Aggressive Behavior in Dogs | Training for Aggression in Dogs

Dog Showing Agression Aggressive dog growling Dog being aggressive

Aggression in Dogs

Aggression, defined as an appropriate or inappropriate threat or challenge that is ultimately resolved by combat or submission, is one of the most common behavioral problems in companion dogs. Aggression can occur in any breed, age or gender of dog and can be directed towards people or other animals. It is potentially very destructive, and very dangerous. Aggression can take a number of forms and be caused by a number of things. Common signs include biting, growling, snarling, curling lips, barking, snapping, head and tail up with direct stare, head and tail down with body withdrawn, frantic tail waving, posturing and lunging.

Common Causes of Dog Aggression

All breeds, ages and genders of dogs can become aggressive. However, very few dogs are born aggressive, and frequently aggressive behavior in dogs is normally a direct result of something else.

Aggression in dogs is part of the normal range of canine behavior in many cases and is strongly influenced by breed, sex, early socialization, handling, individual temperament, genetics and other variables. It is possible for underlying medical conditions to cause or contribute to aggression, although this is rare. Still, medical causes of aggression (such as pain or neurological disorders) must be ruled out before an appropriate treatment protocol can begin.

Breed Susceptibility

When humans started breeding companion dogs, they did so in a manner that would consistently produce desired traits. The current range of canine breeds is a direct result of human manipulation and breeding for these various traits. Some breeds were bred to be pampered, gentle and tolerant. Other breeds were bred to protect flocks or herds, or for family protection. Some breeds were bred for their ability to track and hunt birds, wild boar, rats or fox. Others were bred for size, or smallness, or coat, or cuteness. Dogs bred for aggression (which they never should have been), may naturally have a tendency to be aggressive. Most breeds commonly associated with aggression towards people (“pit bulls,” bull dogs, others) actually were bred to be extremely trainable and restrainable by people, but were taught to be aggressive to other animals.

Behavioral Causes

No matter how gentle a puppy is, abuse, mistreatment and neglect can cause that dog to suffer behavioral problems, including aggression. Dogs that are raised without proper socialization, nutrition and affection will not know how to act appropriately in social situations involving people and/or other dogs. It is extremely sad to see fear or other forms of aggression in a dog because of an abusive or neglectful background.

Medical Causes

Medical causes of canine aggression are uncommon but may include: pain, head trauma, swelling of the brain, rabies, distemper, epilepsy, arthritis and other neurological or painful disorders. Painful dogs may bite their owners without really knowing what they are doing (for example, after being hit by a car or attacked by another dog).


Understanding the cause of canine aggression is essential to assessing and helping a dog and its owner in any given situation. Professional help from a veterinarian and a skilled behavior expert are key components of a healthy recipe for treating aggression in our companion dogs. While this condition can be extremely frustrating for owners (and no doubt for affected animals as well), there are steps that can be taken to address the situation. Euthanasia should never be an automatic “treatment” or “solution” for behavioral disorders in our pets.

Types of Dog Aggression

There are at least five commonly encountered forms or subtypes of canine aggression. It is important to determine the type of aggression a dog is displaying before attempting to address the problem. In most cases, owners should seek the advice of a professional trainer to diagnose and address aggression in their dogs.Fear aggression, or defensive aggression, happens when a dog perceives that it is in a threatening situation. The fearful reaction may be entirely normal

How to Stop Dog Aggression

Dogs naturally interact and respond to a complex set of social, physical and environmental signals that primarily revolve around body posture, movement, vocalization and facial expression. Aggression in dogs can take any of a number of forms, ranging from aggression caused by dominance, fear, protection/territorial control, food, sex or other factors. How a particular dog ultimately responds to its environmental stimuli is based on genetics, hormonal influences, environmental factors, socialization, training and overall upbringing.Proper socialization

Managing a Dog's Aggressive Play

If your dog plays too rough, it may be the case that he has not learned how to play properly. Mouthing behavior is a normal, basic instinct in all dogs and they need to learn their limits when interacting in this fashion. Although you understand and are working with your dog's behavior, the same understanding will unlikely be extended from the parent of a child who is injured by your dog's play behavior. Supervised interaction