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Defensive Aggression in Dogs

Nicole Cosgrove

If your dog has suddenly started growling, snapping, or biting regularly, then you may have a serious problem on your hands. You need to train your dog not to be aggressive, but you also need to understand that there is more than one type of aggression in dogs to look out for.

Aggression is one of the biggest reasons that pet owners seek the help of animal behaviorists or dog trainers for their pets. There are many different types of aggression to look for in dogs. These include offensive, defensive, protective, food, fear, territorial, possessive, social, and a few more.

In this article, we’re going to discuss defensive aggression in dogs, what it is, the signs that your dog has it, and treatments that can help. If your dog is showing signs of defensive aggression and none of the methods in this blog work for you, it’s time to seek help for your pet.

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What Is Defensive Aggression in Dogs?

Defensive means to defend oneself, while aggression means showing hostile or violent behavior towards something or someone. Everyone has the capability of defensive aggression in them, and that includes your dog. When faced with a threat, humans do one of three things: flee, freeze, or fight. Your dog is no different in that department.

Defensive dog aggression features all three of those terms. If your dog shows any of these three reactions to something, he’s scared. In most cases, pet parents ignore the flee or freeze part of this because they don’t know any better. They do step in when their dog reaches the fight part of the trio because that’s something concrete that needs to be stopped.

However, defensive aggression in dogs can be dangerous and needs to be stopped before a person or pet ends up injured or worse.

aggressive border collie
Image Credit: Nietosvaara, Pixabay

What Are the Causes of Aggression in Dogs?

There are a few different causes of aggression in dogs. It’s important to note that it’s very rare for a dog to just become violent and attack a person or another animal out of nowhere. In fact, in most cases, the cause for the aggression in the dog is poor socialization and training. For your pup to be comfortable and unafraid around other animals and humans, they need to be socialized and trained as puppies.

Defensive aggression is actually the most common form of aggression in dogs. If your dog feels threatened by someone or something, they’ll try to flee, then if that doesn’t work, they’ll freeze to get ready to fight. Once the fight response of their fear kicks in, they’ll attack whatever they’re afraid of.

Here are other causes of any type of aggression in dogs:
  • Pain or illness
  • Fear (which leads to defensive aggression)
  • Protecting their territory or possessions
  • To establish dominance

What Are the Signs of Defensive Aggression in Dogs?

There are a few signs to watch out for if you think your dog is defensively aggressive. Usually, with this type of aggression, the first signs are subtle. They start with cowering and tucking their tails under their legs, then turning their heads away to let the threat know they want to be left alone. If the human or pet they perceive as a threat doesn’t acknowledge these subtle warnings, the scared dog might bite them or attack.

chihuahua lying on a couch
Image Credit: Svitlana Sandberg, Shutterstock

How to Manage Defensive Aggression in Dogs?

Defensive aggression in dogs can end up being dangerous if it isn’t corrected. The last thing you want is for your pet to bite someone or have to step into the middle of a dog fight. In this section of our blog, we’ll discuss how to manage the aggression in your pet before it goes too far.

Listen To Your Pet And Be His Voice

The best way to prevent and treat defensive aggression in your pet is to listen to your pet and be his voice. If another dog approaches you on one of your walks and stresses your dog, then walk away from the dog he considers a threat.

If a strange person tries to pet your dog and you see your dog turn away, support your dog’s decision and ask the person not to pet her. Never force your dog to meet someone or be petted by someone they don’t seem to like.

When your dog is playing with other dogs, keep an eye on them to ensure they’re not being bullied. If you’re in doubt, it’s best to just end the play session to be on the safe side.

dogs on a leash
Image Credit: pasja1000, Pixabay

Practicing body handling and restraint at home can help as well.

If you see that your dog’s defensive aggression is getting worse despite your attempts to manage it, it’s best to contact your vet for help. Your vet can help you find the cause for the aggression and get you to a trainer or dog behaviorist who will provide you with the help you need. Never just ignore any type of aggression in your pet. Ignoring it will only make it worse and could end badly for you and your pet.

Never ignore the problem, thinking it’ll go away because it won’t. Any type of aggression, even defensive aggression in dogs, can be dangerous for you, your family, strangers, and the dog itself.


Featured Image Credit: Milante, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.