Dogs can be docile, friendly, loving, and playful pets that are welcoming to any child or adult. If treated poorly, or if they have experienced trauma due to past abuse, they can develop shy, anxious, and in some cases, aggressive personalities.

Though there is a stigma against certain breeds, especially terriers, any dog, even a happy one, can become hostile and aggressive if pushed to its limits or experienced trauma.

Below, you’ll find signs that indicate a dog is about to attack and different types of dog aggression.

First, the warning signs. If a dog is about to attack and bite, they could display one or more of the following characteristics

  • Dog looks tense and stiff or pumped up
  • Ears are back
  • Lips are tight
  • A raised tail that meets the dogs back
  • Hair is raised and the dog is eyeing you up (they are trying to intimidate you)
  • Growling without signs that the dog is in a playful mood (unless you know the dog well, assume aggression)
  • The dog is showing its teeth
  • While following you, the dog is stiff, staring intently, and has its head low to the ground

Dog attacks can also occur in the following circumstances:

  • If the dog is chewing on or guarding something (do not try to grab it away unless you know the dog won’t bite you)
  • Entering the home of a dog that does not identify you, or the safe space of one that has experienced mistreatment
  • Interfering in a dog fight or getting in the way of a dog attacking something else. Sometimes this action will have to be done but heed caution when interacting with any dog in attack mode

The nine styles of dog aggression

  1. Arousal: This typically happens at dog parks or other venues where unfamiliar dogs are interacting. If a couple to numerous dogs are playing with each other, and the arousal rate gets too high, some dogs can become aggressive if they don’t know how to withdraw their stimulation.
  2. Defensive: This can occur if firm pressure is applied, or someone the dog is close to is being attacked. Not all breeds will become aggressive in these situations. Some that are trained will play and enjoy the wrestling, while others will cower and retreat.
  3. Fear: Mistreated and abused dogs will display fearful emotions, one being aggression. Abuse comes in many forms, such as poor socialization, physical and mental abuse or neglect.
  4. Territorial: This type of aggression is common, as many dogs are genetically pre-dispositioned to protect their homes and safe spaces (for dogs who experienced past trauma). Most breeds can become very accepting if raised and properly socialized.
  5. Possession: This can occur when a dog is trying to eat, or with a toy, bone, or person they want to protect
  6. Predatory: This kind of aggression can happen when a dog is chasing a cat, any person, or rodent they view as prey. This kind of action is scarce for domestic dogs.
  7. Redirected: When trying to break up a dog fight or another aggressive action, you may get bit. Whether it was your dog or another’s, the act is called redirected aggression. If a dog is performing an aggressive act and indicates pressure, it will sometimes redirect its hostility toward that subject.
  8. Social: This form of aggression can occur when a few to several dogs interact. The alphas will try to achieve dominance in the pack, while those lower on the hierarchy will often submit. If your dog seems uncomfortable in these social situations, it would be best to socialize your dog with a small number of dogs closer to their size until they gain confidence.

Be mindful of these characteristics and situations, but also be aware that when domesticated, socialized, and treated with care and respect, many breeds will show few if any of these aggressive behaviors (unless pushed to their limits).

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