What is Dog Aggression?
Many people associate aggression with a mean dog, but aggressive behavior can mean a lot of different things when it comes to canines: protecting, guarding, defending, and negotiating social situations are all common reasons for dog aggression. After all, dogs can’t exactly use their words to calmly talk out an issue.
Any breed of dog is capable of aggression, although bigger breeds cause understandably cause more significant damage through their behavior. Common types of aggression in dogs include:
Some dogs will attack someone who they deem to be an intruder, in an effort to defend their space.
Some dogs will exhibit protective aggression when they feel that one of their friends or family members is in danger. For a mother dog, this is especially common as she may become hostile toward anyone who approaches her puppies.
Sometimes called “resource guarding,” dogs who are protective of their food or toys may become aggressive toward anyone (dog or human) who seems that they will take the object away. Food aggression is especially common with this type of aggression.
A dog who is scared may try to escape to a safe space (such as a crate). However, if a fearful dog is trapped or cornered and unable to retreat, he may become aggressive as a result.
This is similar to fear aggression. Instead of trying to retreat, however, a scared dog will try to attack as a form of defense. This is usually preceded by several warning signs that the dog wants to be left alone.
If a dog is not socialized properly, he may exhibit aggression toward strangers or other dogs. Some believe that social aggression is the result of fear and anxiety, while others say it is rooted in a need for control—to be the “alpha.”
A dog who is feeling restricted may exhibit frustration-elicited aggressive behavior; dogs who cannot act on their excitement or stimulation may act out as a result. For example, an overly excited dog may bite his owner’s hand while putting on a leash before a walk.
This occurs when a dog is unable to reach the source of his aggression. For example, if he’s been barking at the neighbor dog all day from behind a fence, he may lash out at another dog or person instead.
A dog who is in pain may exhibit aggressive behavior, especially when the injury is touched or approached.
When trying to get a potential partner’s attention, both male and female dogs can show signs of aggression. One simple fix for this is spaying or neutering your pooch.
All dogs have an instinctual prey drive, or a desire to hunt or chase prey. Some dogs have a higher prey drive than others, and if not tamed, it can result in aggressive behavior.
Warning Signs of Dog Aggression
Aggression doesn’t typically come out of nowhere. Dogs usually show several warning signs using their body language, which gradually increase in intensity until the attack (if there is no interference).
Common warning signs of dog aggression include:
- Growling or snarling
- Rigid, tense body (sometimes seeming “frozen”)
- Lip licking or yawning
- Hard stare
- Raised hackles
- Whale eye (showing the whites of the eyes)
- Showing gums and/or teeth
- Ears pinned back
- Excessive barking
- Raised, quickly wagging tail
Eventually, these warning signs can lead to an aggressive attack such as lunging, chasing, or biting.
It’s worth noting that there are some warning signs, such as cowering, tail tucking, and avoiding eye contact, which are also signs of fear and anxiety. This is because if not redirected, that fear or anxiety can easily turn into aggression. For dogs who are aggressive as a result of fear or anxiety, Pet Honesty’s Calming Hemp Chews use natural ingredients to help calm and soothe an anxious dog.
Treating Aggression in Dogs
There’s no quick fix for treating dog aggression. This is because along with the different types of aggression, there are several different risk factors: size; age; history; severity and predictability of aggression; triggers and targets of aggression.
Additionally, aggression is only a symptom of a bigger problem. If he becomes aggressive when guarding his food, for example, the problem may be a lack of food security—not aggression. If he becomes aggressive when touched, he may be in pain. Or, he may have deteriorating vision and didn’t see you sneak up on him.
Never try to punish an aggressive dog, as this can only escalate the behavior. Plus, punishing the behavior is not actually getting to the root of the issue.
If aggression is a recurring issue with your dog, try to identify the potential triggers and modify the environment as you are able. It’s also worth checking with your vet for any underlying medical problems. Along with painful injuries, hypothyroidism and neurological problems can also cause aggression in dogs.
Because aggression is a serious issue that can result in injury, don’t try to treat it on your own. Instead, consult with a professional trainer or behaviorist to come up with an action plan for resolving the issue.