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Pain-Elicited Aggression in Dogs – Signs & Solutions

Nicole Cosgrove

May 26, 2021

We like to think of dogs as cute, fun, and sometimes cuddly creatures. However, some dogs can develop aggressive behavior, and it is our job as owners to figure out why so the problem can be addressed. One reason for aggression in dogs is pain. This is typically referred to as pain-elicited aggression, and it could affect any dog at any time during their lives. Here is what you need to know about pain-elicited aggression in dogs and how to handle it if it happens to your pooch.

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What Exactly Is Pain-Elicited Aggression in Dogs?

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Image Credit: Rob Wee, Pixabay

This type of aggression is displayed when a dog is in some kind of pain and they want to keep people, even their owner, from touching or handling them due to the fear of increased pain. The source of the pain may not be readily apparent and could come on suddenly, so many owners never expect pain-elicited aggression to take place and they are caught off-guard. A common reason for pain-elicited aggression is heredity disease, such as hip dysplasia.

Sometimes the pain is caused by an injury, in which case, you may be able to determine the type of injury and avoid touching the area. Sometimes, the internal pain is the reason for aggression. Even if touching the canine will not produce more pain because the source of pain is internal, the canine may perceive that touching will cause pain and will do whatever it takes to avoid the situation. Therefore, the dog might growl or snap if a person gets too close or moves an arm toward them — no actual touching required.

How to Know If Your Dog Is Displaying Pain-Elicited Aggression

dog at vet_ESB Professional, Shutterstock
Image Credit: ESB Professional, Shutterstock

Pain-elicited aggression usually comes on suddenly and without warning. One day, your dog might be affectionate and cuddly, and the next day, they may shudder at the thought of being touched. If your dog is usually non-aggressive toward people and animals and suddenly becomes aggressive, especially when being touched or handled, chances are that they are in pain.

Pay attention to when your dog starts becoming aggressive. Does it happen only when attention is turned to them and they feel like they will be touched or handled, or is it happening at any time without provocation? This will give you a good idea of what you are dealing with. To verify pain-elicited aggression, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

What Can Be Done About Pain-Elicited Aggression in Dogs?

dog injury_Blanscape_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Blanscape, Shutterstock

The only thing that can be done about pain-elicited aggression in dogs is to identify and treat the source of pain. If the source of pain is obvious, such as a cut or infection, you can take steps to isolate the area with bandages and ensure that you and other household members avoid touching the injured area until it is healed. You may need to put a muzzle on your dog while tending to the injury for your own safety. You may also need to utilize an antiseptic to treat the injury.

If you are not sure what the source of pain is, check with your veterinarian. They can determine the source and figure out how to properly address it. They may need to perform various tests, like doing a physical examination, taking blood, and getting X-rays, to determine the cause of pain. Unfortunately, until the tests are complete, there is nothing that can be done to address the pain besides administering temporary pain medication. Treatment for the pain could require anything from medication to surgery.

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Final Thoughts

Pain-elicited aggression in dogs cannot be foreseen. You never know when it will creep up or exactly why. You can prepare for the possibility of it happening to your dog now by putting together a kit that includes a kennel, bandages, a muzzle, and a toy or blanket that will comfort your dog. These things can be used to settle, isolate, and transport your pooch to the vet if necessary.


Featured Image Credit: Bonsales, 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.

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