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Why Is Your Dog Showing Signs of Aggression?

Sandra is a veterinary assistant and has worked at various animal hospitals. She is a mother to a GSD, Siberian Husky and two cats.


5 Common Causes of Dog Aggression

In most cases, dogs become aggressive they’re trying to convey a message—with us, or with another animal involved. The first thing you want to do when you encounter this behavior is determine the underlying issue.

Start by studying their body language and using this information to make an educated guess as to why your dog may be acting out all of a sudden. Here are a few common reasons your dog may become aggressive.

1. They're Afraid

Your dog is basically in fight-or-flight mode here, causing them to try to put space between themselves and the object of their fear. They will typically act in one of three ways:

  • They’ll freeze.
  • They'll run and cower.
  • They'll snap at the person, situation, or animal.

Yes, I know dogs are cute and snuggly, but my best advice is to tread lightly when approaching an unfamiliar canine. In fact, even if you are already acquainted with this dog, it is possible this kind of aggression can still happen.

2. They're in Pain

This is called pain-elicited aggression. The reason they’re becoming aggressive is that they are making an attempt to guard a part of their body that they don’t want to be touched. This can either be an internal or external pain.

You can spot this one easily because it literally looks like they are guarding something on their body, and the best decision would be to take them straight to the veterinarian to rule out a possible condition.

There are multiple reasons why your dog may suddenly show signs of aggression, and it's not always what you might think.

There are multiple reasons why your dog may suddenly show signs of aggression, and it's not always what you might think.

3. They're Anxious

If you’re trying to introduce your dog to a new environment or person, always make sure to be extra cautious. Dogs can feel anxiety and worry like humans can and will display similar behaviors.

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If a dog feels like they’re being pushed too far, they are likely to lash out. Patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement work well with new interactions.

Anxiety or fear can progress into two forms of aggression:

  • Indirect: When someone tries to get in the middle of the dog and the object of fear, the dog can become indirectly aggressive with this person by snarling, showing teeth, as well as exhibiting other warning signals.
  • Direct: This is where your dog will be directly aggressive towards you, another person, or animal from the very beginning.

4. They're Being Territorial or Displaying Dominance

The main reasons a dog might suddenly become overly territorial is because they’re hitting sexual maturity or they haven’t been properly socialized as a puppy—just to name a couple. When they become overly aroused by a person or thing approaching “their” territory, this is their way of letting them know to “back off.”

You can identify this behavior easily if you pay close attention. Watch for lunging, growling, or excessive barking at doors, windows, other animals, people, or fences. In my experience, a dog can start off with loud, excessive barking and progress from there, but they will sometimes skip the warning altogether.

5. They Have Had Bad Experiences in the Past

Unfortunately, bad things happen to our dog friends, and they will remember. It happened with my first German shepherd, Hendrix. He was only about 9 weeks old when he was brought home. My ex had an intact adult male dog named Moose, and Moose decided he didn’t like Hendrix eating out of his food bowl. He then proceeded to snap at poor little Hendrix and bit his nose, to the point where he yelped in pain, and we had to take him to the vet because his nose was bleeding so much.

Ever since then Hendrix would growl at another dog if they tried to approach his food bowl. He never bit them, but he didn’t like it and warned them to back off. He was also not a fan of other male dogs after the experience unless they were puppies.

This is one example, but these experiences can be anything from places, people, things, other animals, or situations.

Never Hesitate to Consult Your Vet

Before you decide to give up on your dog or render them a lost cause, try to find the reason why your dog is acting out in this manner. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to ask a professional.

Your dog is only trying to communicate with you, and it’s up to us as dog parents and friends to not give up on them. If the roles were reversed, you wouldn’t want anyone to give up on you.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Sandra Ivonne

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