Aggression In Dogs


Each year, more than 2% of the United States population suffers from a dog bite. That equals more than 4.3 million people! Canine aggression is not abnormal, but to better understand how to handle it, we need to understand the types of aggression and its causes.

Dog aggression, or threatening and/or harmful behavior towards another living creature, includes growling, nipping, snarling, snapping, lunging, and biting. When they display this behavior, they are only revealing normal species-typical behavior that is dangerous and unsuited with human lifestyle. There are various reasons why a dog will become aggressive towards their owner or complete strangers.

Sometimes aggression may stem from a medical problem unknown to you. It’s because of this that it is recommended to take your dog to a veterinarian when attempting to find out why they are being aggressive.
If a medical reason for the hostility isn’t found, your veterinarian will probably refer you to a behaviorist. A behaviorist will then acquire a behavioral history from you and then prescribe the recommended therapy.

The regularity and relentlessness of violent behavior may be reduced but, in most cases, aggression cannot be abolished entirely. Even if treatment seems successful, forever be on guard. Remember that the regularity and relentlessness of violent behavior may be reduced, but there is always a risk when keeping an aggressive dog. What is always to be your main concern is the safety of yourself and those around you!


Your veterinarian will do a thorough examination on your dog to find out if there’s a medical reason for their aggression. For example, a dog with a painful back may lash out when picked up. If there are no medical reasons, you’ll be referred to a behaviorist.

When seeing a behaviorist, you should be ready to spend a couple hours in a session. It’s a good idea to keep a written document of details about your pet’s behavior. It’s important to give the behaviorist as many accurate specifics as possible. You should make a note of:

  • What causes the aggression
  • How frequently it takes place
  • Who it is directed at
  • The exact behaviors
  • The dog’s body language and posture

It’s very helpful to the behaviorist to make a video of the dog in the act of their aggressive behavior, however, always be very careful not to get hurt. This and accurately answered questions about the behavior will assist them in their personalized treatment for your pet. They will also let you know their personal and professional opinion of the risk.

Aggression is influenced by several factors, including: genetic predisposition, early experience, maturation, sex, age, size, hormonal status, physiological state and external stimuli. Behaviorists use a classification system based on patterns of behavior and the circumstances in which they occur. This is done to determine the dog’s motivation and the cause of the behavior. The classification is as follows:

  • Dominance-related aggression is a very common type of canine aggression that behaviorists see. The aggressive action is directed towards other family members or pets. Since dogs are pack animals, they relate even us humans as members of their own species and pack and feel they need to establish an order to it.
  • Territorial aggression is seen in defense of a dog’s area (home, yard, room), property (toys, food), and even other pack members. It is usually directed towards those animals or people that exist outside of their pack.
  • Inter-male and inter-female aggression occurs more frequently when there are two or more adults of the same sex living in one household. It usually involves dominance or territorial quarrels.
  • Predatory aggression is usually directed towards other species, but sometimes can be cause by fast-moving stimulus like a bike or car. It’s caused by an instinctual need to hunt prey.
  • Pain-induced aggression is caused and directed towards a person or animal that causes pain. It frequently comes about when someone touches or even tries to touch a painful area on the dog.
  • Fear-induced aggression occurs when a frightened dog is approached. When a dog feels like it can’t escape, or has been exposed to severe punishment, it may resort to fear biting. This aggression can also be stimulated by active, unpredictable children.
  • Maternal aggression can occur when a female with a new litter or even in false pregnancy feels threatened.
  • Redirected aggression basically means that a dog will be aggressively motivated by one thing, then turn around and take it out on another. For example, if a dog on a leash is lunging and barking, it may turn on the owner that is attempting to pull it away from the stimuli. Dogs that are dominant will often redirect aggression to those in the pack they feel are inferior.


Each case of aggressive behavior in dogs in different. The treatment will vary depending on the diagnosis, your capability, compliance, and even your schedule. It may involve one or a combination of drug therapy, surgery (for instance spaying/neutering), avoidance and management (such as a head halter), and behavior modification techniques (like desensitization and counter-conditioning).

Always be aware of the risk that, even with successful treatment, the aggressive behavior may return. The best to hope for is the reduction of the probability of aggression. There are benefits and risks you must weigh when keeping a dog that has shown signs of aggression.


If your dog’s behavior is erratic it may be a good idea to purchase a basket style muzzle until you are able to get professional help. Physical punishment is NOT a good way to train your dog in ANY case. This can increase the intensity of your dog’s aggression and may result in serious injury. Avoid all interactions that you know trigger your dog’s aggression. Evading problems may involve:

  • Keeping your dog in a separate room when children or visitors are present
  • Housing and feeding them away from each other if they are fighting
  • Removing anything your dog may be defensive of, like toys or bones

Do not permit children to have contact with your dog unsupervised. Kids should be taught to avoid bothering dogs that are resting, chewing on a bone, or eating. They should never be allowed to hurt or tease dogs.

