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Dog Aggression: How To Understand & Stop Aggression in Dogs

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Dog Aggression: How To Understand & Stop Aggression in Dogs

By definition, aggression is a behavior that insinuates harm is on the horizon. Usually, it's in response to something triggering or frightening. Behavior that is aggressive is expressed by dogs that are put in an uncomfortable situation where they perceive some sort of threat. It's a defense mechanism intended to protect the dog, but aggressive behavior doesn't take the safety of others into consideration at all. 

As a result, aggression causes a lot of complications for pets and owners alike. To best understand dog aggression, it helps to familiarize yourself with the seven types of aggression in dogs.

These seven kinds of dog aggression include:

  • Aggression Stemming from Pain
  • Fear-Motivated Aggression 
  • Frustration-Related Aggression 
  • Leash Aggression 
  • Possessive Aggression 
  • Predatory Aggression
  • Social Aggression

The Seven Kinds of Dog Aggression To Look Out For

Different Types of Dog Aggression | Innovet Pet

Aggression is such a complicated situation that takes a plethora of factors into consideration. Instead of viewing aggression in general as a collective explanation for aggressive dogs, it's far more effective to identify the type of aggression your dog is dealing with, especially for the sake of finding out a solution for treating your dog's aggression. 

1. Aggression Stemming from Pain

Have you ever noticed that your dog is more irritable and lacks patience when they are experiencing pain? Whether it's something physical like a broken bone or something invisible like an excruciatingly painful stomach ache, aggression is often associated with physical pain. 

If your dog responds to physical pain by showing signs of aggression, one of the best responses is to take preventative measures. Sometimes, this looks like keeping your dog isolated from other dogs or people that intensify the behavior. Another option is to place a safe and harmless muzzle over your dog's mouth so that your pet cannot nip or bite dogs within reach. 

Mental illnesses in dogs can also contribute to undesirable behavior, especially in dogs with anxiety. If this is the case for your dog, we recommend discussing medication options with your vet. An alternative to modern-day prescription drugs for canine mental health is CBD. Known for its pain-relieving properties, CBD has the potential to lower your dog's pain levels, which will minimize the aggressive reactions in turn.

2. Fear-Motivated Aggression 

Fear-motivated aggression refers to behavior as a response to threats close to your dog. Whenever your dog senses that there is a threat nearby, they are likely to express aggression to protect themselves from the perceived threat. Pay close attention to the way it's called a perceived threat rather than an actual threat. 

It's all about what your dog perceives, not what you can see, so just because you might not notice anything threatening in your surroundings, it doesn't mean your dog doesn't feel like he or she is in harm's way. Sometimes, the perceived threat is nothing more than other dogs that might trigger behavior associated with social aggression.

Another example of fear of aggression in situations where dogs become aggressive in response to displays of particular body language. When you train a puppy, one of the first things you learn is approaching them in a non-threatening manner. An example of showing that you intend to cause no harm is avoiding direct eye contact until your dog is comfortable and familiar with you. 

If you aren't aware of this training pro tip, or if you just happen to make eye contact by accident, then taking extra precautions not to repeat it in the future will bode well for everyone involved. Make sure to inform family members and friends that this behavior triggers your dog, too. 

However, your dog should also be taught that acting aggressively in response to eye contact is not necessary. We'll talk more about how to treat aggression shortly, but for now, let's look at another type of behavior called frustration-related aggression. 

3. Frustration-Related Aggression

CBD OIL FOR DOGS | Innovet Pet Products

Sometimes, the mere nature of being restrained can cause dogs to act aggressively. Usually, frustration-aggression is shown by dogs that haven't been adequately trained to abide by their owner's commands. Still, other times, it's merely in a dog's disposition to become easily frustrated.

Dogs that show undesirable behavior in response to frustrating situations can be taught to respond differently. Still, it starts off by understanding what causes your dog to feel frustrated in the first place. When aggression is related to frustration, it tends to revolve around control. Let's say your dog is still crate trained, and you notice your dog is certainly not the biggest fan of being restrained. 

Dogs that aren't taught to be patient and stay in the crate until it's time for them to be released from it might act aggressively as a way of trying to pressure their owners to let them out. The longer a dog is restrained by the walls of the crate, the more frustrated and aggressive they'll become, so it's essential to work on retraining your dog. A professional dog trainer is best suited for the situation at hand, but we'll talk more about that in a moment!  

