Understanding Aggressive Behavior in Dogs


By Linda Cole

Even the friendliest dog can demonstrate aggressive behavior at times. There’s a number of reasons why your dog can suddenly become aggressive towards you, another pet or a stranger. But what a dog considers to be normal behavior is certainly not acceptable to us. It’s important to remember that just because your dog is acting in an aggressive manner, it doesn’t mean he’s become aggressive. Before you can change your dog’s behavior or know if he even has a problem, you need to understand what caused the aggressive reaction in the first place.

Dogs are social animals and consider their people and other pets as members of the pack. It’s normal behavior for a dog to protect his family and he may, at times, show a protective aggressive behavior if he feels a threat from outside his family. It becomes a problem when the dog can’t distinguish between friend or foe. The dog guarding a new baby may be cute until no one is allowed to see the baby. It’s natural for a mother dog to protect her puppies, but not to the point where she refuses to let anyone close to them.

Possessive aggression is where the dog will protect whatever he considers important to him. It can be his food or even his empty bowl. A dog may feel he needs to protect toys, beds, treats and his owner. If he feels threatened, it will trigger aggressive behavior. Some dogs will even take their favorite things and stash them in hiding spots around their home. If another pet or human is unknowingly near one of his hiding spots, the dog can become aggressive if he thinks his “treasure” has been discovered. The dog protecting his human may lash out at anyone or other pets who get too close.

Dogs who are afraid will show fear aggression. Usually, this dog won’t attack someone or another animal unless they feel cornered or trapped. You can tell if a dog is fearful because they’ll try to not look at what’s causing their fear. Their tail is tucked between their legs and they may have a hunched back posture. Do not turn your back on a dog with fear aggression. There are different reasons why a dog is fearful and if one is showing fear, caution should be used because they can lash out in an aggressive attempt to get away from what’s scaring them. This kind of aggressive behavior can be sudden with no warning signs.

Territorial aggression is a bit like protective aggression. The dog feels a need to protect his home and yard from strangers or other animals who violate his space. Like the protective dog, this can be a problem when people come to visit or if other animals, wild or domestic, wander into the dog’s territory.

A dog who has been injured or is in pain for any reason can exhibit pain elicited aggression. Even the most loving, friendly dog can lash out at the person or animal who caused his pain. Many owners have been bitten while trying to treat a dog’s minor injury or while grooming a dog with painful hips or joints. Long haired dogs who need their coats combed to remove tangles can bite when a stuck tangle pulls too hard.

Predatory aggression is when the dog chases bikes, cars, people running down the street, the neighborhood cats, squirrels, rabbits or anything else he sees moving. When his prey drive is activated, the dog with a more aggressive behavior may act on his natural instinct to capture his prey and he may harm what he catches if it’s another animal. A dog showing predatory aggression is also apt to bite the person on the bike or the person jogging down the street.

Other types of aggressions include defensive aggression, social aggression, frustration elicited aggression, redirected aggression and sex related aggression.

A dog can show aggressive behavior at any time in their life. Any one of the above conditions can trigger a forceful response. Aggression can be reduced if you understand why they became that way in the first place. Any time your dog displays aggression towards you, another family member, other pets or outside people coming into your home or yard, it’s always best to speak with your vet, because medical conditions can spark an aggressive outburst. However, if there’s no medical reason for your dog’s behavior, your vet can recommend a qualified behaviorist who can help you and your dog deal with his aggression. There are different ways of dealing with different types of aggression, and some are more controversial than others. Always make sure you are comfortable with any recommendations given to you by a behaviorist.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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