An easy strategy is to keep your dog on a leash all the time. At home, you might want to attach a thin nylon leash to their collar that your dog can comfortably drag. That way you will be able to get control of them safer. Indoor leashes can even be attached to head collars for even greater control. Do not try to get in the middle if your dogs end up fighting with each other. Interrupt the aggression using water, a loud noise, a blanket or spray.

veterinary advice

Dealing With Aggression In Cats


Bearing in mind their size, domestic cats can make dreadful enemies. Cats have five effective attack weapons, including mouth that can open widely equipped with sharp teeth, and four dexterous paws bearing needle-sharp claws. These weapons, combined with explosive speed and the limberness of a contortionist, can make restraining reluctant cats more difficult than herding these independent animals.

As every veterinarian knows, it is far better to avoid a cat’s anger than it is to confront it once the cat’s enraged. Therefore, the approach of nominal physical restraint and slow, placid handling is the best one to use when treating cats. If the cats temper has already reached its boiling point, it is best to give them time to settle down before continuing any therapy. However, sedatives or full physical restraint may be needed if it is important to continue immediately.


Types of aggression differ with varieties of species. Aggression can be described as maternal, irritable, territorial, sexual, predatory, fear-induced, and instrumental (as a way to achieve a goal). Classifications of aggression that have been more recently added to this list include pain-induced aggression, the always offensive petting-induced aggression, and idiopathic aggression (of unknown cause).

Another way of classifying aggression is into affective and predatory types. Affective, or emotional, aggression refers to a sudden mood change, and predatory aggression refers to the business of predation, i.e. procuring prey by hunting and killing, which is comparatively unemotional. There are also two types of affective aggression; defensive and offensive. Defensive aggression is in response to a threat, whether real or perceived, and is either entirely self-protective, or a combination of self-protective and maternal if a litter is involved. Offensive aggression indicates an animal lashing out at another animal, most likely unprovoked, in order to achieve some “selfish” goal.


  • Ears positioned sideways or forward
  • Pupils slightly rounded or very thin
  • Body stance with the shoulders lower than the rump giving a slanting-forward impression
  • Eyes engaged on the target, slight side-to-side head motion
  • Low pitched growl
  • Tail tip swishing from side to side. Tail held horizontal or vertically down


  • Ears held flat against the head pointing backwards
  • Widely dilated pupils
  • Piloerection – hair on the entire cat will stand on end, puffing them up to make them appear larger
  • Body stance is crouching or the back is arched
  • Tail to the side or curved under
  • Hissing and spitting
  • Tense, unsheathed claws


  • No emotional changes besides extreme attentiveness
  • Stalking/hunting behavior
  • Body stance is crouching, leading to springing
  • Gripping with claws and biting

Cats have always been considered lone, independent creatures, but it has newly been accepted that they can live socially and that some may become the “alpha” cats. In order to accomplish and hold this title, they must be physically strong and possess a willful personality. This is why aggression is a natural behavior for the cat and was required for survival of the cats’ wild ancestors.

The aforementioned type of aggression called “petting-induced” aggression is also a form of hostility found in a cat with “dominant, alpha cat syndrome”. This type of aggression may be expressed at home toward compliant owners during calm petting sessions. It also involves biting the owner over property such as food, toys, or resting place, as an attention-getting mechanism, and a way to rebel if an owner is trying to control the cat.

Offensive aggression in cats is purposeful and instinctual. Variations on the idea of offensive aggression include territorial aggression (used to protect an established territory or possession), maternal aggression (used to protect new kittens), and sexual aggression (usually between two males in competition for a female).

Defensive, or fear aggression, happens more often in cats that haven’t been raised with appropriate exposure to other cats or people at a formative time of their development. However, it can also occur in cats that have had negative exposure to people or other cats. It can easily be directed towards an offending person or another cat, and is another fairly common form of feline aggression.

Although predatory aggression has no social or self-protective function and is not connected with a major mood change, it qualifies as a type of aggression because is causes death or injury to another. There are two phases of predatory aggression in the wild; the appetitive phase and the consummary phase. The appetitive phase is the stalking, hunting, and capturing of prey, and the consummary phase is the eating of prey. Kittens and cats express predatory aggression when pouncing on hands, feet, and toys. It’s also displayed in cats when they stare longingly at a pet fish or birds outside your window.

Lastly, pathological aggression may just take place out of context because of minor stimuli. This type of aggression may be largely due to health issues like infections, partial seizures, lack of nutrition, and hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland). Before attempting any behavior modification, the medical causes of aggression need to be ruled out by your veterinarian.

Aggression In Cats