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How to Determine if Your Dog is Aggressive

Updated on June 29, 2013
Signs of aggressive dogs, frances marie,
Signs of aggressive dogs, frances marie,

Admitting you own an aggressive dog is often as challenging as treating the aggression in the first place. Indeed, many owners have a difficulty admitting their dog has become aggressive and often will make up excuses such as ''he will outgrow it'' or ''it will get better''. The bad news is that, more often then not, the dog will get worse if not treated, and dogs do not appear to have a tendency to grow out of it without professional intervention. It also must be considered that some owners are also not willing to invest time and money on solving their dog's aggression issues.

There are several signs a dog has aggressive issues and some are quite evident while others may be a bit subtle. Most people can easily detect an aggressive dog from many feet away as the accompanying symptoms are pretty straightforward. However, as already mentioned there may be some quite subtle signs of impending aggression before they upgrade to a full blown attack.

How to Determine if your Dog has Aggression Issues

A good place to start is to take a look at the dog's body language. Dogs mainly use their body to communicate their state of mind and aggression can be expressed with a variety of body cues accompanied by verbal communication. Following are some of the most common signs suggesting aggression in dogs:

Raised Hackles

Not everybody knows what and where a dog's hackles are. A dog's hackles basically consist of the hairs found along the dog's backbone, exactly from the neck up to the tail. The hair at this site has a special piloerection function, in other words, it is capable of raising up as seen in cats, under certain circumstances. Aggressive or fearful dogs may raise their hackles in an attempt to appear larger.

• Growling

Growling is a low, guttural sound emitted by dogs. It often is an aggressive or aggressive fearful dog's way of saying ''stay away or stop this or I will bite''. As intimidating as a growl is, however it plays an important role in identifying aggression before it is too late. A dog that growls is able to communicate to the person or other dog to be very cautious and may help avoid a bite. A growl should not generally be punished as the punished dog may learn to avoid the growl and go to the next step: snarling and biting.

• Snarling

A snarl takes place when the dog lifts its upper lip to show its pearly whites. This is the canine equivalent of a human pointing a gun or a knife. The dog is basically showing its best weapon to alert you that he may use it. This action may still give you a chance of not getting bit if you react in the right way, however it should always be taken seriously.

• Snapping

A snap is an open air bite, in other words the dog appears to bite the air. The intent is to really bite, but this action is mostly performed by dogs who really did not want '' to connect''. This should not be underestimated as well, as if the stress increases, the dog will not think twice to make contact and bite.

  • Biting

Biting is the most famous form of aggression. This is the ''wake up call'' for most dog owners where they often start taking seriously their dog's behavioral problems. At this stage, the dog needs immediate attention by a dog behaviorist, even though he or she should ideally, have been called to deal with the ordeal earlier.

These are the most evident signs of stress and aggression in dogs. There are however dog signs of stress that can be seen far before the aggression takes place such as the dog licking its lips, yawning or trying to avoid a situation. Knowing your dog's body language well may help you recognize the early signs of aggression in your dog.

There are many reasons why dogs may act aggressively. Some common ones are pain, fear and anxiety. Dogs therefore may exhibit aggression in different ways, they may appear fearful and anxious, or on the other hand, they may look confident and secure. There is also a wide range of types of aggression: pain aggression, maternal aggression, dominant aggression, territorial aggression and possessive aggression are just a few types.

As seen, a dog demonstrates its aggressive tendencies in a variety of ways. It does not help being in denial and ignoring the problem. If your dog has never bitten before but shows signs of aggression, it is time to seek a professional dog behaviorist before the dog bites. It is unfortunate the often professional help is only sought after an unfortunate incident, when the problem is much more difficult to deal with.


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    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      7 years ago


      First of all, yes, you don't want to scold the growl as this is a form of ritualized aggression and if you get rid of the growl, the next step is a bite, and you don't want to deal with a dog who bites without growling! For more on this read my hub:

      The behavior towards the bugs and kleenex sounds like resource guarding, which isn't necessarily always directed at food, bones and toys. it can be directed to anything the dog fears you will take away. It's mostly a trust issue, here you can find some helpful tips that are for food but can be applied to anything the dog guards:

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      that's great if one has the money for a dog behaviorist.i don' jack russell has an aggresion problem when i attempt to swat a's his apparently and i let him have it,as he bares his teeth to let me know it's his..he got kleenex out of the trash tonight and when i tried to take it from him,he bared his teeth to let me know it was his .i should've left it at that..i unfortunately 'scolded' him and got too close to him when doing so, and he came toward me,sat beneath me and bared his teeth and i was totally in fear of moving.i felt in fear of my life at that point as he could not have gotten any closer to me without being on me.his leash was within grabbing distance and so i slowly reached out and took hold of it and he immediately layed down in submission for me to connect it..i don't understand his behavior at all.he's 5 years old and me being disabled we have always slept together,eaten together and played together with no problems.he lets me take his rawhide bone from him and in fact has never had a problem with my being close to him when he fact quite the opposite.he tries to share his rawhide bone by crawling in my lap and shoving it in my mouth.he's equally as generous with his doggy food.i don't share it with him however but i do pretend to..tonight is the first time i ever felt my life was threatened by him/. and now he's laying in my lap with his his nose buried in my armpit..that's probably what put him to sleep actually..seriously though i probably shouldn't have scolded him once he growled at me as i don't generally when it's in regard to the bug thing and i'm always alright..he never pushes his behavior any further as long as i let him have his bug/.but why did it all end immediately once i had his leash in my hand and what kind of problems will arise in the future? i feel that as long as i don't scold him and just let him have his 'possession' i'll be okay as tonight if i'd done so this wouldn't have occurred. as a person that's living solely on disability i won't ever have money to spend on a dog behaviorist ..hell i can hardly afford the dog food i purchase. (i don't buy the commercial food found at grocery stores.he eats life's abundance).

    • profile image

      Ms Bob 

      10 years ago

      Whitney05 - once again, thank you for your pearls of wisdom - NOT!

      Please note, this writer is happy to leave on comments, such as yours, which may question her writing - Unlike you, who deletes anything that questions you or your limited view point and exposes you as the fake that you are... just a college student with an opinion on everthing and experience of nothing.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Our last dog was quite docile but we have had problems in the past. I think I may have been unaware of some tendencies the dogs had.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      10 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Thank you for your advise on aggressive dogs, somehow I have just been so lucky and only had my chow growl at me when she was in pain with cancer at the end of her life and I tried to move her. My sweet baby, I will always love you to all our pets that have passed through our life. Bless you all thank you for your fine hub...

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      10 years ago

      I wrote this hub after a client came to me saying '' my dog growls at me often, but I think this is not something I should worry about since I never got bit, right?''. This hub is meant to be an eye opener to all those dog owners in denial thinking that their dog will get better on their own. It is amazing the amount of dog owners that are unable to recognize obvious signs of aggression in their dogs or that provide justifications. Then they come crying when they must put their dog to sleep.

    • Whitney05 profile image


      10 years ago from Georgia

      I wouldn't necessarily say that these are signs that a dog is aggressive, but more or less signs of a potential attack or problem. Aggressive dogs don't just walk around with their fur raised or jaws snarled.


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