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  • Writer's pictureJagger Brocious

Dog Aggression

In light of it being Bite Prevention Week I will probably do a few posts but today I wanted to go over Aggression as a whole. As a Behavioral Specialist and former instructor on the matter hopefully this breakdown will be easy to digest for clients and trainers alike. Some terms might not be identical from what you've been told or heard before and that doesn't make me or them any more right / wrong.


One of the worst fears for dog owners is the possibility of their dog being aggressive. A very common misconception that goes with aggression is the old saying “He/She bit out of nowhere.” This isn’t normally true! Dogs give loads of subtle signs of discomfort in daily life that go ignored and unnoticed. When ignored these signs can turn into aggression. That being said there are no absolutes with aggression, any dog can have multiple forms of aggression or may lack certain signs common in aggression! This is a brief explanation on types of aggression, some of their warning signs, and how to prevent the situations from occurring!

Fear Aggression

(This one sounds like an oxymoron but fear aggression makes up a large bulk of aggression cases.)

Fear aggression as it sounds is when a dog acts out of fear to create space from whatever it is afraid of. May it be the dog barks, snaps, growls, bites, etcetera the dog is doing what it can to get itself removed from the uncomfortable situation it has been put into. It can be genetic, or related to temperament but other common causes are, traumatic experiences, or lack of proper socialization

How do you know it’s fear based?

Fear aggression is used primarily to create space and can be identified in the dog's body language as well as the results of the dog’s actions. Fearful dogs normally exhibit multiple signs of discomfort, some common signs are barking, ears back, hackles raised, lip licking, showing teeth, looking down, sniffing the ground, backing up, growling, air snapping, “whale eyes” (wide eyed or crazy eyes), and body stiffening/”freezing”. As stated above these are common signs and are not exclusive to Fear Aggression.

How to prevent Fear Based Bites?

Since Fear is the source the trigger needs to be identified and the dog must not be put in those situations. You must educate your family, friends, and all those who are to encounter your dog. They need to be fair and appropriate when interacting with the dog, and you as the owner need to give your dog the space it needs. Fear aggression normally only results in a bite if the people or dogs involved do not read the signs and the fearful dog feels it has no other option than to lash out.

Frustration Aggression

(Barrier or leash aggression) Related to Correction Aggression & Redirection Aggression

Dogs get Frustrated just as humans do, unfortunately often dogs cannot expel this energy in a positive way leading to what is Frustration Aggression. Oftentimes frustration is shown by kind, sweet, sociable dogs who act aggressive when behind a fence, in a crate, or behind a window. The dog is just reacting to all the pent up energy it has with wanting to reach whatever is on the other side.

How do you know it’s Frustration?

If the dog is normally social and well behaved but acts out under specific circumstances involving either a leash or barrier it can be Frustration. If a dog sounds like Cujo and you open a door and he’s a teddy bear it’s probably frustration!

How can you prevent frustration?

Never greet other dogs on leash! This alone can build up frustration. Also prevent anything antagonizing your dog through a barrier, may that be by blocking the dogs sight or relocating his or her crate. Proper exercise goes a long way with frustration, a mentally and physically satisfied dog normally won’t be frustrated. This is due to his or her life being fulfilled giving them healthy outlets!

Correction Aggression

Correction Aggression in a nutshell is a dog overreacting to corrections, basically when the dog gets corrected it then responds with a “correction” of its own. Most Correction Aggression cases are caused by a relationship problem between the dog and the person involved. This could be due to a lack of understanding, poor communication, dominance, frustration, or emotions. But like with all behavioral issues sometimes dogs don’t have easy to identify causes for behaviors, yet they still can have the issues.

How do you know it’s Correction Aggression?

Correction Aggression in itself only happens once a dog is corrected, so if you give your dog a consequence in the form of leash pressure, physical punishment, or even a verbal marker, the dog reacts. It could be biting the leash, barking, or even turning on you directly. Not every correction will bring out the aggression in a dog. They may build up frustration till the dog finally reacts or due to a change in how the correction is applied. With dog-to-dog it is slightly different, dogs often correct each other in a social environment to communicate. Normally these corrections are in the form of a nip or air snap. If a dog is correction aggressive with another dog it reacts in turn with a much more inappropriate correction and can lead to dog fighting.

How can you prevent Correction Aggression?

The first thing you must ask yourself when preventing Correction Aggression is honestly, are you causing the aggression? Without realizing it, as an owner you may be reacting with emotion to your dog if you are frustrated, mad, sad, angry, or excited. When training or disciplining dogs for a proper correction it must come from a neutral tone and demeanor. Dogs can’t read human emotion as well as we might think, and changing things from the norm of how we as humans act can offset dogs on its own. You must ensure you are using “just enough” force behind corrections, this alone can help alleviate the issue. Consistency in all forms help a dog live a happy healthy life, dogs need rules and structure. Lack of consistency can lead to frustration as an example, if a dog is corrected one out of every ten times for an unwanted behavior it won't understand the correction leading to frustration.

Redirection Aggression

Related to Correction Aggression & Frustration Aggression

Have you ever been mad because of one event in your life but took it out on something else? For dogs that sums up Redirection Aggression. The dog is taking out its anger or in some cases frustration with one situation out on whatever is nearest to the dog. May that be you, another person, or even a other dog.

