Diagnosing Your Dog's Aggression

Posted by Amber King

Handling an aggressive dog is a scary, overwhelming experience, and unfortunately, aggression is one of the most common canine behavioral issues.

Aggression can range from minor episodes to serious, life-threatening attacks, but it's an issue that always requires professional help from a certified animal behaviorist or trainer. Understanding your dog's aggression is the first step to helping him overcome those behavioral issues.

The word "aggression" encompasses all threatening behavior such as growling, lunging, snapping, and biting, but there are several different kinds of canine aggression. When trying to diagnose your dog, ask yourself, who was the target of the aggression? What had just happened or was about to happen? What seemed to stop the aggression?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you diagnose your dog with one of the following forms of aggression.

Territorial Aggression 

aggression territorial
Cesar's Way

Being territorial is part of your dog's natural instinct. Many dogs exhibit territorial behavior by barking at people or other dogs that walk by your property, but a territorially aggressive dog will attack and bite anyone he views as an intruder.

Some dogs are taught to defend their property, but when the behavior is unchecked, it poses a threat to both friend and foe.

Fear Aggression

The fight or flight response is as true for canines as it is for humans. If a dog feels threatened by something, he has two options: run away or fight. Dogs that choose to fight are often classified as fear aggressive.

Fear aggression can also manifest as a combination between the flight and fight responses. Dogs will often nip or take quick bites before they jump away. Never turn your back on a fearful dog for this reason.

Frustration-Elicited Aggression

dog teeth

Many pet parents view their dogs as four-legged children, and there's more to that claim than unconditional love. Like children, dogs can become frustrated when they don't get their way. A dog that is overly excited about a situation but being held back may sometimes respond with its version of a temper tantrum.

The aggression is usually directed toward the person, or even object, holding them back. For example, a dog desperately wanting to cross the street to greet another dog may turn back and lash out at the person holding the leash.

Social Aggression

Dogs are social animals and often follow a similar social hierarchy as those seen in wolf packs. If a dog considers himself to be at the top of that hierarchy, he may be aggressive toward the people or animals he views as being below him.

This kind of aggression often gives pet owners the impression that the dog simply doesn't like a certain family member or is completely unpredictable. A socially aggressive dog may be perfectly happy and friendly, but the second someone steps out of bounds, he feels it necessary to put them back in their place.

Many pet owners ask if their aggressive dog can be cured. While there is no guarantee, it has been proven that with the right amount of training and time, it's possible to reduce the number of incidents, and in some cases, eliminate the behavior. It's important to meet with a trained behaviorist to guide you through the process.

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Diagnosing Your Dog's Aggression