Understanding Aggression In Dogs

Published: 20 Apr 2024
Patrick Wilson
Patrick Wilson
With over a decade of experience in the animal veterinary field, Dr. Wilson enjoys getting to know pets and their families on a personal level. He sees them as an extension of his own family. Hence, he is rewarded on a daily basis as he helps strengthen the special bond between pet owners and their beloved companions.
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Annually, approximately 4.7 million people in the United States suffer dog bites, according to Dog Bite Statistics from All Pets Life. This suggests there is a 1 in 7 chance of being bitten by a dog. Yet, the probability of dying as a result of a dog bite is much smaller, positioned at 1 in 112,400.

In most cases of dog aggression, many people think that it is a one-dimensional diagnosis towards dogs that react aggressively and that display behavior like growling, biting, barking, and the like. However, the reality of it is that it is rather more complicated than what you thought. To better understand your pet’s aggression, keep scrolling.

Signs Of Aggression In Dogs

If you are not quite able to tell whether a dog is nervous to the point of being aggressive, you just might be in luck as this part provides various signs and body language as a precursor of a canine’s attempt to attack anyone in sight. Knowing these signs would help you anticipate aggressive behavior and stop it before anything grave further happens.

Canine aggression can always be prevented by certain behaviors that precede it. The most common signs of dog aggression include the following, and are not limited to:

  • Growling
  • Snarling
  • Stiff body language
  • Ears pinned back
  • Baring teeth
  • Different intensities of biting
  • Showing of whites in the eyes
  • Tail tucking
  • Avert gazing
  • Lip licking
  • Yawning
  • Raised fur
  • Snapping
  • Wagging tail too quickly

You must bear in mind that not all aggressive dog exhibits all these behavior at the same time. Additionally, these warning signs are indications of fear and anxiety as well.

Beware Of The Dog

Common Types Of Dog Aggression

To effectively treat aggression in dogs, it’s important to understand the details of the most common form of aggression in dogs because each kind of aggression requires different types of treatment. In many cases, dogs can present with more than one type of aggression.

These are the major types of dog aggression listed and each type has a unique distinction that dog owners and non-dog owners alike should be aware of.

Fear Aggression

A fearful dog displays fear aggression whenever it finds itself in a scary situation. Like us humans, nervousness can turn to a flight or fight response and fear aggressive dogs choose the latter. Such dogs that exhibit aggression out of pure fear do not show a warning as they will only react when there is a perceived threat and there are no other options other than fighting against the threat. In most aggressive pets, this dog behavior is usually motivated by trauma from the past.

Redirected Aggression

Most aggressive dogs tend to attack a person that tries to break up a dog fight. Many dogs are pretty much unaware that they display this type of aggression as this aggression is caused by an indirect factor that makes them aggressive.

Possessive Aggression

This behavior is focused around the obsession of the dog over certain animate and inanimate objects which is also called ‘resource guarding’. These objects may include his favorite toy, food bowl, favorite calming food, or bed, and his reaction will always be the same. Once family members approach his belongings, the dog will immediately treat them as a threat and may begin barking as a response to the action of the person’s attempt to have possession of the object.

Territorial Aggression

Territorial aggression is a type of aggression towards animals or a human that approaches the territory of your dog, which is commonly the owner’s home (your home) or a part of your property like inside your fenced yard[1].

Protective Aggression 

This aggression in dogs, typically from a female dog protecting her young puppies, is commonly inflicted on another human person, animal, or other dog that is motivated by the threat to the safety of her young.

Defensive Aggression

Unlike predatory aggression, your own dog attacks in defense of something. Moreover, this type of aggression subtly indicates that your dog wants to be left alone and is commonly directed to a person or another animal.

Predatory Aggression

In this type of aggression, an adult dog displays predatory behavior such as chasing wildlife. These behaviors and instincts of the dog may put children and other pets at risk especially children when they’re playing chase with the dog where it starts as an innocent game at dog parks until it escalates to predatory aggression without warning.

Puppies Having Conflict Over Food

Leash Aggression

It is clearly a strong indicator that canines have leash aggression whenever timid dogs start barking, lunging, and tries biting you as soon as you put their leash on. This type of dog behavior sprung from the fact that adult dogs or young dogs desire not to feel restrained and frustrated by their leash causing them to act aggressively.

When not properly addressed, your dog becomes more prone to act out in public. However, you should not be afraid as it is not impossible to correct this kind of behavior as this form of aggression is considered the easiest to correct at present.

Sex-Related Aggression

Sexual aggression is a type of aggression that is directed to other male dogs (or female dogs) which is strongly associated with mating behavior. For instance, male dogs compete over other dogs of the opposite sex, like humans and vise versa.

Pain-Induced Aggression

Pain-induced aggressions in dogs occur because of some circumstances where they hide their pain. Sometimes, if your injured dog is hiding his agony, he might begin to bark which is usually perceived as aggressive behavior. However, if seen from the dog’s perspective, it is actually just their own defense mechanism in response to the discomfort they are feeling. Usually experienced in adult dogs, pain elicited aggression can be addressed by asking help from a qualified professional to identify the underlying problem.

This type of aggression can happen to your dog, regardless of its breed, so it is important that whenever your dog has shown aggression out of the blue, chances are high that he feels a certain discomfort and bad things happen after it’s triggered. Rather than trying to stop his aggression, immediately seek professional aid to eliminate any medical condition that could be causing his pain.

