12 Types of Dog Aggression
See files for Dogs
It is all too easy for society to consign a dog to a label of ‘aggression’. This can often lead to dogs being taken away from families and even put to sleep. Many of these dogs could live a long and happy life with a loving family if they are provided with understanding and education. To help understand aggressive dogs, we first need to know there are different types of canine aggression.
At AnimalWised, we share the 12 types of dog aggression and explain the context behind each one. By providing more detailed data, we can help you understand why your dog may have become aggressive and what can be done about it.
- Aggression in dogs
- Social aggression
- Fear aggression
- Possessive aggression
- Territorial aggression
- Maternal aggression (protective)
- Play aggression
- Displaced or redirected aggression
- Pain aggression
- Physiological aggression (sexual, developmental, disease, etc.)
- Frustration aggression
- Predatory aggression
- Hierarchical aggression
Aggression in dogs
There is always a reason why a dog is aggressive. While it can be complicated physical or psychological clinical picture, aggression in dogs can be understood if we look at the context of the aggression and have sufficient information about their background. For this reason, it is helpful to break down the different types of dog aggression into the following categories:
- Displaced or redirected
You will see that some of these types of canine aggression are related, but it is helpful to make the distinction. By understanding why a dog is aggressive, we can better know what to do to prevent aggressive behavior.
1. Social aggression
This type of aggression most commonly occurs with an insecure dog towards physically or psychologically weaker dogs. It is a type of aggression most commonly seen in young dogs or those with an intermediate position within the social hierarchy.
Many people believe dogs will try to show dominance over their family group, including humans. However, it is an intraspecies-specific behavior. Even with other dogs, traits of dominance are often overstated. Social aggression in dogs is usually self-reinforcing. While we shouldn't generally equate canine behaviors to human behaviors, it may help to look at it in terms of ‘bullying’.
Although frowned upon in humans, this type of aggression has some utility in canine groups (as long as it is not excessive). It helps puppies to learn appeasement and submission, handling aggressive situations without resorting to physical harm. Generally this type of aggression presenting with behavioral problems and physical violence is rare. It is very rarely seen in truly dominant dogs in a social group.
2. Fear aggression
This occurs in a dog which is scared, but cannot escape a given situation. Aggression is a reaction response so that other dogs will back down and see them as too fearsome to attack. This type of aggression often occurs in dogs which are physically punished. Some people believe it is to do with dominance, but this is not the case and thinking so can lead to mismanagement by guardians.
The level of punishment a dog can endure without physical retaliation depends on the individual. Consequently, different dogs will respond differently to different punishments.
bear in mind that is a dog responds aggressively due to punishment, it is not due to dominance. It can be out of fear or even pain (the latter of which we discuss further below). Dogs which have not been properly socialized can exhibit fear aggression, often when another dog is around. This is because they feel insecure. Either they fear they will be physically harmed or something important will be taken away from them (food, toys, affection from guardian, etc.).
It is important to discern the difference between aggression between dogs and aggression towards people.
3. Possessive aggression
This type of aggression is one of the most common. Some trainers, behaviorists and veterinarians mistake it for dominance aggression, but it is not the same. Possessive aggression tends to occur in increments, first with warning signs such as growling, potentially developing to biting.
This can occur at times when the dog has a particular possession at the time of aggressiveness. This could be due to an object resource such as a toy or food aggression. It could also be the attention of their guardian. It can occur in both dominant and submissive dogs, but is less common in the former. The dog is simply trying to protect a resource or fighting to get a resource they don't yet have. They will do so without affecting hierarchy in a group.
One of the most common cases of wild dogs fighting over resources is when male dogs fight over a female in heat. Since hormones, to a large degree, drive behavior in these cases, even intermediate or submissive dogs participate in these fights.
4. Territorial aggression
In this type of dog aggression, dogs attack to oust a stranger from their territory. This is related to possessive aggression and it is a means to protect resources. It is only used against strangers, i.e. dogs, animals and persons who are not part of their family.
This type of aggression is less common in puppies than in adult dogs. It is more frequent in dogs of certain breeds, for example German Shepherd type dogs. This is due to artificial selection due to breeding encouraging territoriality in dogs.
5. Maternal aggression (protective)
Maternal aggression is very common in all mammals and has a strong instinctual basis. It occurs when a mother is protecting her puppies. When a mother dog fears her young will be hurt or killed, she may become aggressive to defend them against threats, whether real or perceived. It can also occur when a mother dog's stress threshold is exceeded, witnessed when she has to control her puppies when misbehaving.
The best way to treat this type of aggression is to affect their environment in such a way they that stressful situations are avoided. In this way, the mother and puppies will be calm and there will be no reason for aggression. We should also know to give the mother space and not try to overly-manipulate her puppies.
