CBD oil is being touted by some as a cure for angry, barking, or biting dogs – but a real solution lies in finding the source of canine aggression.
Pet-safe CBD products have grown in popularity in recent years, as a way to support dogs with inflammatory issues like arthritis and anxiety.
But inflammation also occurs when humans and dogs are stressed. Undergoing stress triggers the immune and inflammatory systems, often termed the “fight or flight” response.
When dogs enter flight or flight mode, they can display negative or aggressive behaviors such as barking, growling, pacing, guarding – even biting.
Because CBD oil for dogs is a natural anti-inflammatory supplement, some people claim that it can be used to lower dogs’ stress levels, making the flight or fight response less likely and therefore reducing the chance of aggressive behavior.
The theory makes sense, but is there actually any evidence behind the idea that CBD makes dogs less aggressive – and if not, what should owners do instead?
What is pet CBD?
Unlike many human cannabis products, pet CBD is a non-intoxicating supplement intended for therapeutic use. It doesn’t cause a high or affect the mental state of animals beyond helping to soothe them and introduce a sense of calm.
To make pet CBD, producers grow and process hemp plants – a type of cannabis that’s rich in anti-inflammatory compounds but doesn’t have any intoxicating or psychoactive properties.
CBD is the main anti-inflammatory compound found in hemp, but there are several variants, including CBC, CBN, CBG, and CBD-A. These compounds are extracted from hemp and infused into a rich carrier oil intended to improve digestion and absorption.
How does CBD oil for dogs work?
While each anti-inflammatory compound in hemp produces slightly different effects, they all interact with dogs’ bodies in a similar way.
When a dog takes CBD oil (preferably as a daily dose over several weeks), CBD and other active compounds stimulate receptors in dogs’ immune systems. These receptors are responsible for managing the release of hormones and enzymes that influence inflammation, stress, pain, sleep, and other central immune functions.
Research in humans, dogs, and mice has shown that CBD can help the immune system return to a state of balance, lowering inflammation and swelling, as well as promoting normal sleep and digestion.
Does CBD reduce aggression in dogs?
Interestingly, evidence from clinical researchers does seem to point towards an association between CBD supplementation and reduced aggression for some dogs.
The science: CBD and aggression
A study from Scientific Reports in 2021 found that cannabis extracts may reduce aggressive behavior towards humans in shelter dogs. In the study, 12 dogs who live in shelters were given a daily dose of CBD oil for 45 days before their behavior was analyzed against a control group.
The researchers found that dogs taking CBD showed slightly less aggressive behavior toward humans.
Dog owners: real-life experiences
With CBD still growing in popularity, finding testimonials from dog owners who’ve tried CBD products for their dog’s aggression isn’t easy.
However, a look at social media platforms and forums where dog owners share tips and issues concerning their pets does reveal several examples of CBD having a positive effect.
Take this post, for example, from a Reddit thread about reactive dogs:
“We are only 4 days in but I have seen some positive signs … Yesterday she was reacting to the neighbours cat (heckles up, barking, jumping at the fence) but was able to listen to me and respond to commands. I got her to sit and even lie down. Previously she would completely ignore any commands when in a state like that.”
Others in the thread saw better effects from treatments such as melatonin and vet-prescribed Prozac.
Any reduction in canine aggression caused by CBD oil is likely to stem from its anti-inflammatory benefits.
This means two things: first, dogs who display aggressive behaviors and aren’t experiencing high levels of inflammation are unlikely to be affected by CBD oil.
Second, using CBD oil to reduce inflammation and ensuing aggression is unlikely to solve the root cause of inflammation, and won’t teach dogs better behaviors to curb their aggressive outbursts.
So, even if CBD does reduce aggression in some dogs, it shouldn’t be the only thing that owners try. Finding the reason behind a dog’s unwanted behavior and then implementing appropriate training methods is also crucial.
What causes aggression in dogs?
Here are some of the most common reasons that dogs develop aggressive behaviors and habits:
It’s very common for dogs to develop phobias of elements in their environment such as loud sounds, water, children, or men. They can also develop anxieties surrounding certain activities or situations like going to the vet or being left alone.
Sometimes, canine phobias and anxieties stem from traumatic experiences (see below). Other times, anxieties can emerge without a particular cause. When dogs experience fear due to anxiety or phobias, they may react aggressively.
When it comes to canine anxiety, CBD does have an impressive track record. Check out our latest review of the best CBD oils for dogs with anxiety.
When dogs are exposed to damaging experiences such as abuse, shock, neglect, or frequent changes in ownership, they may develop aggressive tendencies as a way to cope with the trauma. While a traumatic experience doesn’t necessarily mean a dog will become aggressive, those who don’t receive support and training to deal with trauma are more likely to form negative patterns.
Breeding, genetic disorders, and chronic illness can all play a role in a dog’s overall disposition, and whether they will have tendencies towards aggression. While training and environmental factors will always play a role in how dogs behave, these biological factors do make some dogs more prone to lashing out.
Injuries can also aggravate dogs. A sudden change in behavior might be explained by a hurt paw or dental issue.
Training & welfare issues
Dogs who are unsocialized, housed in unfit conditions, or confined to small spaces may react with aggression.
Canine aggression can also occur for other reasons, such as possessiveness over objects or people, predatory behaviors, or competition for mating. Animal healthcare experts are in the best position to observe and diagnose the causes of aggressive behavior.
How can I help my aggressive dog?
Strategies for helping aggressive dogs depend a lot on how severe a dog’s behavior is. Most experts recommend behavior modification techniques, often carried out with the help of a professional behaviorist.
Certified animal trainers support owners in identifying causes and triggers of bad behavior, creating plans to implement training, and adapting training to individual families and needs.
Behavior Modification is an umbrella term for several canonized training techniques – each designed to reprogram dog behaviors via the use of incentives or distractions. Specific methods include habituation, desensitization, and counter-conditioning.
Most modification methods require owners to find those incentives that their dog likes the most. Most incentives fall into the categories of praise, food, or toys.
Behavior modification strategies are designed to avoid common owner training missteps, such as punishment, which most owners use incorrectly. Punishing dogs through verbal or physical actions isn’t easy, and can cause the opposite results if not given at the right time or situation.
Owners of aggressive dogs also need to think about the safety and wellbeing of themselves and other people and pets who share an aggressive dog’s environment.
Depending upon a dog’s size, age, and bite history, owners should try to make careful, objective decisions about when to reach out for professional help. Remember that you are ultimately responsible for your dog’s actions!