Understanding Aggressive Behavior in Dogs

May 1, 2010

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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  1. Albe says:

    Hi I have recently started a relationship my girlfriend has a 4 year old American bully he has bitting me twice now once he was n her lap n I tried to pet him n the other time he came over layer his neck over mine as I was laying n bed n whole I was petting him he snarled n bit my ear. I like the dog n she has raised him since a pup we have recently had him neutered to sew of that will help his agressiveness any help would b greatly appreciated thank u

  2. Ayca Keçeli says:

    Hi Linda,

    I’ve read some of your articles and I wanted to tell you something about my dog that bothers me a lot lately because I wanna rescue another dog.
    Let me start by introducing my baby boy Badem (terrier-poodle mix 7-8 kg).
    His first owners decided to take him to shelter because they couldn’t handle him anymore. My cousin rescued him but after several months they couldn’t handle him either, so I took him. When I did he was almost 1 years old (now 2) and he is not spayed still.
    This would sound wierd I know, but since he didn’t have any behavioral problems I haven’t teach him anything.
    He knows ‘sit’ and that’s it.
    Couple of months ago, I’ve seen some changes in his behaviours. When we hug with my father or mother, or anyone else, he would jump around our legs and try to get the attention. He is definitely not protective of me towards other people (I know that because he greats everyone who is welcomed by me and my family. He welcomes other people by joy and happiness) but when it comes to animals, he is (I guess) very jelaous. When we go to a park and meet with other dogs, he is playfull yet very excited which sometimes scares the other dog.
    The other day, my cousin’s male dog (Oscar,’spayed’) came to visit us (the first time they’ve met with him, he was recovering from the surgery and they didn’t get along infront of our apartment). Oscar was very excited when he was entering our house. That made Badem very excited either. Oscar started running in the house and Badem following him trying to smell his back. Then Oscar drank water from his cup (I’m giving all the details for you to understand what the problem was, so sorry for talking too much:)) At first, there wasn’t any problem but then Badem started barking whenever he was near one of us. He would get beside me or my father and bark continuosly to Oscar and Oscar goes away. when he didn’t interacted with us Badem would be calm and sit down at the other side of the table while we eat dinner. I couldn’t show any affection to Oscar because when I tried to they almost get in a fight and we were all scared.

    The problem is, I wanna rescue another dog from shelter. I don’t know what Badem was nervous about and so I can’t help him.
    I wanna rescue a female dog (terrier 7-8 kg) who is 1 years old and just gave birth and spayed afterwards.

    I plan on bringing Badem to shelter to see if they get along. But my guess is they would at the shelter. My main concern is our house. when I bring them to the house. İt can be a disaster and I would never want to return the other dog to shelter.

    Please help me with your wise solutions.

    Thank you very much.