Since this type of dog aggression is instinctive and temporary, we should not try to modify it through training. The only times we should intervene is if the the is acting aggressively due to disease or a psychological deterioration which threatens herself or others. Our article on why a dog is aggressive after giving birth can help make the distinction.
6. Play aggression
Violent play can easily escalate into aggression. This occurs when a certain type of stress is added to a gameplay situation. Since aggression and increase the stress level, it creates a feedback loop of stress and aggression which can get out of hand.
Dogs with poor education and socialization can contribute to play aggression, especially since they often do not know how to respect boundaries and limitations. This type of aggression is relatively common and can be seen in other animal species. It is a type of aggression which is often channeled in dog training for protection and security dogs.
7. Displaced or redirected aggression
Displaced aggression occurs when the dog tries to attack something or someone furiously, but some physical barrier prevents them from doing so. Frustration then causes the dog to redirect this attack on other dogs, people or objects.
It is a relatively common type of aggression in dogs that live behind a fence and cannot get out. It also occurs frequently in dogs attached to a yard leash.
Less commonly, it is seen in dogs which are walked on a leash, but have not been properly socialized. When trying to attack or chase another dog, they are prevented from doing so by their guardian. In such cases, it is possible the dog will attack their guardian as a form of redirected aggression.
8. Pain aggression
Pain is another cause of many attacks which are seemingly idiopathic. A toothache, inflammation, hip dysplasia and many other ailments can lead the dog to act out aggressively, especially if the site of pain has been touched.
Such aggression is often the first symptom of pain a guardian will detect. This is because dogs are capable of hiding pain symptoms until they are very severe. In these cases, the underlying cause has often developed significantly or the trauma has worsened. If your dog suddenly becomes aggressive for seemingly no reason, we need to consider pain to be a cause. Take the dog to a veterinarian for a professional examination and diagnosis.
9. Physiological aggression (sexual, developmental, disease, etc.)
Physiological changes caused by disease, age or changes in the dog's environment can lead to aggression. The diseases which cause this type of aggression do not cause pain as they would fall under the previous category. For example, dogs which have lost their sight might be aggressive when they approach objects or something knocks into them. Especially if it prevents them from escaping.
Normal developmental processes can also lead to aggression. Dogs which become senior will have deteriorating bodies which can cause aggression due to discomfort and an inability to move as they have before. For this reason, it is always best to let senior dogs rest. When puppies start to mature sexually, they may exhibit aggression as a response to hormonal changes.
Furthermore, environmental changes can also lead to physiological disturbances. For example, if we do not give the dog enough food or an appropriate level of nutrition, they can become aggressive.
10. Frustration aggression
Frustration aggression occurs when a dog does not get something they want intensely. The stress caused by denial of their desires will increase frustration and loop back into aggression. This is another example of a feedback loop of aggression.
This type of aggression is common in many animals species, perhaps especially in humans. It is also very common in dogs. in fact, it is so common, it is often used as a training method for protection dogs. By withholding something the dog wants, they can manipulate their aggression for a different purpose. This can be dangerous since it will cause cumulative stress in the dog.
11. Predatory aggression
Predatory aggression is linked to the hunting instinct of dogs. It occurs when the movement of prey or something which appears to be prey triggers their predatory instinct and they go on the attack.
This aggression is usually directed towards small dogs, other small animals, vehicles and even pedestrians whom the dog thinks are a potential prey. The movement of these people, animals and objects causes the dog to think they are prey and excites the dog.
This type of aggression is also linked to the social aspect of dogs. This occurs when one or more dogs join the initial attack. For example, if a cyclist passes by a dog which attacks, a dog in the vicinity which did not pay any previous attention to the bike might join in the attack.
12. Hierarchical aggression
This aggression is intraspecific (it only occurs between dogs) and has to do with the stabilization of hierarchies within a group. It occurs when two dogs fight to establish a hierarchy. These fights are usually ritualistic, i.e. with a lot of noise, but little physical damage. It occurs between dogs that are not clear about their hierarchy with respect to others.
Thus, hierarchical aggression is usually initiated by young dogs or by newly acquainted adult dogs. It is very rare in groups in which hierarchies have already been established. In addition, dominant dogs (so-called ‘alpha dogs’) and dogs at the bottom of the hierarchy do not usually participate in these conflicts because their position is clear.
It is also known as dominance aggression, but this last name reflects ignorance about the behavior of dogs because hierarchies tend to be stabilized by behaviors of submission and not of dominance. This is why many modern researchers prefer to speak of hierarchical or status aggression.
In other words, the hierarchy in a group of dogs is usually determined because the submissive individuals perform submissive behaviors and not because the dominant ones appeal to physical domination. This is an evolutionarily stable strategy, common in several species, that prevents predatory social animals from killing each other to establish hierarchies.
To understand more, take a look at our article on why a dog is aggressive to other dogs.
If you want to read similar articles to 12 Types of Dog Aggression, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.