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15 Types of Aggression in Dogs

15 Types of Aggression in Dogs

Critter Culture Staff



Aggression in dogs is more nuanced than you might think. There are more than a dozen types of canine aggression, and experts can make a diagnosis and form a treatment plan that may include behavior and drug therapy. A dog can show more than one type of aggression simultaneously due to a range of factors, such as hormones or traumatic experiences at the hands of harsh owners, for example.

Scheduling an appointment with a vet or behaviorist is vital to nip undesirable behaviors such as endless barking, snapping, and biting in the bud.


Barrier aggression

Aggressive German Shepherd behind Bars Catherine Falls Commercial/ Getty Images

Whether it's a door, a fence, or a leash, some dogs can't handle barriers if they're in the mood to get footloose or have discovered something they want that's on the other side of the obstacle. Barrier aggression can be intense and result in injuries if you're not careful. Even usually friendly dogs can explode.


Drug-induced aggression

Pet dog taking cbd hemp oil - Canine licking cannabis dropper for anxiety treatment Vanessa Nunes/ Getty Images

There's a fancy term for this: iatrogenic aggression. In simple terms, it refers to the side effects of medication. Meds as innocuous as prednisone (prescribed for allergies or inflammation) can cause behavioral changes for the worse.

Some infectious and non-infectious diseases can cause aggression, too, with rabies being the most well-known.


Dominance-related aggression

A male German shepherd bites a man dimid_86/ Getty Images

This kind of aggression is linked to resource competition and can be directed toward the owner rather than strangers. If a dog learns that being assertive helps them achieve their objective, they will keep demonstrating offensive behavior.

This is not about hierarchy in a household but about getting what they want and avoiding what they dislike. Mature dogs over the age of two that behave confrontationally can put you on edge because submitting to them reinforces the behavior, and challenging them can result in injury and throws fear-based aggression into the mix.


Trained aggression

Argentine dog with owner sssss1gmel/ Getty Images

Of course, some dogs are taught to be aggressive—this is nothing new. Dogs have guarded against intruders or kept enemies at bay for hundreds of years, and law enforcement agencies have trained police dogs for over a century.

But training a dog in this manner should not be taken lightly, and you should enlist a professional to be on the safe side. Bear in mind, also, that some dog breeds known for their aggression, like pitbulls, are banned by law in various states.


Fear-based aggression

Little Jack Russell Terrier dog Aggressive is barking primeimages/ Getty Images

Fear-based aggression is especially a concern if you're rehoming a dog with an abusive past. Your new ward will react negatively to situations that remind them of previous trauma or punishment. And a lone bad experience with, say, a bald white man, could make your dog go bananas around bald white men.

Like humans, even dogs with seemingly no baggage can respond poorly to unfamiliar people and animals or anxiety-inducing circumstances. Scared dogs often retreat, but when there's nowhere to go, or they're in familiar territory, you might notice their body posture changing from fearful to hostile.


Maternal aggression

Two aggressive dogs fighting on street Ivan Marjanovic/ Getty Images

You don't want to get on the wrong side of a momma with babies to protect. Maternal aggression is a significant phenomenon in the animal world, including among humans. The most gentle woman can become unrecognizable if you threaten her offspring.

Even pseudopregnancies in female dogs can result in aggression around the time the puppies would have entered the world. Positive reinforcement with treats can coax a mother to leave her litter so you can tend to them.


Pain-elicited aggression

Angry dog shows teeth. Pets. Wicked aggressive dog. Volodymyr_Plysiuk/ Getty Images

Consider how moody some folks get when they're under the weather. The same applies to dogs—when they're sore or ill, they can become irritable. They also growl to protect themselves if they anticipate that physical contact will exacerbate the pain.

You may be aware of the source of the pain, or it may be, for example, an undiagnosed case of hereditary hip dysplasia. Pain-related aggression can appear out of the blue.


Play-related aggression

Jack Russell Terrier dog playing with playful Bangkaew dog in garden in house primeimages/ Getty Images

When puppies exhibit aggression towards human and non-human members of your household, it's normal, so you can stop worrying about whether you've got a little weirdo on your hands. For young dogs, everything is new, and they can't contain their excitement.

Your pup will give you pause when it wrecks your favorite sweater, accidentally leaves you with an injury, or nips other pets. It has to learn boundaries and your response to aggressive behavior needs to be measured to prevent future issues. In older canines, play aggression can occur at dog parks.


Possessive aggression

Terrified dog sanjagrujic/ Getty Images

You'll also see this common type of aggression referred to as resource guarding. Siblings know about resource guarding all too well. Mom makes a dessert everyone loves, and you're sitting down with your share when you notice your brother swoop in to try and claim it. You see red.

Someone might not be approaching your dog to steal its prized possession, favorite chill-out spot, or preferred buddy, but it perceives a threat to its moment of joy and goes on the offensive.


Predatory aggression

Guard dog training Natalie Fobes/ Getty Images

Hunting instincts also fuel aggressive behavior. Your dog may, without much fanfare, stalk, chase, and launch itself at wild animals that visit your garden, or it might only display these behaviors when around other dogs, which is why some dog play areas separate large and small dogs.

Predatory aggression becomes problematic when Fido focuses on children and household pets, and you'll need to find workarounds ASAP.


Ritualized aggression

Two dog pets interacting outdoors DjelicS/ getty Images

Ritualized aggression takes place as a warning. Postures such as keeping the head and tail up, direct stares, and a frozen, never-gonna-back-down stance are all firm suggestions to back off if you don't want something worse to happen. This type of aggression is more about communication and avoiding conflict.


Sexual aggression

Little mixed breed dog growls at the quiet labrador outdoors - Concept of aggressive behavior of dogs and social pets relationships - concept also adaptable to human relationships and to dog owners Davide Zanin/ Getty Images

Pubescent humans are no strangers to sexual aggression, and neither are dogs. In the latter, this type of aggression typically refers to competition for mating partners and aggression toward rivals. Intrasexual aggression is also most common in dogs that haven't been spayed or neutered.


Social aggression

Dog Fight. A German boxer attacks a sheepdog. Mikhail Dmitriev/ Getty Images

Your dog may not know how to play nice in social situations, so training becomes essential if early encounters at the dog park turn into the canine equivalent of Rocky sequels. Poor social skills may mean bullying or overreactions. Again, social aggression is observed more among dogs of the same sex.


Territorial aggression

Dogs playing roughly and biting Gail Shotlander/ Getty Images

This is similar to resource guarding, but unfamiliar individuals often get the brunt of territorial aggression. Your fur baby may bare its teeth and transform to snarl at people it perceives will hurt or take you away—you are its territory too, and it wants to protect you.

Early socialization helps to set the tone and normalize specific interactions. Well-trained watchdogs do their job by alerting you to activity but calm down when you need them to.


Redirected aggression

Puppy Biting Leg sdominick/ getty Images

Borne of frustration, this type of aggression occurs when something rubs your dog the wrong way, but it can't get to the source of its emotional arousal and lashes out at someone or something else. Redirected bites can occur if you try to intervene when two dogs are fighting or if barrier aggression leads two dogs in the same household to attack each other.



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