until you get its attention. You may have to move between the dog and the object it wants to obsess on.

As soon as the dog looks at you or responds favorably toward you, give it a small treat and verbal praise. Do this several times in each session.

Once you can command and hold the dog’s attention while farther away from the object, reduce the distance slightly, and go through the routine again at a closer range. Repeat this until you are standing near the object, and the dog is obeying your commands.

11. Changing Routine to Reduce Separation Anxiety Aggression

If your roommate’s dog starts acting up when the roommate goes away, it may have separation anxiety. It is possible to reduce this, but you’ll need your roommate’s help on this one.

You can reduce a dog’s separation anxiety by asking the roommate to take the dog for a walk shortly before going out. Next, ask them not to make any fuss or say goodbye to the dog before they leave the house. This only primes the animal for an anxiety attack.

Your roommate may need to train the dog by exiting quietly for five minutes at a time without petting, talking to, or making eye contact with the dog before leaving. Then have your roommate slowly increase the amount of time they are away until the dog becomes less anxious.

Some dogs are comforted if they have a piece of their owner’s clothing placed where they sleep. Other dogs also act less anxious when listening to audiobooks, a radio, or a TV when the owner goes out.

Dogs are creatures of habit, much like us. Make sure the dog has its own special place where it has a bed, food, water, and any toys it enjoys. Do not move these items around, or you may create more anxiety for it.

We have a great guide for what to do if your roommate’s dog has separation anxiety

12. Are Care Issues Causing Aggression in Your Roommate’s Dog?

If your roommate is not taking good care of the dog, this may be the source of the problem. Some of the most common care issues to look for are:

   a. Medical Issues Causing Aggression


Your roommate’s dog may have a medical condition and is becoming aggressive due to pain, confusion, or loss of bodily control. A veterinarian may be able to prescribe pain medication or other treatments. Beyond that, be extra-careful handling, feeding, or approaching a sick, injured, or crotchety older animal.

Older dogs often become hard of hearing and develop problems with eyesight, and both of these conditions can result in aggressive behavior. However, if you know what’s causing the problem, you can change your actions to reduce the dog’s stress.

A veterinarian might be able to prescribe behavior modifying medications for your roommate’s dog to help keep it calm. However, these drugs are not suitable for all dogs and situations, and training may still be needed, as well.

        b. Confinement and Lack of Exercise

Most dogs need daily exercise, and not getting enough time outdoors can make them grumpy and aggressive from pent-up energy. If your roommate does not walk or exercise their dog enough, consider doing it yourself and chalking it up as part of your exercise program. You can also use walks to bond with the dog and help it accept you as part of the household.

        c. Lack of Food or Water

Just like people, dogs get upset if they don’t have adequate food and water. If the dog is especially aggressive around its food dish, or when someone is holding food, the dog may not be getting enough or the right type of nourishment.

The animal could also have a medical issue affecting its appetite. Take the dog to the vet for a check-up. Ask for a dog food recommendation appropriate for the breed, age, and size of the dog.

     d. Spaying and Neutering to Reduce Aggression

The data from recent research do not support the common idea that spaying and neutering dogs reduces aggression.  Two large scale studies reported spayed and neutered dogs displayed a significant increase in aggressive behavior, especially female dogs spayed before one year of age.

An increase in aggression is only one of the negative behaviors associated with spaying and neutering found in these studies.

Dogs having these surgeries also exhibited more fearfulness, excitability, and were harder to train. These findings contradict much popular wisdom, but the results have recently been confirmed in another study.

If your roommate’s dog is neutered and is still being aggressive, this surgery may have made the situation worse and harder to resolve with training. In this case, humanely restraining the dog may be the only solution to prevent problems.

              e. Protection of Puppies

Dogs with puppies are especially prone to aggressive behavior, especially around the pups. Be cautious about how you approach them and do not handle pups until you have the mother dog’s trust and approval.

If you don’t know if the mother dog trusts you, don’t handle the puppies or pet the mom at all.

13. Keeping Your Roommate’s Aggressive Dog away from Aggression Triggers

dog muzzle

Sometimes, physically restraining a dog is the only way to control aggressive behavior. Restraining a dog should always be done humanely and appropriately using the right equipment designed for the dog’s size and condition.

Methods for limiting a dog’s access to aggression triggers include the appropriate use of:

  • Kennels and cages
  • Sturdy chains and collars
  • Fenced yards
  • Muzzles, regular leashes, and drag leashes
  • Secured areas of the house designated for the dog

Restrained dogs still need exercise, fresh air, proper nutrition, sanitary conditions, and human companionship.

