Why is My Dog Suddenly Aggressive Towards Me?

Why is My Dog Suddenly Aggressive Towards Me?

According to the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), up to 6.5 million animals are abandoned every year in the USA alone. One of the main reasons for abandonment is the aggressiveness these animals can develop either towards people, animals or other dogs.

Many people with dogs as pets may have experienced a seemingly unwarranted attack, even if it did not result in a dramatic situation. Have you ever held a dog by the collar to restrain them and they have snapped at you? Was your dog playing quietly in the park and then launched at another dog for not reason? If so, this AnimalWised article tries to answer why is my dog suddenly aggressive towards me? In doing so, we can try to stop it from happening again in the future.

Aggression in dogs

Aggression can be exhibited through a wide variety of behaviors and for several reasons. We can observe two main types of aggression; offensive and defensive aggression. The risk factors of canine aggression include those which hurt the dog, the unpredictability of an attack, the stimuli to which the dog reacts, the triggers and circumstances which provoke the animal.

In general, offensive aggressions are those we need to correct the most. This is because some defensive aggressions are warranted if the dog is likely to be hurt. The expression of offensive aggression is controlled by the part of the brain which regulates emotions, memory, hunger and sexual instincts. Such aggression is influenced by the perception of the dog's environment via smell, hearing, sight, etc. It is also greatly influenced by the socialization of the dog, particularly in their younger years as well as the experiences they have throughout their life.

Defensive aggression is believed to be controlled by a different part of the brain. They also control the escape instinct, fear defense and biting. To know more, we have this article on understanding dog aggression.

Genetic basis of aggressiveness in dogs

Many studies show that there is a genetic basis for aggressiveness in dogs and that each breed has the potentiality to be aggressive[1]. This means the gene is not only present in those considered ‘potentially dangerous’ dogs.

A recent study of Golden Retrievers showed that in 80% of cases, the aggressiveness is hereditary. Another study in Cocker Spaniels has shown a genetic influence on aggression according to the color of their coat. In English Springer Spaniels aggression is associated with genes passed down by the male during breeding.

Currently, there is no reliable test to measure aggression. The best information comes from people who live with dogs and have witnessed aggressive situations in real life. However, even with genetic influence on aggression in dogs, their environment plays an even greater role. Adequate socialization of the dog is crucial to avoid aggression, especially from early stages of the dog's life.

Redirected aggression in dogs

Redirected aggression is when a dog in an aggressive state redirects their aggression towards one source to another. A dog which is barking at someone behind a door, can redirect their aggression toward an owner who tries to open said door. Redirected aggression problems are more likely to occur when there is human intervention in a dog's conflict. For example, a human intervening in two dogs fighting may experience aggression directed towards themselves.

However, every time a dog enters this state, it doesn't mean redirection will occur. This is, in party, due to the hierarchical structures of a dog's family. Sometimes a dog will display aggressive to one member they deem themselves to be higher in the pecking order, while they won't do it to another.

Defensive aggression can also be redirected. For example, a dog that is frightened by the presence of strangers or terrified by loud noises might attack family members closest to them. This redirection of aggression is simply venting the frustration caused by these situations.

Treating aggression in dogs

When faced with aggressive behaviors in a dog, it is imperative that you see a dog training specialist. This is so they can apply the safest and most effective method for each individual dog. It is also necessary to help show the human members of the family how they can best deal with these problems. While it is advised for you to help train your dog basic obedience techniques, reducing aggression is not as easy as getting a dog to give you their paw. If you don't train them effectively, it can have terrible consequences. Alto, it is advised you should take them to the vet and ensure there is no underlying pathology which might have a bearing on their sudden aggression.

Each case of canine aggression is unique and and the success of the treatment depends on diagnosis as well as the capacity and motivation of an owner. Modifying behavior is a useful tool for animals which provoke aggression responses. These modifiers can include counter-conditioning, positive reinforcement, habituation and desensitization.

It is also important to know the difference between an aggressive dog and one which is playing. Just because a dog growls while they are playing doesn't mean they are trying to attack you.

If you have experienced issues with your dog making displays of aggression, please share them in the comments below. Also include the useful courses of action taken to reduce this aggression.

If you want to read similar articles to Why is My Dog Suddenly Aggressive Towards Me?, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.


1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2898780/