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What are the Different Types of Dog Aggression

It can be surprising to see a completely docile dog change its demeanor quickly and unexpectedly. This sign of dog aggression can be provoked by various environmental factors. Learning more about the types of dog aggression will help a pet owner avoid and reduce the number of chances for dog aggression.

As a dog owner with multiple dogs in my home (up to 13 at one time – now only 8), I have seen and experienced multiple types of dog aggression unfortunately.

It’s also worth mentioning, I have had some since they were only puppies and others that were rescues of varying ages.

The rescues come with a variety of physical and social issues stemming from cruel situations to starvation.

Regardless, it is one of the dogs that we have had since he was a puppy (now 3 years old) that is giving us the most trouble with aggression. More on that later in this article.

What are the Different Types of Dog Aggression

Both adolescent and adult dogs can display changes in aggression, which is a normal part of their development.

The amount of change that occurs will depend on the individual dog’s early socialization, genetic makeup, and the training and supervision he receives.

For example, if a puppy is not properly socialized with other dogs during his early life, he may become more aggressive as an adult. This is due to fear or lack of experience.

On the other hand, if a puppy was well-socialized and trained from an early age, he may be less likely to show signs of aggression as an adult.

Let’s start by looking at the different types of dog aggression

Pain Aggression

The first step when dealing with aggression in dogs is to have a vet run a thorough physical examination. This is to rule out any conditions that may cause pain.

In some cases, disease-related aggression may be triggered by health conditions, such as low thyroid levels.

It’s important to take precautions when dealing with an animal in pain.

This can be especially dangerous if the animal in question is a large dog or another type of pet that has the potential to cause serious harm.

If possible, it’s best to muzzle the animal before attempting to treat them.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that even the most reliable and devoted pet can become aggressive and react with a bite when in pain.

It is important to remain vigilant and take all necessary safety measures when dealing with an injured pet.

My own experience with Pain Aggression in a dog

One of our dogs that has now gone on to Rainbow Bridge was normally a laid-back easy-go-lucky guy until he suddenly started snapping and snarling.

Since it was out of the ordinary for his character, we took him to the vet for a checkup.

Little did we know the extent of what was ailing him until the checkup and bloodwork showed cancer of the bones and blood.

He was in pain and just like with humans in pain, it caused him to be irritable and snappy.

The lesson here is anytime your pet starts acting aggressively out of nowhere they may be in pain or something may be off with them. Get them a checkup at the vet!

Fear Aggression

This form of aggression takes place in fearful dogs when they are cornered and have no way to escape.

In some cases, this behavior may stem from a history of abuse.

It often presents as an offensive posture with the dog attempting to create distance between itself and the offending trigger.

The trigger could be a person they’re uncomfortable with, another dog, another pet, or a wild animal encountered in the yard.

This type of defensive aggression can also be toward objects.

You may see this when your dog attacks your vacuum cleaner, a reflection in the glass, or a noisy appliance.

My own experience with Fear Aggression in a Dog

We have had one dog that even though we adopted at a fairly young age has always been super skittish.

Most of the time, he will run and hide rather than confront.

On the other hand, there are times when the hair on his back stands on end and he releases a deep-throated growl that leaves nothing to the imagination about his seriousness to stand his ground.

It is as if he is saying I will get you before you can get me.

Dominant Canine Aggression

This is the most common form of aggression and takes place when the dog believes itself to be ”alpha” in the family.

Owners and family members who are unable to provide leadership and are inconsistent in training their dogs are often victims of this type of aggression.

It can also lead to dog-on-dog aggression with other household dogs – talked about later in this article.

Territorial Aggression

This is the typical type of aggression seen in guard dogs.

This aggression takes place when a human or other animal invades the dog’s territory.

Territorial aggression is a type of behavior that occurs when an animal or person feels threatened by the presence of unfamiliar people or animals in their space.

Possessive Aggression or Resource Guarding

Possession aggression is also known as resource guarding.

It is an instinctive response to protect something that the individual values, such as food or toys.

This behavior can be seen in dogs when they guard their food bowl or favorite toy against other animals or people.

Predatory Aggression

Dogs that have a strong prey drive will often chase anything that moves. Fast-moving things are just too irresistible!

Children, cyclists, joggers, and wild animals are often victims of these types of dogs.

This type of predatory behavior is common in hunting dogs and those with a tendency to chase prey.

It is considered the rarest form of dog aggression and can be dangerous if directed toward humans.

The only effective way to stop predatory aggression is avoidance of the environment causing the behavior.

A solution may be to take your dog on walks instead of allowing them to roam in the yard.

