12 Types of Aggressive Behavior in Dogs | Behavior & Education

Published on 12 July 2021 at 13:23

Aggressive Behavior & Signs in Dogs

Signs that your dog may become aggressive is a serious topic we need to discuss. Dogs can be aggressive towards other dogs or towards humans. It is important to recognize aggressively signs of your dog and how to handle with these situations. Aggression is the most common and most serious behavior problem in dogs. It’s also the number-one reason why pet parents seek professional help from behaviorists, trainers and veterinarians.

This blog will educate you about the dog behavior: Aggression in Dogs


What is The Definition of Dog Aggression?

How dog aggression is defined: Dog aggression is typically defined as dangerous behavior directed at another individual (like a human or another dog). Aggressive behaviors include barking, biting, lunging, snarling, etc. The causes of these behaviors can range from territorial defensiveness and protectiveness to fear and social anxiety.


Another definition: The term “aggression” refers to a wide variety of behaviors that occur for a multitude of reasons in various circumstances. Virtually all wild animals are aggressive when guarding their territories, defending their offspring and protecting themselves. Species that live in groups, including people and dogs, also use aggression and the threat of aggression to keep the peace and to negotiate social interactions.


Body Language By Aggressive Dogs

To say that a dog is “aggressive” can mean a whole host of things. Aggression encompasses a range of behaviors that usually begins with warnings and can culminate in an attack. Dogs may abort their efforts at any point during an aggressive encounter. A dog that shows aggression to people usually exhibits some part of the following sequence of increasingly intense behaviors:


Important signs of aggressive behavior by dogs:

  • Becoming very still and rigid;
  • Guttural bark that sounds threatening;
  • Lunging forward or charging at the person with no contact;
  • Mouthing, as though to move or control the person, without applying significant pressure;
  • “Muzzle punch” (the dog literally punches the person with her nose);
  • Growl;
  • Showing teeth;
  • Snarl (a combination of growling and showing teeth);
  • Snap;
  • Quick nip that leaves no mark;
  • Quick bite that tears the skin;
  • Bite with enough pressure to cause a bruise;
  • Bite that causes puncture wounds;
  • Repeated bites in rapid succession;
  • Bite and shake.


Dogs let you know what they think of people, places and situations with their eyes, ears, tail and other body parts. Recognising and understanding your dog's body language is therefore an important part of communicating with him.


This is especially important if your dog's behaviour or body language suddenly shows that he is no longer happy but is feeling stressful, anxious or lonely. Sometimes a dog's body language or behaviour can indicate that he is not happy with his current situation.



If your dog has been aggressive in the past or you suspect she could become aggressive, take time to evaluate the situations that have upset the dog. Who bore the brunt of her aggression? When and where did it happen? What else was going on at the time? What had just happened or was about to happen to your dog? What seemed to stop her aggression? Learning the answers to these questions can clarify the circumstances that trigger your dog’s aggressive reaction and provide insight into the reasons for her behavior. You need an accurate diagnosis before you can hope to help your dog.


Aggressive behavior problems in dogs can be classified in different ways. A beneficial scheme for understanding why your dog is aggressive is based on the function or purpose of the aggression. If you think of aggression this way, you can determine what motivates your dog to behave aggressively and identify what she hopes to gain from her behavior.


Territorial or protective aggression may be exhibited toward people or other animals that approach the pet's property. Generally, people and other animals that are unusual, less familiar to the dog, or most unlike the members of the household are the most likely “targets” of territorial aggression.


Territorial displays may occur at windows, doors, behind fences and in the car. Some dogs may quickly claim territory and show similar behaviors at picnic areas, park benches, etc. Dogs that are physically prevented by a barricade or leash from gaining access to the stimulus (i.e., are frustrated) may have their aggression heightened, or may develop displacement behaviors (e.g., spinning, circling, self mutilation) or redirected behaviors (e.g., turning their aggression on the owner who attempts to reach for or grab the dog).


Excessive protectiveness is a dangerous situation. Some dogs resort to aggressive behaviors in order to prevent strangers or even family members from getting too close to their owners. These dogs are a big liability because they may even feel compelled to bite. Worse of all, these dogs attack unprovoked. In other words, these dogs will attack without good reason (from a human perspective, that is).


Signs Your Dog Is Protective Over You

  • Your dog growls at strangers;

  • Your dog snarls and shows his teeth to strangers;

  • Your dog acts aggressively around strangers or family members;

  • Your dog will attack unprovoked. 


Possessive aggression is aggression that is directed toward humans or other pets that approach the dog when it is in possession of something that is  highly desirable, such as a favorite chew toy, food, or treat. To determine whether your dog is displaying possession aggression, watch it closely for signs of aggressive behavior in certain situations:


Signs Your Dog Is Possessive Over You

  • Growling when a person or another animal approaches its food bowl;
  • Growling, snapping or biting when someone tries to take away a toy or bone;
  • Fighting with other dogs over various possessions or favored people;
  • Showing physical signs that it may bite when approached with something of value to it or resting in a coveted spot.


