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Signs of Dog Aggression: Warning Signs Never to Ignore

Updated on May 31, 2012
It's always fun and games at first
It's always fun and games at first

When your dog interacts with other dogs in public, especially at dog parks, what can appear as “fun and playing,” may actually lead to serious injury or the death of your dog. Signs of dog aggression toward other dogs exist in many forms, so the next time you are at the dog park, I hope you’ll keep these signs of dog aggression in mind:

Possible Signs of Dog Aggression

1. Control Devices. Before entering a dog park or public location, access the dogs present. If any dogs are wearing a control device, such as a harness with a handle on their back, a muzzle over their face or if they are secured by a leash (unless required), these could be signs of an aggressive dog. A harness with a handle is used by dog owners as a way to literally grab and pull the dog into their control. While a muzzle eliminates the chance of bites, the dog could still have an aggressive demeanor and I have noticed at some dog parks owners will leave a muzzle on their dog for awhile, and then decide it’s suddenly fine to take it off. If a dog is on a leash, this could mean a number of things: it’s required in the area, the dog is in training, the dog is aggressive, etc. But anytime you see a dog with a control device in a social setting when not required, be alert.

2. Dog Descriptions. If you talk to any other dog owners or hear them talking to others, listen to how they describe their dog. If you ever hear the following phrases or similar ones, consider leaving the dog park or location immediately:

My dog just likes to exert his dominance.

My dog is an Alpha male/female.

My dog doesn’t like little/big dogs.

My dog just nips.

My dog has been in a few fights, but the others dogs started it.

My dog doesn’t like dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered.

Although these phrases are possible signs of dog aggression, they do not always equate to an aggressive dog, but warning bells should go off.

3. Change in Behavior. Your dog shows you signs all the time when they are happy (rapid tail wagging, prancing, wiggling, etc), when they are scared (tail tucked under, cowering, ears down, shaking, etc) and when they feel aggressive/threatened (puffing hair known as hackles, ears pointed forward, tail up, legs stiff in a stance, etc). These are signs most dogs show, but this list is not inclusive. If your dog or other dogs show obvious and sudden changes in demeanor, it could be time to back away from the situation for reassessment. Dogs will always bark and growl at times when playing, but recognize obvious ques. For example, if a large dog approaches your smaller dog with a dominant stance with his tail up and ears up and your dog cowers and shakes, it may be best to remove your dog or if a dog is trying to mount your dog, it may seem harmless enough, but the dog is attempting to exert dominance, which can be dangerous. If your dog is constantly being singled out by one dog, even if it appears innocent, obsessive behavior can also be a sign of an aggressive dog. If you can’t tell what another dog’s demeanor is, you should be well aware of how to read your own dog’s behavior. This is your dog’s only way of telling you when something is possibly wrong.

4. Pack Mentality. If a group of dogs is chasing your dog, remove your dog from the park or location. Playfully chasing can lead to group aggression and your dog is the target. If your dog is a chaser, separate your dog from the pack.

Although not all dogs fitting these characteristics are aggressive dogs, a dog can be killed or seriously injured in a matter of seconds and it’s always better to be overly cautious and prepared than be naive and think nothing will happen to your dog. Remember, just because you know your dog is great, that doesn’t mean other dogs are great. It’s hard to believe, but people do knowingly take aggressive dogs to dog parks and other public places, so don’t let your dog be the next victim.

Victim of a dog attack
Victim of a dog attack


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    • Ask Ashley profile image

      Ask Ashley 5 years ago from California

      Thank you. I appreciate the feedback. :)

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      A great article and thanks for sharing.


    • Ask Ashley profile image

      Ask Ashley 5 years ago from California

      Hi Barbara. I was always hesitant as well, but started taking my dogs and they loved it, so I took them more. Of course, I wasn't aware of some of these signs of aggression until my dog was attacked. I've only been back to the dog park once since this incident, but dog parks can be a positive experience for dogs.

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Badder 5 years ago from USA

      Thanks for the advice. You mentioned a few things that I didn't know about spotting an agressive dog. I've been hesitant to take the our dogs to the dog park because of this type of problem. We live in an area where we have a large yard and areas to walk, so it isn't a necessity, but we've thought about going. Thanks for the advice.

    • Ask Ashley profile image

      Ask Ashley 5 years ago from California

      Thanks Angela. Another great tip! The bottom picture is my dog Bella.

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      This is great advice! Dogs trying to get to higher locations shows dominate behavior as well and can lead to bitting! The bottom picture looks like my little Anna Bell!

    • Ask Ashley profile image

      Ask Ashley 5 years ago from California

      You've spent time around wolves? You're much braver than me! Great tip for spotting that Alpha! Thanks.

    • Rolly A Chabot profile image

      Rolly A Chabot 5 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Hi again Ashley... great read. I have had some encounters over the years with aggressive dogs. The one thing I have heard is if you show fear you can easily become a target. Having spent time around wolves in the far north and watching the behaviour it was easy to pick out the Alpha male because of his agression. If he did not defend his position he would loose and submit.

      Hugs from Canada

    • Ask Ashley profile image

      Ask Ashley 5 years ago from California

      Thank you. I appreciate the feedback. In terms of body language, that's along the lines of what I meant to convey in #3. I just used different wording. Maybe I'll tweak the title for that one. :)

    • thom w conroy profile image

      thom w conroy 5 years ago

      Good Hub! Body language is another dead give away - especially when you can read your own dog's postures.