This is the most serious of behaviour issues and the most common reason why dogs are surrendered to rescue centres or needlessly euthanized (put to sleep). For many dog owners, it can be very upsetting and frustrating to see how the once adorable puppy or sweet dog has changed from being funny and cuddly into a snarling, lunging monster.  What a way to repay all the 'love' you have given your dog!

Dogs are not born aggressive, but all have the propensity to be aggressive due to circumstance and upbringing.  It is a survival technique and they learn to use aggression in a variety of situations to get what they want dependant up the personality of the dog.  Most aggression results from fear and it is the timid, shy, nervous or fearful dogs that end up feeling so vulnerable, stressed, trapped or cornered that end up biting. It only takes once or twice for aggression to work, for the dog to then use it regularly to “save” itself from the situation and it becomes a habit when those circumstances again present themselves.  

© Ulf | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock PhotosDog aggression is a behavioural pattern, not a personality type. This means one breed is not necessarily more aggressive than any other.  Bark Busters dog behavioural therapists have treated all breeds of dogs for aggression and found that the diminutive Chihuahua can be just as aggressive as the much larger Rottweiler or German shepherd. Clearly, the larger dogs can instil more fear and potentially cause more harm because of their size and strength, but the root causes of each type of aggressive behaviour are the same—and nearly all can be addressed with proper training.

 The Different Types Of Aggression

Fear aggression is the most common form of aggression. Typically this will happen when a dog misunderstands a threat in its environment. This triggers his “fight or flight” instinct. Dogs that bite and growl out of fear tend to be under-socialized, or have had bad experiences and negative memories. These canines feel uneasy when approached by strangers or when little children run up to them. Although they’d prefer to run away, they may feel cornered—and that’s when bites may occur. Also, people who try to break up fights between dogs are often the victims of misdirected aggression. This is a common situation, resulting in accidental bites from dogs that are otherwise wonderful, loving pets.

freeimage-3510409BLACK DOG by Benjamincoppens A dog exhibiting owner directed aggression will direct his inappropriate behaviour to his family members. A dog may refuse to get off the couch or bed. Should you attempt to remove him, he will growl and bite.  He may also refuse to let you touch him or actively encourage contact and then growl and snap when he has had enough attention.  This type of aggression is complex as there is rarely one reason (e.g. fear) or trigger (e.g. stroking your dog) for this behaviour.    

Does your dog growl or snap if you get too close during feeding or when he’s playing with his favourite toy? If so, he is displaying possession aggression (also called resource guarding). Dogs exhibiting this behavioural problem do not trust anyone with, or even near, their favourite toy, food or person.   This is not owner directed aggression as it can occur with anyone who approaches a valued resource/possession.

Predatory aggression, often seen in herding breeds, stems from an instinct to chase prey and bring it down. Some dogs may go after cats, squirrels, or livestock—especially if these animals are on the move. In worst cases, dogs exhibiting predatory aggression may go after small children.  These Dogs may also react to joggers and cyclists when out on a walk as they are moving at speed and can trigger the dog’s instinct to chase.  Be aware if your dog routinely becomes intensely fixated on an object as fixating can result in a chase or attack. 

Any dog can exhibit pain-induced aggression. Some dogs that experience chronic pain from a number of medical or physical conditions can develop aggressive tendencies as a way to protect themselves from the pain caused by handling. Be aware if your dog displays any kind of physical discomfort. Dogs suffering from trauma may also bite their owners. If your usually mild-mannered dog has been in an accident, do not trust that he won’t bite.

A dog that growls, barks and bites at joggers or cyclists near his home is exhibiting territorial aggression. This behaviour can also be directed at anyone new to the house, such as postmen or guests. These dogs are fine once the potential threat has left their territory, but they can be especially tough on visitors. Typically a dog will bark to warn off an intruder, but if a dog continues to feel threatened, he is more likely to attack to defend himself.