4. Leash Aggression

Dogs aren't always aggressive in response to the presence of certain people or other dogs. Your dog may be acting aggressively as a result of being placed on a leash, which is also far more common than people realize. Leash aggression typically manifests as dogs chewing on leashes, trying to wiggle their way out of their collars, or lunging as a way of acting out against their leashes. 

The aggression dogs exhibit in response to being put on a leash makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Dogs aren't used to walking towards other dogs head-on, but rather from a semi-sideways position. 

Having to greet other dogs in a straight line makes many dogs anxious and uncomfortable, which ends up being expressed as aggression. Dogs can be trained to feel more confident on a leash, but if there's any amount of discomfort associated with being on a leash, poor behavior will persist. 

Leash aggression is also a side effect of dogs feeling like they are stuck in a situation they don't want to be in, so teaching them to feel safe on a leash will work wonders. Leash aggression is also a form of aggressive canine behavior that can yield even more complicated responses if it's not handled correctly. We encourage you to seek professional help if your dog has leash aggression. 

Leash aggression is also a side effect of dogs feeling like they are stuck in a situation they don't want to be in, so teaching them to feel safe on a leash will work wonders. Leash aggression is also a form of aggressive canine behavior that can yield even more complicated responses if it's not handled correctly. We encourage you to seek professional help if your dog has leash aggression. 

5. Possessive Aggression

Possessive aggression is primarily defined by behavior that revolves around defending personal items or people the dog loves. For example, let's imagine a scenario in your neighborhood that you're out and about, strolling through a familiar environment as your dog gets daily exercise. All of a sudden, you spot a different dog and their owner walking towards you and yours, at which point you notice your dog's body starts tensing up a bit. 

Usually paired with slight growling and snarling, your dog might become aggressive at the sight of the other dog because of your dog's possessive aggression. Your dog is reacting to another dog in this manner because your dog is possessive over you, someone they view as theirs, which is technically not unusual because you are their owner after all.

Your dog simply wants to protect what's theirs, even when it comes to their owner, and it's totally fine that your dog wants to defend you. However, the situation doesn't warrant such a strong response, and your dog will need to unlearn the bad behavior as a response to seeing other dogs while on a walk for the sake of everyone's safety. 

6. Predatory Aggression 

Predatory aggression relates to instances that tap into your dog's instincts to call upon their aggressive abilities. Usually, predatory aggression is exhibited by dogs that are used to being the pack leader. When dogs are in a pack, one of them typically takes the lead, and this dog is known as the pack leader. 

If your dog is used to being the pack leader, then he or she might act out aggressively when they are met by assertive dogs that threaten their feeling of safety. As the self-entitled pack leader, your dog might leap at other dogs that invade your dog's boundaries. When boundary lines are crossed, your dog might act aggressively towards the other dog, even if the other dog didn't intend to offend or provoke your dog. 

Other predatory-related aggressive outbursts might stem from situations surrounding food. Many dogs become territorial over their food dishes, especially if they grew up in a household where food felt rationed or if your dog was taught to fight for their food every day. When dogs don't feel that food is aplenty, but instead that it is in limited supply, your dog might act out aggressively to scare other dogs away from eating their food. 

7. Social Aggression

Aggression in social settings is not uncommon for dogs that don't get along well with other dogs. Social aggression is generally applicable to any moment where a dog lashes out in a public setting. Dogs with social aggression don't have the best experience with relationships, whether that applies to relationships with people or relationships with other dogs. 

Social aggression is common in dogs that have not been trained to obey commands or listen to directions as well. When dogs are unsure how to respond to people, they act aggressively because their instinct is to protect themselves. Like all other types of dog aggression, socially-oriented confrontational behavior is easy to spot when you know the signs. 

Do you know what to look for in aggressive dogs? Are you able to divert your dog's attention before they act out aggressively? It's possible to subdue your dog and prevent bad behavior from unfolding when you know the signs that your dog might become aggressive. Let's take a look at some of the signs of the behavior of an offensive nature! 

Signs That Your Dog May Become Aggressive

Aggressive dogs show apparent evidence that they are prone to aggressive behavior. When you know what to look out for, you can avoid situations where your dog might act aggressively until you can treat your dog's aggressive behavior. 