Social Aggression

This particular type of aggression in dogs usually surfaces in the owner’s home, specifically in a multi-dog household setup. Usually, the probability of this type of dog aggression increases exponentially as the number of dogs in the household increase. In this kind of setup, it is a common misunderstanding that there is a dominant or submissive dog as influenced by factors such as dog breeds but the fact is, whenever dogs coexist, they work to be able to establish a hierarchy for the group. This hierarchy dictates the way they do things like who gets to eat first, who gets the coziest spot, and the like.

However, when a new dog member disturbs this hierarchy, the pack leader (Alpha dog or the dominant dog) displays his dominance and corrects the behavior of the member with a display of aggression in the form of growling or snapping.

Frustration-Elicited Aggression

When a pet dog is prevented from doing what they want or forced by their owners to do things they do not want to do, frustration and anxiety kick in and direct aggression towards the nearest animal or person takes place. For example, aggression may occur when a pet dog is held by the collar and is forced to go inside a kennel.

Genetic Predisposition

There are these so-called ‘predisposed misconceptions’ that are unjustly labeled to different breeds. So, to break the stigma against most dogs such as Rottweiler, Pitbull, and Doberman breeds, scientists have conducted numerous studies that would determine the fact that there is no such thing as most aggressive dog or least aggressive dog breed. Additionally, a vet would definitely agree that the common reason for dogs’ aggression is caused by a lack of social interactions, sexual maturity, as well as the environment.

Learned Aggression

As animals are very much capable of learning, so is your own pet dog. Once your dog acts aggressively for whatever reason, the best way to get what they want is to repeat the aggression and establish their control(like young children in tantrums). For example, a Chihuahua learns to inflict injury on a person whenever he is in close proximity and the dog wants him to leave.

Small Breeds Wanting To Bite Each Other

How To Handle Aggression In Dogs

Aggressive behavior in pet dogs is usually a complex issue. Definitely, there is no “easy fix” solution or an overnight treatment plan for your dog to turn his aggressive behavior into a desirable one, especially when your dog’s aggression is extremely rare and in severe stages. Nevertheless, with the correct treatment, consistency, and patience, you will be effectively eliminating your canine’s aggressive behavior. In dealing with aggression problems and other behavioral issues, prevention is most likely the best way to go. Prevention of aggression in pet dogs would definitely save you from the troubles of correcting the main culprit.

In most cases, pet owners begin early and being diligent with the puppy training they employ at a young age for their pet. Most common than not, aggressive pets usually display early signs and when noticed, you will be effectively helping yourself to solve the problem.

Withal, here are some tried and tested tips that may help you prevent the development of your pet’s aggression and improve your dog’s behavior:

  • Use positive reinforcement training
  • Promote social interaction and improve your dog’s exposure to other dogs and strangers
  • Discourage dominant behaviors over other pet dogs; and
  • Look out if your dog displays resource guarding
A Dog Had Another Dog Cornered To See Who Will Rule

On the other hand, it is vitally true that in order to stop aggression, you need to deal with the underlying cause of the specific behaviors which can either be a medical problem, anxiety, fear from something, as well as bad things that happened to your dog without warning that lead to traumas and a bite history.

Canine aggression is not a simple thing to deal with so, the first thing that you should do is ask for help from any pet services. These professionals are highly capable of giving the right diagnosis and provide the corresponding treatment for these behaviors and aggression.

Create a holistic training plan that suits your time and the needs of your dog. Always track your dog’s progress as this would show the development you and your dog have made this will keep you motivated to go the extra mile and exercise good dog ownership.

When training, avoid negative reinforcements like punishment as this would only backfire to you and can lead to aggression since dog takes punishment as something that could cause injury or inflict pain to them. Before training alone, as this could be very dangerous for you and your dog, ask for advice from a veterinarian or an animal trainer as they could give you pointers and may guide you for the treatment of your dog.

Dogs Having A Conflict In The Snow

Frequently Asked Questions

Can an aggressive dog be cured?

Aggressive dogs can be cured, but not completely. With the help of a professional dog trainer and a veterinary behaviorist, you would be able to improve your dog’s behavior gradually as your pet dog learns that he should not display specific aggressive behavior.

In most of these cases, the solutions do not eliminate the problem but rather, the dog was just limited from his exposure to the situations, things, or people that trigger the behavior.

Can a dog become aggressive for no reason?

No, a dog can’t become aggressive for no reason. If this happens, try identifying specific triggers that might cause your dog’s aggression. Is your dog having anxiety? Did you just grab his food bowl?

Furthermore, you can ask for the professional help from a veterinarian to have a more insightful analysis of your dog’s behavior, and afterward, you can have your dog undergo behavior modification in order for him not to cause further problems like any serious injury to you, kids, and to other dogs as well.

What is the most common cause of aggressive behavior in dogs?

Fear is one of the most common causes of aggressive behavior in pet dogs. Fear-driven behavior manifests with a lack of socialization, past experiences with other animals, and abuse inflicted by humans or other dogs that bites. Most common than not, your dog will exhibit aggressive fear-based behavior whenever they feel in danger and need to fight to defend themselves.


Living with a dog that has an aggression problem can be challenging. However, like any issue with medical cause, aggression can be treated with proper socialization and training.

Depending on the severity, the solution can be as simple as a change in routine or medications if need be, especially when the veterinarian told you so.

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