When animals and people are afraid of something, they prefer to get away from that thing. This is called the flight response. But if escaping isn’t an option, most animals will switch to a fight response. They try to defend themselves from the scary thing. So a dog can be afraid of a person or another animal but still attack if she thinks this is her only recourse.


A fearful dog will normally adopt fearful postures and retreat, but she may become aggressive if cornered or trapped. Some dogs will cower at the prospect of physical punishment but attack when a threatening person reaches for them. Fearful dogs sometimes run away from a person or animal who frightens them, but if the person or animal turns to leave, they come up from behind and nip. 


Read more: 10 Important Fears About Anxious Dogs


Defensive aggression may be growling, snapping or biting when a dog is confronted with what he views as
a threat and he is unable to avoid or escape the perceived danger. It is based in a fear which may or may
not be reasonable. A machete-wielding masked man rapidly approaching may be a reasonable fear; a child
riding past on a bike is not. It is the dog’s perception of the threat that is important.


Series of behaviors preceding aggression:

  • AnxietySigns of anxiety include yawning, stretching, whining, looking in many directions, drooling;
  • Avoidance - Your dog may avoid eye contact and look everywhere else but the person/thing he considers a threat. Often he will look at the threat with a side glance at first and immediately move away;
  • Escape - If given the opportunity, he will avoid conflict and look for an escape route. If he cannot escape, his “fight or flight” response will kick in. If your dog cannot flee a stressful situation, he will likely aggress;
  • Freeze – Immediately prior to advancing to aggressive mode, your dog will likely freeze. His body will be stiff; hackles may be up, his weight forward, eyes hard and staring.


Social aggression is a natural, albeit scary, behavior in dogs. Much of it stems from instinct passed down through generations. Not all dogs are socially aggressive; many are dog-social and enjoy the company of other dogs. Others, however, feel the need to push their dominance over other dogs -- and humans.



A dog that’s excited or aroused by something but is held back from approaching it can become aggressive, particularly toward the person or thing holding her back. For instance, a frustrated dog might turn around and bite at her leash or bite at the hand holding her leash or collar. Over time, the dog can learn to associate restraint with feelings of frustration so that even when there’s nothing to be excited about, she tends to react aggressively when restrained. This explains why some normally friendly dogs become aggressive when put behind a gate, in a cage or crate, in a car, or on a leash (Donaldson, 2008).  


Owner directed aggression – directed toward familiar people, usually dogs owners in relation to a number of situations. The more successful the dog is in displaying this type of aggression the more likely it will display it in future (Line and Voith, 1986).  The dog may growl, snap, or bite when a person does something, or asks the dog to do something. These dogs may be protective over food or toys, or favourite sleeping areas. They may react if they are groomed, or if stared at, or punished. (Fonberg, 1988).



Redirected aggression – when a dog is not able to take its aggression out on the actual object or person. Redirected aggression occurs when a dog is aroused by or displays aggression toward a person or animal, and someone else interferes. The dog redirects her aggression from the source that triggered it to the person or animal that has interfered. This is why people are often bitten when they try to break up dog fights. When a person grabs or pushes a fighting dog, the dog might suddenly turn and bite (Aloff, 2002).



An otherwise gentle, friendly dog can behave aggressively when in pain. That’s why it’s so crucial to take precautions when handling an injured dog, even if she’s your own. A dog with a painful orthopaedic condition or an infection might bite with little warning, even if the reason you’re touching her is to treat her. The improper use of certain pieces of training equipment, such as the pinch (or prong) collar or the shock collar, can inflict pain on a dog and prompt a pain-elicited bite to her pet parent (Blake, 2008).


Even though pet dogs rarely have the opportunity to reproduce, intact male dogs will still vie for the attention of females in heat, and females will still compete for access to a male. Intact male dogs sometimes challenge and fight with other male dogs, even when no females are present. Fighting can also erupt between males living together in the same household. In the wild, this is adaptive because the strongest males are more likely to attract females for breeding. Likewise, females living together in the same household might compete to establish which female gets access to a male for breeding. This type of aggression is rare. It’s observed most often in reproductively intact males and less often in intact females. Dogs who were neutered or spayed as adults may still show this type of aggression. If sex-related aggression happens, the dogs involved are usually at least one to three years of age.



Dogs are closely related to wolves and coyotes, both of whom are large predators, and pet dogs still show some classic canine predatory behaviors, including chasing and grabbing fast-moving things. Many dogs love to chase running people, people on bicycles and inline skates, and cars. They might also chase pets, wildlife and livestock. Some dogs bite and even kill if they manage to catch the thing they’re chasing. Predatory aggression is very different from other classifications of aggression because there’s rarely any warning before an attack. A predatory dog doesn’t growl or show her teeth first to warn her victim, so predatory aggression can seem to come out of the blue. Predatory behavior can be especially disturbing if it’s directed toward a human baby. Sometimes the sound of a baby crying or the movement of lifting a baby out of a crib can trigger a lightening-fast reaction from a predatory dog. Fortunately, predatory aggression directed toward people or other dogs is extremely rare in pet dogs. 


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