Understanding Fear Aggression in Dogs

Tess Thompson

Dog aggression can have various causes. The various kinds of aggression observed in dogs are categorized based on what causes it – fear aggression, dominance aggression, territorial aggression or other issues. Aggressive dog behavior can be induced by fear. Fear is an emotion that we generally do not associate with dogs. However, it is a reality that some dogs can feel threatened or fearful due to certain specific objects, people, or actions. If someone (regardless of it being a human being or another animal) approaches a dog that is otherwise cringing in a corner with fear, the dog is likely to respond with aggression.

Such dog aggression can be understood in comparison with normal human behavior. Consider this - if you find yourself in a fearful condition and someone is approaching you without clarifying his intention, you are most likely to hit back in defense. A dog cannot understand human language. In a fearful condition, the dog is likely to misunderstand your gestures or body language. This can result in seemingly non-instigated aggression. While most dogs try to attack the source of fear, some resort to try to escape or show abnormal behaviors like increased fearful activity.

Dogs have evolved and learned to adapt to life in a family. However, they do have emotions such as fear and anger. Loud noises, a flying plane, firecrackers, bearded humans, or any strange object can induce fear in a dog. Fear-induced dog aggression commonly manifests when a dog is in an inextricable situation. It may also occur when a dog owner gives severe punishments to the pet, a prior fearful experience, or unpredictable behavior by children in the family.

Maternal aggression and territorial aggression also form a part of fear aggression in dogs. A bitch, like a human mother, wants to protect her offspring. The only manner in which a bitch can protect her children is by being aggressive. It is important to understand that the fear emanates from inherent fear of harm.

Territorial aggression is different from fear aggression, and occurs due to a dog’s natural tendency to protect his home ground. It is more related to dominance aggression. However, all dogs are not driven by this trait. Some poorly trained dogs may behave properly with other dogs when they are not in the vicinity of their own home. However, the same dog may resort to aggression towards the same dogs if they approach their home. Such aggression is a manifestation of the fear that the dog has in relation to his domain. Also, such aggression may surface only when the dog is on ‘home ground’.

To understand fearful aggression, you should first understand the key indications of fearful aggression, including:

  • A lowered head
  • Tucked tail
  • Flattened ears
  • Panting
  • Salivating
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Attempts to escape

It is advisable that you do not expose your dog to known fearful stimulus. This runs the danger of more extreme forms of dog aggression like dog biting. At the same time, ignoring fearful behavior is not the right thing to do. Consistent exposure to fear can trigger aggressive behavior in dogs. Attempts should be made to remove the fear factor. Desensitizing your dog towards the object or person who causes fear is another technique that can be used.

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