Recognizing Aggressive Dog Behaviors

Aggression is the most common reason for pet owners to seek professional help from dog trainers, behaviorists and veterinarians. But what exactly is dog aggression? The term aggression refers to hostile or destructive behavior directed either toward humans or toward other animals. Aggression encompasses a range of behaviors, usually beginning with warnings and escalating into an attack. 


Warning Signs of Aggression

The key to dealing with aggression is recognizing the warning signs before they escalate. The dog’s body language that may be displayed in increasingly intense order is:

  • Avoiding eye contact by turning body or head away from the threat
  • Body becoming very stiff or still
  • Flattening ears tightly to the head
  • Crouching body and tucking tail under the body
  • Guttural bark or growl
  • Showing teeth
  • Quick nip or snap
  • Bite with pressure
  • Forceful biting and head shaking


Dogs may not always follow the above sequence, and many times they will display several of the behaviors simultaneously. Oftentimes, pet parents don’t recognize the signals their dogs are giving prior to a bite, but dogs rarely bite without giving some type of warning beforehand. 


Why do Dogs Show Aggressive Behavior?

Although there are many reasons for dog aggression, including genetics and inheriting an instinct to fight when faced with a threat, fear is the most common cause of dog aggression.

Typically, when a dog is scared or feels threatened, he chooses to run from whatever is threatening him. However, when a dog is faced with a situation where he can’t flee, he may end up fighting in order to protect himself. 

Sometimes, just by the way we approach or stand over a dog can be threatening and fearful to him. A lack of socialization is also a common reason for some dogs to be fearful. This is why it’s so important, at an early age, to expose your dog to positive experiences with different types of people, places, and noises so he will be less likely to be fearful.

Aggression in young puppies is most often fear-related, whereas aggression present in adolescence may be social, sexual, or related to territorial/guarding threats. Dogs will tend to guard items they believe are of great worth – toys, food, bones, and even people. Teaching dogs behaviors such as “leave it” or “off” can help curb this type of behavior.  


Reactive Dog vs Aggressive Dog

Reactive dogs are often confused with aggressive dogs. Dogs that are reactive will overreact in certain situations or when presented with certain triggers. Once again, fear may be the driving force, however genetics, the lack of socialization, or insufficient training can all cause reactivity.

Identifying and recognizing your dog’s triggers are of utmost importance. There are unlimited triggers for dogs, however, some of the most common may be small children, bikes or scooters, overstimulation, certain types of humans, loud noises or unusual objects. If you have a reactive dog, working with a dog trainer to try and address the cause and modify the behavior is the best way to prevent the escalation of aggression. 


Medical Conditions

Keep in mind, some medical conditions may cause your perfectly, well-adjusted dog to start acting in a fearful or aggressive manner. Furthermore, some medications may alter mood and affect your dog’s susceptibility to aggression. If the aggressive manner has developed out of the blue, a veterinarian should be consulted to rule out chronic pain or other medical conditions which may cause or worsen the behavior.


Curing the Aggressive Dog

The incidence and frequency of some types of aggression can be reduced and sometimes eliminated by successfully utilizing behavioral modification techniques. However, there is no guarantee that an aggressive dog can be completely cured. In many cases, the only solution is to manage the problem by limiting the dog’s exposure to the situations, people or things that are triggering his aggression. Pet parents of aggressive dogs should be prudent and always assume that their dog is not cured, so that they never let their guard down. 


We’re Here To Help

We may never fully understand what our amazing dogs are thinking, however, we can do our best to read their signals and seek out professional dog training when needed. Let 2 Paws Up Inc assist with giving you the skills and the knowledge to better manage your dog. We specialize in Private In-Home Training from Puppies to Adult Dogs as well as Board and Train Dog Training. Our programs are about teaching you, not just training your dog, and each program is customized. Every dog is unique just like your customized plan. Contact us today for your Initial Consultation!



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