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Signs of Dog Aggression

Watch for subtle changes in your pet's demeanor, such as sudden stillness, looking out of the corner of their eye instead of directly at something, lowering their head, or hunkering down. Quickly divert your dog's attention when any of these things happens -- warning signs often occur a split second before a dog's behavior escalates.

You can also head off aggression at the pass by respecting what your dog's body language is telling you. "Don't impose your will on the dog," Miller says. Pushing your pup to play nice with a small child or another animal, even as they are pulling away, is a recipe for disaster.

When a normally placid dog becomes aggressive, visit a vet to rule out medical causes for the sudden change. If your dog is still fighting mad after following these steps, Miller says to seek help from a certified dog trainer or behaviorist.

"Keep treats on hand during walks and offer one up before your dog lunges at the neighbor's pooch. Or throw something tasty into his bowl if your dog growls when you get close while he's eating." -- Katherine Miller, PhD


Aggression is a term that is used to explain multiple dog behaviors. Usually aggressive behavior will start as a warning, but eventually it may lead to an attack, which is why training an aggressive dog is so important.

Here are some ways a dog may exhibit aggressive behavior:

  • Growling
  • Standing rigid and/or still
  • Showing teeth
  • Snarling (growling while showing teeth)
  • A threatening or guttural bark
  • Lunging or charging at a human
  • Mouthing/light biting without applying pressure
  • Snapping or nipping at a person without leaving a mark
  • Biting that causes bruising or puncture wounds
  • Repeated bites in rapid succession

There are several signals that your dog may give to indicate they are worried, fearful or feeling stressed, and if we recognise these, we can keep dogs feeling safe and stress-free, and so prevent a lot of canine aggression long before it starts. Often dogs bite out of self-defence because they feel that it is their only option as all their other warning signs have been ignored.

Yawning or licking lips

The first indications you may see to indicate your dog is feeling uncomfortable is them yawning or licking their lips. You may also see them turning their head away from whatever is causing their discomfort and you might also see the white of their eye (whale eye). If you notice any of these, you should take action to remove whatever is worrying your dog or take them away from the situation.

Crouching with their tail between their legs

Or you may see more obvious signals such as your dog crouching with their tail between their legs, or lifting their paw, or tensing around their eyes or mouth. Or you may notice them becoming very stiff and still. These are all dog aggression warning signs that you should take notice of. Take time to watch your dog and you will be surprised how much they are communicating how they are feeling.

A wagging tail doesn’t always indicate a happy dog

Don’t assume that a wagging tail is always indicative of a friendly dog. A stiff wagging tail, or a tail wag in a dog who is crouched with lowered body language can all be warning signs that the dog is conflicted, fearful or worried.

Growling is often a last warning

The next stage may be your dog growling – and for many people this is the first time they notice something is wrong but for the dog, this is almost a last warning. Growling is a vocal way a dog can express that they are feeling fearful or aroused, and it’s a very clear warning that they will in all likelihood escalate their behaviour to a bite if the situation does not change. We should be looking to prevent our dogs feeling uncomfortable enough that they have to tell us with a growl but if they do, listen to them!

If your dog feels that they are going to be punished for growling, they may stop doing so in the future but they will no longer give you that last warning and may instead move straight to the next level - which is to bite.

Watch the video: Aggression. Individuals and Society. MCAT. Khan Academy

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