If they still chase animals while out on a walk, it’s best to keep them on a leash at all times.

Food Aggression

If a dog’s food source is threatened, it will become aggressive toward those disrupting its meals.

Food-related aggression is common if the dog has been a stray and eating only when possible.

It might still show signs of food aggression by snarling, growling, or nipping when you come near its food.

Food aggression is a natural instinct, so it may be more difficult to fix or stop the aggression.

It is also a very real threat to both you and any other pets, kids, etc that may wander to close to the food bowl.

My own experience with Food Aggression

Some of our dogs are rescues off the street and were literally starving when they arrived here.

Unfortunately, dogs that have had to search and scrap for food, can be very protective over their food bowl.

We had an incident where our Chihuahua wandered too close to the food bowl of our German Shepherd. The Chihuahua lost one of her eyes from the quick snap of the bigger dog when the tooth penetrated her eye.

Food aggression is very real and can be dangerous. It takes time and patience to train them and even then you cannot let up your vigilance.

Since the horrible Chihuahua incident, we make sure when feeding time arrives, each dog has their own place, own bowl of food, and there is NO wandering around during mealtime.

We also supervise until mealtime is over and the bowls are immediately taken up.

Low Confidence

When a dog feels threatened, it might show signs of aggression.

Taking a pet into a densely populated area might lower its confidence.

In turn, the pet will immediately turn to growling and defensive moves to keep people away.

Two dogs on each side of fence showing aggression

Barrier Frustration

Barrier frustration such as another dog on the other side of a fence can quickly turn into aggression.

This is especially true if it is combined with aversive actions such as shocks from an electric fence (something we do not recommend at all).

It is a form of frustration-elicited aggression because they cannot get to the other side.

In order to prevent this from happening, owners should take steps to reduce their dog’s arousal levels when they encounter potential triggers.

This could include providing distractions in the form of treats or toys.

They may also include avoiding situations that may cause overstimulation.

With patience and consistency, owners can help their dogs learn how to manage their emotions in these situations.

Leash Aggression

Leash aggression is another form of frustration-elicited aggression in dogs. It is a common problem that can be difficult to manage.

It occurs when a dog becomes agitated and frustrated when restrained by the leash. This often results in lunging, barking, and even trying to bite.

This type of aggressive behavior is usually directed at other dogs because the pooch feels restricted and unable to move freely.

Although it rarely leads to an attack on another canine passerby, it can still be very embarrassing for the owner.

It also causes distress for both the dog and those around them.

Redirected Aggression

Redirected aggression is a type of aggression that occurs when a dog is prevented from attacking the object of his aggression and instead turns his aggression towards another person or animal nearby.

This can be seen in situations where a dog is on a leash and cannot reach the other animal he was originally targeting.

In this case, the dog may become frustrated and lash out at whoever is closest to him, whether it be another pet or even their owner.

My own experience with Redirected Aggression

I have also seen this type of aggression when my dogs are running the fence line chasing the mail or UPS truck.

In the midst of the running, barking, and excitement one dog turns and snaps at the other and then vice versa.

If not redirected away from the excitement, a fight can ensue.

Maternal Aggression

Maternal aggression is a natural instinct that is seen in many species, including humans.

Mothers will instinctively protect their offspring from potential threats, such as predators or other animals that may pose a danger to them.

Mother dogs will also show aggression toward people, especially strangers if they feel threatened.

This protective behavior can manifest itself in various ways, such as growling, barking, snarling, or even physical contact with the perceived threat.

I believe this is one type of aggression any mother can relate to!

Rat Terrier that has had his leg amputated.
Our Rat Terrier, Poco, had a leg amputation due to being attacked by another household dog.

Intra-Household Aggression

Intra-household aggression is common when two or more dogs live in the same household. Most commonly it happens when more than one dog wants to be dominant.

There can be an increase in the chance of intra-household aggression when more dogs are brought into the home.

Dogs might show anger toward new pets in the family or another pet receiving more attention than itself.

Older dogs are typically the aggressor over the new or younger dog.

This aggression might also be taken out on the other pet or a human.

This type of aggression is very hard and tricky to correct. Since the dogs live with each other, they are constantly with each other.

A Beagle's hind leg that has been sutured and Penrose drain placed.
Our Beagle, Rocky’s hind leg has been sutured and a Penrose drain placed after being attacked.

My own experience with Intra-Household Aggression

I am very familiar with this type of aggression as I am currently in the mix of it. First, I must say, we have dealt with this in the past and all dogs were able to reconcile and move on after the skirmish.

However, we are at a stalemate with one of our dogs now showing aggression.

