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Types of Aggression

There are many kinds of aggressive behavior among dogs. The simple chart below may help you understand just how complicated this subject really is and the fact that when any dog snarls or growls and bares its teeth regardless of breed, size, age and sex, this conduct should be taken seriously. Such behavior can mean a variety of things from a medical condition that is causing your dog pain and requires medical attention -- to a threat that can mean eventual harm to a person or other animal. Aggressive temperaments that appear in puppyhood should be dealt with early on or suffer more serious consequences later on.

If aggression were not a problem, insurance companies would not be refusing to insure homeowners and renters with dogs. There would be no deaths due to aggressive canines. Hundreds of thousands of people would not be seeking medical attention because of dog attacks. And endless numbers of families would not be living in fear of the unpredictable family pet.

The good news is that many types of aggressive behavior can be controlled or modified.

Click on each "type" for more information.

A dangerous, unpredictable bully that may intimidate some or all family members. Often only one person in a family may have control over the dog. He has a problem with strangers and does not discriminate. He may be friendly sometimes and sometimes not. "He doesn't do it all the time," is a frequent comment made by owners of dominant aggressive dogs in an attempt to justify the unacceptable behavior. Don't make the mistake of thinking this aggressive temperament is protective. The dog is downright dangerous.
Fear Aggression

A dog that is nervous, insecure and frightened a great deal of the time. He usually reacts to almost any disturbance from ringing doorbells and telephones to approaching people and animals. Reactions range from aggressive barking, growling, baring teeth, snapping, biting or a combination of any of these. May bite when cornered or when feeling threatened. More likely to get bolder as he gets older. Owners often feel protective of fearful dogs and fail to recognize the serious nature of this kind of aggression. Thinking your dog will outgrow this is a big mistake.
Territorial/Overprotective Aggression
Usually a danger to anyone entering his domain and may growl, lunge or bite. He may consider certain noises intrusive, like the doorbell. When walking with his owner he may claim the territory they are walking or standing in and therefore can be aggressive toward any approaching person or animal. He is a threat to any person or animal violating his space -- the house, yard, car and even the bed he sleeps on, which may be yours.
Possessive Aggression

A dangerous Jekyll and Hyde. Will bark, growl, bare his teeth, snap or bite when any person or another pet goes near anything the dog considers his. Approaching the dog or getting close to things he has in his possession like food, toys and your book, shoe or whatever, will trigger aggression. Dog can be any age, breed or sex. If this is your dog's problem, you may have encouraged it by allowing it to continue in puppyhood. If your dog is still a puppy, it is important to modify the behavior now.
Punishment Aggression
People cause this form of aggression by being abusive and overly dominant in trying to correct or punish their dogs. How else is a dog to respond if you yell at, point a threatening finger or newspaper at the dog, or worse than that, hitting your dog? This includes wrapping the dog on the nose or under the chin, chasing or cornering them with anger, standing over them in a threatening manner, or frightening them with angry reprimands. Dogs at the wrong end of this people behavior will respond aggressively sooner or later.
Pain Aggression

Just like people, dogs have varying degrees of pain tolerance. Some dogs are genetically pain sensitive in specific areas of their bodies. This can cause a problem during grooming. And some aggressive behaviors are involuntary reactions to injuries or illness like hip dysplasia, arthritis, skin disorders and ear problems. A dog can't say, "Hey I'm in pain," so he may snap or bite to try to stop you or someone else from touching him. Medical attention is called for.
Predatory Aggression

People, animals and things in motion trigger this behavior. It is associated with the hunting and stalking prey drive. They tend to attack with the victim or object moves away. This dog will chase joggers, children, cats, bikes, cars -- anything that moves, including someone just strolling by. It's a mistake to think that the chasing dog will not deliver on his threat.
Maternal Aggression
Seen most often in a female that is nursing or raising a litter of puppies. This instinctive reaction usually occurs when a person or animal approaches her whelping area or he puppies. The dog may nark, growl or snap. Usually diminishes when the puppies are weaned and almost always stops completely when the litter is gone or on its own.
Dog Aggression

Most often occurs between dogs of the same sex with some exceptions. Dogs that fight are competitive and territorial and are focused on dominance versus subordination. Fear and territory are other influences. The barking, chasing, growling, lunging and biting that is evident in mature dogs are generally seen in puppies during learning and playing. Modifying the behavior while the dog is young is doable. Waiting until the behavior is habitual creates a dangerous and serious problem.
Redirected Aggression
The dog may bark, snap or bite a person or animal that interrupts aggressive behavior. A combination of adrenaline and a sharp focus when a dog fights makes interrupting the fight extremely dangerous.

Now that you have a little more insight into the complicated subject of types-of-aggression, don't stop here. Other pages in this section of will help you make some responsible and thoughtful decisions about aggressive dog problems in your home.