• Tori Lynn Crowther

Types of Dog Aggression

You may have seen a dog show aggression by curling its lip, growling, lunging, or baring teeth. If your own dog displays these signs of aggression, it can be really frightening and frustrating to manage. If your dog has frightened you, seek immediate help from a professional who specialised in aggressive behaviour.

  • Raising the upper lip

  • Aggressive Barking

  • Growling

  • Snapping

  • Lunging

  • Biting

  • Extreme reaction when someone approaches the dog’s space (e.g.garden)

  • The doorbell or the postman may bring on a frenzy of aggression

There are a number of illnesses that cause dogs to become aggressive including:

  • Fear is another reason a dog might display aggression.

  • Possession Aggression.

  • Establishing Dominance.

  • Frustration.

Dogs usually give several warnings

Alice, my 12 year old, usually very placid, peaceful dog has shown me more than once how things escalate and how a healthy dog gives warnings. Once, we were at the park and a bouncy Labrador boy would not stop mounting her! She was playing with me and her ball and he was chasing her, every time she stopped, he mounted her. The first time he mounted her; she ignored him and dragged herself from under him, basically saying “No thanks”. He continued, she quickly turned and gave him a glare “I said No Thank you!” Third time round she turned and growled at him. Next attempt she snapped at him. The fifth and final attempt, she threw herself at him, snapping and very angry. The lab ran off, uninjured, to his owner, his owner came over and told me that Alice should be muzzled!

Aggression and Behavioural Health

Basically, the better the behavioural health the dog has, the more they will stand before they snap, but everyone has a breaking point. If they snap because they have been ignored too many times, they will have given the steps of warnings that they thought was acceptable.

Underlying nearly all aggressive behaviour is stress, whether it is one momentous stressful situation or many small ones that have accumulated over the day. If you punish your dog for growling, you have punished them for telling you they do not like the situation and added more stress for them to the situation.

Stop and Think!

If your dog snaps or growls at you, step back and take a deep breath, even walk away if possible. Have you missed some of the subtle warnings? Can you identify any new or old stressors in your dog’s life? Gather the information together and get a plan. One of the most important steps in dealing with dog aggression is finding out the cause of the aggression. Knowing why your dog is acting aggressively can help you figure out the best plan for stopping the frightening behaviour. Aggression should always be treated as soon as possible, ignoring it and hoping it will go away is never a good choice.

Some Triggers of Aggression.

  • Underlying medical conditions

  • Poor socializing as a puppy

  • Sexual maturation

  • Inbreeding

  • Environment

  • Pack order behaviour

  • Genetic (or normal to the particular dog or breed)

  • Repeating successful behaviour

Underlying Medical Condition

If your beloved pooch is showing signs of aggression, your first stop should be a veterinarian. There are many physical illnesses that can cause increased aggression such as loss of eyesight, hearing loss, thyroid cancer and arthritis. While medical-based aggression is typically easy to treat, it has to be properly diagnosed. If your dog is flinching away and showing her teeth, growling when touched or snapping when startled, she may be suffering from joint pain, blindness, deafness or changes in brain chemistry.


Often fearful aggressive behaviour has its roots directly to the dogs mother, or from lack of early socialisation by the breeder and the puppies’ first owner. Breeders that breed from fearful and timid bitches and male dogs will often make excuses as to why you cannot see the parents. If you view a litter of puppies and the mother or father are fearful then do not even consider buying a puppy.

Fear-based aggression is common in dogs of all breeds, sizes, backgrounds and ages. If a dog is afraid enough of a situation, they will not hesitate to use their teeth in order to enforce her personal boundaries. Common fear-based triggers include unfamiliar people, large or loud objects and new situations. This dog is easy to identify by the scrunched-down body position, slicked back ears, wide eyes and excessive drooling or panting. These dogs are often referred to as "fear biters" and they need patient, calm, positive handling to help them learn to cope with the source of their anxiety.

Possession aggression

Some dogs are dangerous to other dogs, and even to humans, while they are eating. In fact, dogs can be aggressive in guarding everything they consider their possessions, such as toys, food, bowls, items they find, a place on the sofa and even their favourite person. They are also very territorial and will defend any area they consider to be under their domain such as their home or garden, which is often a train we request of them.

If they have possession aggression from other dogs, keep them separate when they are feeding or playing with their toy, do not allow them on the sofa, if that is what they are being protective over.

If they have possession aggression from people, this is quite dangerous as prone to rapid escalation.

Going right back to basics with training is very important here. Teaching your dog that they are the bottom of the pack and nothing is free, they have to earn their rewards by good behaviour. This will take a lot of time to adjust, as this behaviour does not usually happen overnight. Additionally you need to desensitise them to the possession they are guarding. Swap the possession they are guarding for a higher value item, such as a small piece of beef. Walk past the dog while they are guarding their item, throw them a piece into their mouth and walk off. Repeat this many times, getting closer each time. The aim is to get your dog to think “No, don’t leave, give me a treat!” and to leave the item they possess for you to take while you give them the higher value item. This may take weeks to complete and will need reinforcing for the rest of their life, along with the training.