The proof is in the pudding as they say about the dog showing aggression. He simply has to be the only dog in a family of multiple dogs. He has an attack and a bite history with 3 of our household dogs now.

One important factor in my situation is that the attacking dog showed absolutely NO warning signs! He went from zero to 60 in a matter of seconds.

Each time it was a VERY vicious attack with household dogs he normally plays with. This type of aggressive attack is super HARD to anticipate, judge, and control around other dogs.

Pit Bull Terrier dog with laceration on leg from dog attack.
Our Pit Bull Terrier, Cooper, with a laceration on his leg from a dog attack.

We have had several serious attacks on three different dogs in my home (one resulting in a necessary leg amputation and two other attacks with the other dogs needing surgery).

He is the sweetest dog UNTIL he isn’t! Unfortunately this makes him very unpredictable.

We acknowledge that it could be kids or another adult the next time. We also acknowledge rehoming is not a viable solution because of the type of unpredictable aggression.

So, for now, our solution, while not the best, is to keep him crated while in the house and he has to go outside by himself for play and exercise time. We spend time with him separately as if he was the only dog.

Pit Bull Terrier dog with sutures on foot and laceration on leg from dog attack.
Our Pit Bull Terrier, Cooper, with sutures on his foot and lacerations on his leg from another attack from the same household dog.

This type of solution requires a LOT of dedication and being constantly on guard because one slip-up could be dangerous.

Effects of Dog Aggression

When a dog shows signs of aggression, it might become possessive, physically violent, or act out of character.

Dog aggression can have a number of serious consequences if not managed properly.

Aggressive dogs are more likely to bite people, which can cause injury or spread disease.

They may also lash out at other animals, creating a hostile environment for children and other pets.

Aggression is also stressful for the dog, which can lead to anxiety and depression in some cases.

Dog owners need to be aware that untreated aggression in dogs can result in their pet being put to sleep or sent away as an uncontrolled danger to society.

It is important to take steps early on to ensure any signs of aggression are addressed before they become unmanageable.

How Quick Can a Dog Become Aggressive?

To protect themselves and their food sources, dogs might become aggressive quickly.

Be prepared for sudden changes in dog behavior when introducing environments, people, or pets.

The level of aggression can happen very quickly if they perceive a threat or feel threatened.

Dogs will usually start to exhibit signs of aggression before they actually attack, such as growling, biting, and snarling.

If these warnings are ignored, the dog may become more aggressive and potentially bite or attack.

Therefore, it is important to be aware of a dog’s body language when in their presence and to respond appropriately in order to prevent aggression.

Angry Rottweiler with teeth bared

What are the Warning Signs of Aggression?

Body language that may be displayed in order of the escalation of aggression includes:

  • avoiding eye contact by squinting
  • turning the head
  • turning body away from the threat
  • yawning
  • licking the lips
  • growling
  • baring teeth
  • lunging forward
  • finally biting

If any of these behaviors are observed, it is important to remove yourself and/or your pet from the situation immediately in order to avoid further escalation.

It is also important to remember that animals may display different warning signs depending on their individual personalities and experiences, so it is important to be aware of any changes in behavior that could indicate potential aggression.

Considerations for different Types of Dog Aggression

It is important to always work with your veterinarian when dealing with aggressive behavior in dogs.

This is because there are a variety of medical conditions that can cause or worsen aggression, and it’s important to rule out any underlying medical issues before attempting to address the behavioral issue.

Also, since there are different types of dog aggression, it is important to pinpoint what you are dealing with.

Another important consideration is medication. Some medications can cause a dog to act aggressively.

It is also important to also work with a professional animal behaviorist for a behavioral assessment when dealing with aggression in order to ensure the safety of both the dog and its owners.

A behaviorist will be able to develop a customized treatment plan based on the individual temperament of the dog. They will also include unique situations of the family.

This plan may include behavior modification techniques, but it is important that these are applied correctly in order to avoid any detrimental effects.

A qualified professional can also provide guidance and support throughout the implementation process. They will also monitor progress and make modifications as needed.

Because aggression in dogs may stem from diverse causes, only an attentive dog behaviorist can decipher the dynamics that take place and help the owner undertake the right course of action.

Aggressive behavior in dogs is a serious problem that, left untreated, is very likely to aggravate with time.

Anne Perry

Thursday 15th of February 2024

I have two french bulldogs who fight nonstop.


Friday 25th of August 2023

I’m nervous around some dogs, so I appreciate this!

Bea LaRocca

Wednesday 23rd of August 2023

This was a very interesting post to read, there were some things that I knew and some things that I did not. Thank you for sharing this information

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