How do I know its Redirection?

Redirection can be tricky because if it's exclusively reacting to a correction it’s Correction Aggression and if it’s only with barriers it will be Frustration Aggression. Redirection is direct aggression towards any party near the dog that isn't the source of the trigger. A great example is when a dog is barking out the window intensely but then as its anger builds you try and move the dog away and it turns and bites. The dog is so angry it’s almost as if it doesn’t see or care. It just acts out towards you with everything it has pent up inside towards the source of anger.

How do you prevent Redirection?

Like with Frustration and Correction Aggression a huge factor is the environment. Removing dogs from situations it is triggered by helps prevent further incidents. At the very least attempt to break the dog's focus from any triggers before the dog is “boiling over” with anger and frustration.

Territorial Aggression

It’s no secret that dogs descend from wild animals. Though they have been domesticated they still carry certain “wild” traits. Any dog has the chance of inheriting a stronger form of these traits, one of which is Territorial Aggression. When a dog has Territorial Aggression it is just as it sounds, they are defending or protecting their space. Territorial Aggression can be one of the most dangerous forms of aggression, inflicting serious harm on “intruders” both dogs and people. They may or may not consider a relative or friend as a member of their “pack” making it unpredictable who they will attack in their territory.

How do you know it’s Territorial?

Is your dog aggressive or defensive in the home but in public acts social and polite? Some signs of Frustration and Fear aggression can be misidentified as territorial. The biggest difference is a Territorial dog is confident and forward postured.

How do you prevent Territorial Aggression?

Unfortunately you can’t prevent a genetic trait, so you can manage it but it will always be there. A dog can be taught that sit means sit or place means place but the dog will still be fighting the urge to defend what the dog thinks belongs to it. So either remove the dog from situations it will act aggressive or enforce obedience and make it do something else.

Rank/Social Aggression

Hierarchical tendencies form in dogs, this isn't a bad thing, it's natural. But in some cases a dog takes it too far. Normally it's a dog that isn’t actually the “top” dog but the dogs scuffling over the middle ground. A truly “dominate” or submissive dog will not fight for position. In most cases dogs can safely determine their position but certain dogs cannot find the appropriate way to do so.

How do I know its Rank/Social?

Body language helps a lot in determining if it’s Rank or Social. Posturing, stiffness/freezing, hackles, excessive genital licking, locking eyes, body checking/blocking there are many signs of a dog that is pushing their luck and gauging another dog. Submissive dogs can still be aggressive if pushed in a social setting!

How do you prevent Rank/Social Aggression?

Most dogs find their place with little to no scuffle, but if your dog is inappropriate it needs consequences. Creating space or avoiding socializing your dog in a group setting helps. The smaller the group the less likely issues will occur. Avoiding interactions with same sex dogs will also help. But a lot like kids a quick easy way to fix a dog who is acting inappropriate in social settings is removing them (time outs). But if the dog is uncomfortable this may actually encourage the rude behavior.

Predatory Aggression

(Prey Drive)

Another extremely genetic form of aggression is Predatory Aggression. Unfortunately like Territorial Aggression this is a genetic trait meaning with training you can teach a dog to not act on it but the urge will always be present. Dogs still possess the natural tendency to hunt and chase prey; it's just a question of how severe the Prey Drive is.

How do I know it’s Predatory Aggression?

There are normally 5 stages of stalking prey in dogs depending on how many the dog acts on and affects the danger it poses to another animal or even human. The sequence is Sight, Stalk, Chase, Grab-bite, kill-bite, and Consume. Of course if your dog makes it to step four it's an aggression issue. Some dogs in play will act out steps one through three which can make it difficult to determine. Other telltale signs of it being prey and not playing are high pitched whines or barks. Dogs that are in Prey Drive are excited almost erratically so unlike most forms of aggression dogs are happy and excited to go after the “prey” in question.

How do you prevent Predatory Aggression?

As stated with Territorial it is genetic, some dogs have extremely dangerous prey drive while others just chase. The only solutions are avoiding what your dog considers prey or making the dog perform a task or stay in obedience so they can’t act on the Prey drive.

In closing

Now as stated above dogs can have any of these aggression types or any combination of them. Each type of aggression has its own solutions but can also be enforced if handled inappropriately. This blog is only to educate on the types of aggression and ways to avoid the situation while seeking professional help. Some cases are extreme while others minor but the sooner they are addressed the safer it will be for the dog and any involved party. This post also doesn’t go over Resource guarding because that in itself is an entirely different behavior and process to handle. But that being said, don't rule out Resource Guarding as the cause of the “aggression” at hand. There are plenty of cases involving aggression and guarding or any combination of the two!

With identifying aggression issues make sure you rule out any medical issues being at the root of the issue before taking steps to correct any behaviors!

If you have any questions as always please reach out. I am obsessed with behavior and behavioral training is my true passion in this industry. Helping dog's who are on their "last" chance is one of my driving forces, however if you are seeing early warning signs ask for help before its their "last chance"!

Jagger Brocious

Dog Training and Behavior Specialist

Lucky Paws Dog Training

(512) 898-9950

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