You need your roommate’s cooperation for using any form of restraint on the animal. If your roommate does not oblige, you may need to insist they find a new home for the pet or move out yourself.

14. Why Punishment Doesn’t Work to Control Your Roommate’s Aggressive Dog

Punishing a misbehaving dog by yelling or striking does not work to stop aggression. It’s likely to make the problem worse.

Yelling or hitting the animal is likely to increase its agitation, and someone may be injured. Dogs do not learn from punishment, and punishing a dog is not an effective or safe way of trying to stop bad behavior.

I made this mistake myself several times with my pooch. She was only aggressive toward other dogs. Before I knew better, on several occasions when I sensed she was going to start a fight, I yelled and ran toward her. According to a veterinarian I later consulted, I was doing the exact opposite of what I should have done.

What he told me was I was signaling to my dog I was also upset, giving her the message that I wanted to fight, too! My angry voice only made a dog fight more likely.

The vet said what I should have done was use a high-pitched, friendly voice and move away from the source of aggression, rather than moving angrily toward it. If I had known better at the time, I would not have let my dog go unrestrained.

Other ineffective punishments are shock and choke collars and aggressively flipping the animal on its back to exert dominance. These methods create more behavior problems in the animal, are inhumane, and should be avoided.

15. Is Your Roommate’s Dog a “Dangerous Dog”? 

Most dogs are friendly and attached to their human group, only posing a threat under extreme circumstances. But there are a minority of dogs which are dangerous and more prone to serious or repeated aggression.

Dangerous dogs are especially dangerous to children, and dog bites are a leading cause of ER visits for kids. Dogs with any known history of aggression should not be allowed near children. If you have children or children come to visit you, you may want to reconsider moving in with a roommate who owns a dog with a history of biting or injuring a person or animal.

If a dog has a history of serious aggression toward people or animals, in many locations, it can be legally classified as a dangerous dog by a court or other authority.

The dangerous dog designation varies from one place to another, ranging from a complete ban on particular breeds to no designation at all. In areas that do have these types of regulations, a typical definition of a dangerous dog is any dog that has ever inflicted a serious bite, or more than one non-serious bite, or substantially attacked a person or domestic animal.

Every year in the U.S., dogs bite over four million people, and nearly a fifth of them need medical attention for their injuries.

While dog attacks rarely result in a person’s death (36 in 2018 in the U.S.), all dog attacks are upsetting and potentially dangerous, and dog owners are legally responsible for damages and injuries caused by their animal.

Dog breed seems to have something to do with attacks by dogs. Of those people killed by dogs in 2017, 74 percent were attacked by pit bulls. While any breed of dog can become aggressive in the right circumstances, some breeds show up more in dog bite statistics than others, including:

  • Pit Bull
  • Rottweiler
  • German Shepard
  • Bull Mastiff
  • Wolf Hybrids
  • Huskies

It’s important to remember that a dog of any of these breeds can be a trained, gentle, and well-behaved pet. Dog breed alone is never enough to predict a dog’s temperament.

However, if a particular dog makes you feel threatened, take this feeling seriously. Aggression in dogs can escalate from less severe to more severe over time, and your instincts may be telling you something important.

If your roommate doesn’t take action to resolve the problem of aggression in their dog, consider moving out. If a dog attacks you, report the incident to the police, and immediately seek medical attention for any injuries.

If you are considering a new roommate with a dog you don’t know, ask about the dog’s history of aggression before deciding on moving in with the person.

Final Thoughts from a Former Roommate with an Aggressive Dog

Dogs are pack animals, and they need the structure of pack hierarchy. When someone owns a dog, that person needs to take the role of being the pack leader. Otherwise, the dog thinks it’s the boss, and aggression and other bad behaviors are more likely.

My dog had several problems I did not understand at first. I got her as a puppy from a free-box at the grocery store, and I didn’t know about her pit bull genetics at that time. Her breed may have predisposed her to fight.

I also messed up by not training and socializing her enough with other dogs when she was a puppy and treating her more like a friend than a dog.

I finally learned to manage her aggression by keeping her away from other dogs at all times. Walks were always on a leash, and if someone came by with a dog, I’d tell them to stay away because my dog was not dog-friendly.

A human stepping up as the leader of the pack is the best way of being a dog’s best friend. If your roommate isn’t the leader of the pack with their dog, that is the real source of the problem.

Writer: Mary Innes

mary innes


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