Frustration can cause an otherwise calm, even-tempered dog to lash out at other dogs, people and objects. Dogs dealing with frustration-driven aggression have a point at which they get so excited by whatever they want, be it food, another dog or a toy; they have to diffuse their anxiety and tension. They then turn on and direct their frustration towards the closest target, typically the person at the other end of the lead. Exposing these dogs to their "frustration trigger" at a distance where they can be calm and rewarding them for proper behaviour helps desensitise them to the object. Inch them closer and closer to the target, always rewarding calm behaviour and moving away from the object if your dog begins to get excited.

Sexual aggression

This type of aggression is usually limited to male dogs. They will mount both people and other dogs. Mounting activity directed towards humans may reflect a lack of opportunity for the dog to play with other dogs or an over-attachment to people in early life. Mounting other dogs especially if they initially try to put their heads over the other dog's necks can be related to rank and control complex behaviour.

Castration and behaviour modification can sometimes help with this problem. However be very careful, if the aggression is fear based rather than sexual then castration will almost certainly make if far worse. Neutering removes vital hormones that are a confidence booster and serotonin up-lifters which are related to the feel-good factor.

Dogs or People

If your dog tries to attack every dog they pass, they enjoy dog-aggression. While people-aggressive dogs are far rarer, they crop up on occasion. Dogs who demonstrate attack-based aggression lock in visually on a target and lean towards it with their body stiff and rigid. They may or may not give a warning growl before launching at the person or dog. A dog that attacks people without warning is truly dangerous and will require professional evaluation. For dog-aggressive dogs, keep your dog safely away from all other dogs and very gradually, decrease the proximity between your dog and other dogs while rewarding calm behaviour. Use a basket muzzle for safety.


Dogs who growl, snap or bite when being handled are trying to convey their annoyance with the situation and get the handler to stop doing whatever it is they're doing. Control-based aggression is best dealt with by desensitising your dog to touch and rewarding them heartily for non-aggressive behaviour.

Age related

More than one dog? Aggression can be caused by alpha demotion. When the older alpha dog becomes frail, younger dogs will challenge their dominance. The older dog will try to hide their weaknesses from everyone and may become aggressive to keep their alpha position. If the dogs do get into a fight, do stop it and separate them as the older dog is likely to get injured. The new hierarchy will stop fights eventually.

Older dogs may get diminished capacities in their senses and adapt by increased other senses, but they may get a startled response while adapting and this could lead to a snap. If your dog goes deaf, ensure they see you coming and do not approach from behind. It also helps to have added hand signals to your commands while they were young. If your dog goes blind, to help keep stress to a minimum, keep the floor clutter free and do not rearrange the furniture.

Dogs can suffer from dementia and this can cause them a great stress.

Age related illnesses such as arthritis can cause pain and discomfort, provoking aggression. Some medications can also have increased aggression as a side effect.

Establishing Dominance

Dogs sometimes show aggression to establish dominance. This is more common towards other dogs, but it can happen towards people as well. Dogs who display this type of aggression feel that they are in charge. Dogs are social, pack-oriented animals. Your dog will respect a clear, strong, fair leader. If you fail to establish this position for yourself, your dog will feel obliged to try to take the position of leader. The growling, snapping, or biting occurs when they feel their dominance is being challenged. If your dog is displaying aggression in an attempt to establish dominance, they may snap, growl, or bite when you try to move them off the furniture, restrain them, grab their collar, or give a lead correction, be careful to clarify your dog's aggression. Rule out a health issue or fear before you assume your dog is asserting dominance. Otherwise, corrective measures could actually make the aggression worse.

Predatory Aggression

Predatory Aggression is one type of aggression that is largely influenced by genetics. The term is used for dogs who stare at a target creature, move silently and quickly with a grab-bite to the jugular or abdomen – the vital organs. A hallmark of this is the sudden, impulsive action of the dog. For many dogs, this may be the only type of aggression they show. It is dangerous because it cannot be trained, medicated or counter conditioned out of them. An example being a dog who chased cats be commanded to stay or sit around the cat, but they will still chase the cat down at some point. .One of the key factors that distinguish predatory aggression from other forms of aggression is that movement often is the trigger. In the wild, this movement is in the form of running and escape attempts of small animals. Predatory behaviour can be seen in dogs of any sex and age.

This can be directed at many things including dogs, cats, or anything that stimulates a chase response. Squirrels are a favourite, as their quick jerky movements seem to stimulate even the most placid of dogs. An example being when Border Collies chase bikes, joggers, cars etc.

As this is a deep routed, Dogs that show intense interest and become aroused or anxious by the movement or noise of children or other pets should be closely monitored at all times. Prognosis is not good for this type of aggression. Reward based obedience training can help however this is only any use if the dog is monitored at all times.

A farmer or owner of any animal has every right to shoot your dog if it is worrying his stock or attacking other animals

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