Sexual aggression is usually limited to male dogs.  They will mount both people and other dogs. Mounting activity directed towards humans may be from lack of opportunity to be with other dogs, or an over attachment to the people concerned.  Allowing the dog to mate is often recommended as a way to resolve it, but this often makes the problem far worse.

flickrdogondogsnapWhen dogs have lived in the same home together for years they usually manage to sort out their differences and exist peacefully together.  Most dog owners can identify the dog that is leader of their pack of two to three dogs. Problems often occur when a youngster reaches puberty and tries to usurp a more senior dog and Sibling Rivalry (or pack aggression) can erupt.   People can inadvertently disturb the balance by rushing to protect the would-be subordinate from being "bullied". The subordinate dog now feels bold enough to challenge the other.  This type of aggression can be very distressing for owners and difficult to know how to handle

Tips on dealing with Aggression

 Apply a little common sense.  We can have unrealistic expectations of our dogs.  We lose our tempers, raise our voices, say things we regret, but expect our dogs to be model citizens and friendly to everybody at all times.  Be a responsible pet owner and be aware that dogs are not robots and deserve our thought, care and attention when supervising their interactions within our world.  

Learn to relax.  Our dogs take their cue from us.  For example, if you anticipate or respond to your dog’s aggressive behaviour to other dogs when out on a walk by tightening up on the lead you will reinforce his perception that he should be worried/frightened about other dogs.  Likewise if you grab your dog every time an unknown adult or child is around they can interpret it that you are anxious and respond to protect you!!  Your dog takes his cue off you so take yourself in hand first. 

Aggression is a response to a trigger.  Dogs DO NOT suddenly become aggressive for no reason even though it might seem to the owner that the aggression has come out of nowhere.  To deal with aggression you need to learn to read your dog’s body language.  They will often give strong indicators before any obvious aggression is shown.  This includes freezing of their body’s, staring, lifting of lips etc.  Observe your dog carefully and identify those tell-tale signs that will tell you that your dog is getting worked up. 

If your dog is reacting to a trigger remove him from the situation.  This can be: turning around and moving away from other dogs; putting your dog away in safe place when visitors come; preventing access to the front window/door re postmen etc; leaving your dog to eat in peace.  Of course this doesn’t solve the situation but it can make things a lot easier to handle and helps to take the heat and frustration out of the equation for both dog and owner.   If you think this is just avoidance, remember that through the generations humans have told other humans “don’t take a bone off a dog” and “don’t disturb a dog when sleeping” so that we don’t inadvertently trigger aggression in our dogs.  You are simply following the good advice of humans through the ages when it comes to our doggy companions.  Your dog must be prevented from repeating the problem behaviour because every time he does so successfully it will become more entrenched!

If your male dog is showing aggression to other male dogs only when out on walks then consider neutering.  The aggression may have become habitual with your dog and still need modifying after, but the driving force behind the aggression will have been taken away making it a lot quicker and easier to achieve.

If your dogs are fighting then do not support the dog you see as the "under dog".  Work on making each dog cared for individually and spend time training each of them.  If fighting is triggered by food, toys etc then remove the triggers.  Be aware of your dogs' body language.  Staring is frequently a prelude to a fight so if you see them staring then break it up before it starts.        

flickrgrowlingdog Do not assume that you are causing the problem or you cannot deal with the problem and give your dog away in the hope that someone else can "cure" your dogs' aggression.  As the owner YOU are best placed to deal with your dog.  You are the one with the relationship and you are the one who knows your dogs' history.  It is irresponsible for a potentially aggressive dog to be homed to another person who hasn't the knowledge of how your dog reacts.  In particular, owner directed aggression is rarely triggered by the owner themselves although it can inadvertently reinforced.  A new owner is just as likely to be on the receiving end of this as you are.

If your dog has become inexplicably aggressive then your first port of call should be your Vet.  An infection or an injury may cause your dog cause pain and not be immediately obvious to you as an owner.  Dogs can hide serious illness for a considerable period of time so get it checked out.  Vets are also experienced at identifying when aggression is a behavioural problem and will be able to advise you whether behavioural therapy will be a good option for you.         



95% of aggression in dogs is actually learned behaviour, resulting from the environment within which the dog has learned to survive.  The dog learns to deal with situations as only it knows how, i.e. by curling its lip, snarling, growling, snapping and even biting.  At Bark Busters we believe in the saying "Deed Not Breed" and that NO DOG IS BEYOND HELP.  Most aggressive behavioural problems can be corrected and cured if approached under the expert guidance of a professional Bark Busters Trainer. We achieve amazing results by solving the underlying core of the problem, and putting in place our unique behavioural modification therapy to un-learn the behaviour, and re-structure the canine responses in a way that makes sense to the dog and its owner.

For expert professional help and advice on resolving aggression problems with your dog

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