Some of the warning signs that your dog might display aggression include: 

Signs of Dog Aggression | Innovet Pet
  • Stiff and alert body language 
  • Standoffish postures 
  • Uninterrupted and direct eye contact 
  • Ears standing straight up 
  • Growling at another dog 
  • Showing teeth to another dog 
  • Aggressive fighting 
  • Standing upright and tall
  • Nipping or biting repeatedly 
  • Urinating on surroundings 

Dogs can display these signs of aggression both towards people and other dogs. Sometimes, it's hard to tell if a dog is aggressive or just overly playful, but it all comes down to the feeling you get from the situation. On paper, the signs of unruly behavior sound eerily similar to the signs of a dog's desire to play, but the overall vibe is incredibly different between the two. 

You'll know an aggressive situation when you see one, so trust your instincts. Plus, you know your dog better than anyone else, so you can probably tell what your dog is about to do in just about any situation. If you sense that your dog is uncomfortable in any way, you'll want to take measures to stop the behavior from happening. 

Stopping aggression sounds like quite the ordeal, but there are ways to prevent it without putting yourself or others in harm's way. Let's take a look at how to stop hostility so that if you're ever in a situation where your dog is displaying aggressive behavior, you'll know what to do!

How to Stop Dog Aggression

How To Make An Aggressive Dog Friendly | Innovet PetNow that you know all about the different types of bad behavior in dogs, you might be wondering how to stop dog aggression. Hostile behavior in our canine companions is not easy to correct, but it's certainly possible. Finding the right solution to your dog's behavior will make your dog's life so much better in every possible way.

Three of the many suggestions for stopping dog aggression include:

  • Avoiding punishment for your dog
  • Hiring a trainer who specializes in aggression
  • Call your veterinarian for situation-specific input

Avoid Punishment for Your Dog 

Most instances where dogs display aggressive behavior are the result of fear. Dogs are aggressive because they feel insecure or in need of defending themselves for some reason. It makes little to no sense to punish a dog that is exhibiting confrontational behavior because they need reassurance and love, not to feel isolated even more. 

Make sure you only implement positive reinforcement when responding to aggressive dogs. Positive reinforcement is a term that refers to offering a reward in response to desirable behavior. For example, if an aggressive dog is leash trained, offering a treat each time the dog behaves appropriately will teach the dog to forget the inappropriate behavior in favor of the appropriate behavior. 

Hire a Dog Trainer Who Specializes in Dog Aggression 

Have you considered looking into the idea of hiring a trainer for your dog? A dog trainer will be able to work one-on-one with your dog and provide care on an individual level. This means your dog's trainer can work on figuring out the exact causes of your dog's aggressive tendencies and create a plan of action to work on those exact triggers individually. 

Before hiring a dog trainer to care for your aggressive dog, make sure the dog trainer has a credible background in handling dogs with aggressive tendencies. Canine aggression can baffle even the most knowledgeable dog lovers out there, so you must seek out a professional dog trainer. A professional trainer who is an expert in dog aggression will be best suited for dogs with aggressive tendencies. 

An animal behaviorist is another example of someone who can offer specialized help for your dog with aggression. As a pet parent, it can be incredibly hard to provide the care your dog needs, especially when you have a plethora of obligations to do in your everyday life. Even so, your dog deserves to receive the attention and help they need for their aggression, so hiring someone who has experience assisting aggressive dogs is the next best thing! 

Call Your Veterinarian

Last but not least, you must speak with your dog's veterinarian to learn more about how best to manage your pet's behavior. Your dog might not show signs of aggression at the veterinarian's office, so it helps if you can explain situations in great detail to give your vet an idea of how your dog acts when they are aggressive. 

Let your vet know who your dog tends to be aggressive toward, and provide as much insight as you can so that your vet fully understands the situation. From there, the vet will be able to get a better idea of what's going on and develop a treatment plan for your dog's aggressive behavior! 


Aggression in Dogs
How to Stop Aggressive Behavior in Dogs
Understanding Dog Aggression
Understanding Aggressive Behavior In Dogs
Defining Aggression
How to Tell if a Dog is Being Aggressive
How to Stop Aggressive Dog Behaviour 



    Approved by:
    Dr. Sara Ochoa
    Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, St. Georges University

    Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM was raised in north Louisiana. She graduated from LA Tech in 2011 with a degree in animal science. She then moved to Grenada West Indies for veterinary school. She completed her clinical year at Louisiana State University and graduated in 2015 from St. George’s University. Since veterinary school she has been working at a small animal and exotic veterinary clinic in east Texas, where she has experience treating all species that walk in the hospital. In her free time, she likes to travel with her husband Greg, bake yummy desserts and spend time with her 4-legged fur kids, a dog Ruby, a cat Oliver James “OJ”, a rabbit BamBam and a tortoise MonkeyMan.

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