Is your dog being naughty? Maybe you’re unsure if your pup is being aggressive or is simply displaying basic doggy behaviors. Don’t worry - we went ahead and broke it down for you.
Keep reading to learn more about dog aggression and what you can do about it.
What do we mean by dog aggression?
Every pup has hardwired instincts - spinning around and around before lying down, licking, sniffing, digging, guarding food, burying toys, rolling around in gross stuff (they all do it), having an inclination toward packs, and much more.
That means every pup is also hardwired for barking, growling, lunging, biting, and baring their teeth - but none of these natural pup instincts means they are aggressive. Dogs are naturally territorial and protective. Reactivity is not aggression, but behaviors can escalate.
The American Kennel Club defines aggression as “hostile, injurious, or destructive behavior toward an individual, whether human or another animal .” It is very important to determine the cause of aggression in a dog so it can be dealt with in the right ways.
Aggression can be due to situations where the dog might have been pushed too far, so in response, the dog suddenly switches from reactive, fearful, or guarding to being aggressive . Some of these situations can include:
- Guarding territory, resources, or a family member
- Fear (the most common cause)
- Prey drive
What behaviors can look like dog aggression?
Basic dog behaviors can easily be confused with aggression. Here are a few of the most common ones :
- Mouthing or nipping (most common in puppies)
- Rough play (or mock fighting, where dogs become loud and intense)
- Physical discomfort (sudden growling or snapping might mean the dog is in pain)
How do I know if a dog is friendly?
Dogs can’t talk (such a shame). Instead, they use their body language to communicate. Every dog owner should know the basics of doggy body language. Below are some of the most common body language signals :
Signs of a friendly dog:
- Relaxed body
- Happy expression, soft mouth
- Wagging tail
- Play bow
- Ears relaxed
- Relaxed tail or wag that wiggles the whole body
- Rolling over, belly up
- Leaning in toward petting
- Soft eyes, gentle gaze, & blinking often
Signs of an anxious dog:
- Yawning when not tired
- Lip licking
- Sudden scratching
- Tail tucked under the body
Signs a dog may be about to bite:
- Signs of anxiety or arousal
- Intense eye contact
- Showing whites of eyes
- Showing teeth
- Tense body
Four Types of Dog Aggression
It’s very important, as a dog parent, to know what aggressive behaviors look like and what behaviors that look a lot like aggression are. You and your pup’s safety is on the line. Signs and triggers vary from dog to dog, so it’s imperative to visit a professional for help. Ask your veterinarian for a reference for a certified animal behaviorist in your area. Always avoid putting your furry friend in situations that could lead to aggressive behavior. Be safe! Your pup is depending on you.
Below are four prevalent types of doggy aggression -
Fear aggression can present itself as an offensive stance, a quick snap, bite, or snarl, with the dog attempting to create distance between himself and the cause of the fear. The cause could look anything like a person they’re uncomfortable with, another dog, another pet, a wild animal outside, a vacuum cleaner, a reflection in the mirror, a noisy appliance, etc. Most of the time, the dog feels cornered or trapped and wants to fight to protect himself.
Territorial aggression is typically the result of an unfamiliar stranger in your dog’s space (a human or dog). Your dog is usually in fear for himself and you as its owner. Because dogs can be intensely protective of their owners, this form of aggression can often be quite intense. Some breeds are more inclined to be more territorial than others.
Idiopathic aggression means “arising spontaneously with no known cause.” This type of aggression is the most unpredictable form, and usually the most dangerous. The trigger for this aggression is often unknown, unforeseen, or misunderstood.
Predatory aggression is the rarest form of aggression. It is typically only limited to hunting breeds or dogs who enjoy chasing prey. This type of aggression occurs when the dog is “hunting” something. Though dogs are born with the genetic predisposition to hunt other animals, if directed towards humans, this form is usually considered the result of a medical or mental condition.
How to Stop Bad Dog Behaviors
If your dog is showing aggression towards anyone or anything, it’s time to seek professional help. Consult your veterinarian on what the best course of action is for your dog.
Below are suggestions for managing aggressive behaviors -
If your dog is afraid of something, you can try slowly socializing your dog to help them understand that other dogs, pets, people, or objects don’t always mean harm. It’s also very important to understand that human body language is very different from dog body language - sometimes our behaviors can be perceived as threatening. For instance, when we lean over a dog and reach out a hand to pet him on top of his head.
You can try limited and calming territorial reactions by rewarding your dog when they react calmly rather than territorially. For example, when a stranger comes to visit the house, when your dog is quiet, calm, and relaxed, reward that good behavior. You can also enroll your dog in obedience training, which is always helpful in any situation. Always ask your vet what’s best.
This type of aggression should be treated by a professional, as there may be a neurological or medical cause. Talk to your veterinarian about what the next steps should be for your dog.
You can try avoiding the environment causing the behavior. For example, if your dog is chasing animals in the yard, take them on a walk instead. If you are on a walk, make sure your dog is always on a short leash so it won’t chase after prey. If your dog needs more help, talk to your vet.
If you’re working on training your dog and creating trust with them, be sure to reward good behavior. Treat your pup! Click here to try out some new treats your dog is sure to love.
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Erin Rakosky, D. V. M. (2022, March 14). Reactive dog vs. aggressive dog. American Kennel Club. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/reactivity-vs-aggression/.