Types of Aggression by Jim Gillies BSc A.Dip CBM

Owner directed aggression – influenced by the genetic make-up of a dog. This type of dog feels capable of defending itself and dealing with any situation. The more successful the dog is in displaying this type of aggression the more likely it will display it in future (Line and Voith, 1986).  An aggressive dog will consistently growl, snap, or bite when a person does something, or asks the dog to do something, which the dog does not like.  An aggressive dog has an inappropriate response to normal situations. The dog is trying to control the situation with her reaction, rather than allowing a person to have control. These dogs may be protective over food or toys, or favourite sleeping areas. They may react if they are groomed, or if stared at, or punished. (Fonberg, 1988).

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Animals (2017)

Fear aggression – a learned behaviour, lots of causes including lack of socialisation as a puppy. It could also be in response to an incident, such as being attacked. The resulting fear of attack may incite a nervous dog to react on sight of another dog. A fearful dog may become aggressive if cornered or trapped. When animals and people are afraid of something, they prefer to get away from that thing. This is called the flight response. But if escaping isn’t an option, most animals will switch to a fight response. They try to defend themselves from the scary thing. It is a result of fear responses to aversive stimuli. The sympathetic nervous system is activated resulting in release of neurotransmitters responsible for fight or flight. The body language will be a tail tucked, freeze, and eye contact, growling (Landsberg, Hunthausen and Ackermann, 2002).


Animals (2017)

Territorial/protective aggression – a learned behaviour in response to intrusion of space. The dog feels the need to protect its bed, home or other area frequented by the dog. Dogs’ wild relatives are territorial. They live in certain area, and they defend this area from intruders. Some dogs display the same tendencies. They bark and charge at people or other animals encroaching on their home turf. Dogs are often valued for this level of territorial behaviour. Territorial aggression can occur along the boundary regularly patrolled by a dog or at the boundaries of her pet parents’ property. Other dogs show territorial aggression only toward people or other animals coming into the home. Male and female dogs are equally prone to territorial aggression (Horwitz, Ciribassi and Dale, 2014).


 (Modern Dog magazine, 2017)

Possessive aggression (otherwise known as resource guarding) - Many dogs show the tendency to guard their possessions from others, whether they need to or not. Dogs evolved from wild ancestors who had to compete for food, nesting sites and mates to survive. Dogs might react aggressively when a person or another animal comes near their food bowl or approaches them while they’re eating. Other dogs guard their chew bones, their toys or things they’ve stolen. Still others guard their favourite resting spots, their crates or their beds. This type of aggression can be a result of poor socialisation and overall state of anxiety. Resulting in the dog feeling the need to protect resources (Aloff, 2002).

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 (Problempets.co.uk, 2017)

Redirected aggression – when a dog is not able to take its aggression out on the actual object or person. Redirected aggression occurs when a dog is aroused by or displays aggression toward a person or animal, and someone else interferes. The dog redirects her aggression from the source that triggered it to the person or animal that has interfered. This is why people are often bitten when they try to break up dog fights. When a person grabs or pushes a fighting dog, the dog might suddenly turn and bite (Aloff, 2002).


 (inschrijving, 2017)

Frustration-elicited aggression - A dog that’s excited or aroused by something but is held back from approaching it can become aggressive, particularly toward the person or thing holding her back. For instance, a frustrated dog might turn around and bite at her leash or bite at the hand holding her leash or collar. Over time, the dog can learn to associate restraint with feelings of frustration so that even when there’s nothing to be excited about, she tends to react aggressively when restrained. This explains why some normally friendly dogs become aggressive when put behind a gate, in a cage or crate, in a car, or on a leash (Donaldson, 2008).                                                                                              

Pain induced aggression - An otherwise gentle, friendly dog can behave aggressively when in pain. That’s why it’s so crucial to take precautions when handling an injured dog, even if she’s your own. A dog with a painful orthopaedic condition or an infection might bite with little warning, even if the reason you’re touching her is to treat her. The improper use of certain pieces of training equipment, such as the pinch (or prong) collar or the shock collar, can inflict pain on a dog and prompt a pain-elicited bite to her pet parent (Blake, 2008).

Defensive aggression - Closely related to fear aggression is defensive aggression. The primary difference is the strategy adopted by the dog. Defensively aggressive dogs are still motivated by fear, but instead of trying to retreat, they decide that the best defence is a good offense. Dogs who are defensively aggressive exhibit a mixture of fearful and offensive postures. They may initially charge at a person or another dog who frightens them, barking and growling. Regardless of whether the victim freezes or advances, the defensively aggressive dog often delivers the first strike. Only if the victim retreats is the defensively aggressive dog likely to abort an attack (Aloff, 2002). 


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Blake, M. (2008). The dog trainers resource 2. 1st ed. Wenatchee, Wash.: Dogwise Pub.

Donaldson, J. (2008). Oh behave!. 1st ed. Wenatchee, WA: Dogwise Pub.

Fonberg, E. (1988). Dominance and Aggression. International Journal of Neuroscience, 41(3-4), pp.201-213.

Horwitz, D., Ciribassi, J. and Dale, S. (2014). Decoding your dog. 1st ed.

inschrijving, N. (2017). 8 Inzichten in agressie bij honden • Toscanzahoeve. [online]

Toscanzahoeve. Available at: http://www.toscanzahoeve.be/8-inzichten-agressie-bij-honden/ [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].

Landsberg, G., Hunthausen, W. and Ackermann, L. (2002). Handbook of behaviour problems of the dog and cat. 1st ed. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Line, S. and Voith, V. (1986). Dominance aggression of dogs towards people: Behavior profile and response to treatment. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 16(1), pp.77-83.

Modern Dog magazine. (2017). How To Read Your Dog's Body Language. [online] Available at: http://moderndogmagazine.com/articles/how-read-your-dogs-body-language/415 [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].

Problempets.co.uk. (2017). Dog Behaviour Problems and Aggressive Dog Behaviour, Problem Pets, Chorley, UK. [online] Available at: http://www.problempets.co.uk/dog-aggression/ [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].

Redhillpark.us. (2017). Read Your Dogs Postures - Dogs Have Personality - Dog Obedience Guides. [online] Available at: https://www.redhillpark.us/personality/read-your-dogs-postures.html [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].