Most dogs out in the world exhibit some form of aggression. There are many types, but one of the most common is called fear aggression.
This is when a dog lashes out from fear and anxiety rather than true aggression. Canine fear and aggression tend to go hand in hand and often ends with very sad and preventable results.
This article discusses what fear aggression in dogs is like and how to fix fear based aggression.
What is Fear Aggression in Dogs?
Fear related aggression is one of the most common dog aggressions out there. When a dog has some sort of aggression, it is typically caused by a memory of fear.
When a dog is displaying a form of aggression, it is not because it is a mean or violent dog; it will usually be because it is fearful or very anxious about something making it lash out.
A fear aggression can occur from eight months of age to eighteen months.
Difference Between Aggression and Fear Aggression
Here I will explain the difference between regular dog aggression and fear aggression.
The difference between true aggression and fear are easy to tell to the trained eye through a dog’s body language.
Body language is the only way a dog can thoroughly communicate his thoughts and emotions to humans, but so few humans, especially owners and pet professionals, lack the ability to tell the difference.
A fearful dog will hold itself lower to the ground; its head may be slightly dipped with eyes either averted or slightly aimed in your direction. The tail will be lower or more straight out, but the entire body will be stiff.
It’s not uncommon for the dog to be trembling uncontrollably. Your dog may growl, show his teeth, bark, and even lunge towards you. Your dog is trying to tell you that what is happening is scaring it, and it feels like it needs to protect itself.
True aggression, an extremely rare thing seen in domestic dogs, and it will look different. The dog may bark, growl and lunge just like the fearful dog, but there are differences.
Instead of the dog lowering itself to the ground, it will stand up straighter. The tail will stand straight up and may slightly wag. Your dog will look like it’s standing on its toes instead of the flats of its paws and will lean forward slightly. This is your dog’s way of telling you it’s the boss, and you better move away now.
These behaviors can be corrected with behavioral modification, desensitization, counter conditioning, and simple trust building. Any breed, any size, and any age of dog can exhibit either one of these behaviors. Most often, it is due to anxiety or stress from your dog.
Symptoms of Dog Fear Aggression
Here are some common dog fear aggression symptoms to look out for:
- Cowering near ground or underneath you
- Head held lower
- Tail under its body
- Trembling of the dog
- Escaping cage or yard
Causes of Fear Aggression
There are many reasons why your dog has fear aggression, but the few main ones are:
If your dog has had many traumatic situations as a puppy, such as abuse, trauma, etc., then it can develop fear aggression to an owner.
This may not be your doing, especially if you bought a dog from a rescue with this condition. The dog could have developed it during the puppy stage of its life.
If you do own a puppy and see signs of fear, aggression, or anxiety it is very important that you start early socialization. Show your puppy new things and experiences at a young age, so it doesn’t become fearful.
Dogs that have grown up in a crowded shelter or even puppy mill can have environmental anxiety. When a dog is around a lot of other dogs or in a shelter where it is loud and chaotic, it can lead to anxiety or even dog PTSD disorders.
Some dog breeds are just naturally more aggressive than others. While some may have different types of aggression, there are still some that naturally get fear aggression.
Small toy breed dogs do genetically get a lot of anxiety and fear naturally. I know of a small dog being very afraid of children. It hides and runs away when it sees children and cowers when children are just trying to pet and love on it.
One way to combat this is by training your dog from a young age and teaching your dog it is okay to be around new experiences such as children petting you or seeing other dogs.
Some dogs have a medical disorder or even just get sick, and it changes their behavior to act aggressively or in fear. Especially if your dog has lost its hearing or even sight over time, it can turn your dog into a fearful one.
If a dog loses its sight, it can snap or even nip at you if it can’t tell who you are or who is messing with it. This is very common in older dogs. This can even happen when a dog is in pain or is sick with some sort of illness.
How to Fix Fear Based Aggression in Dogs
Eventually, you will be able to identify what makes your dog fearful and anxious and learn to avoid those situations that trigger your dog.
There is no complete cure for aggression in dogs, but you can be trained to calm your dog down using different methods. Training techniques will help you know how to handle your dog.
- Use a dog trainer specializing in behavioral therapy that can see your dog and work with it to overcome that fear.
- Sometimes dogs even need to be put onto medication to calm down your dog.
- Socialization is extremely important for dogs, and that teaches your dog not to be fearful.
- Slowly show your dog things that frightens it and give lots of positive reinforcement that way, your dog won’t be scared of those things anymore.
- Make your environment in your home a safe one for your dog. A fearful dog needs a safe space that it can go to feel comfortable and safe such as a crate.
- Praise your dog with treats and toys when it exhibits good social behavior, such as coming out of a crate or not acting scared in anxious situations.
- Play with your dog more to build confidence.
If safety is ever a concern, such as a dog with a bite history or fear of biting occurring, don’t try to correct your dog on your own.
Using harsh methods such as yelling, hitting, punishing, crating, or any other method will only make the entire situation worse.
An aggressive or fear aggressive dog needs gentle training with trust building so that they will no longer feel they need to defend themselves.
Keep at It!
Don’t give up! No dog is beyond help; they just need the right help. Finding an adequate professional to help you with your aggressive or fear aggressive dog is easier than you may think.
Using the Internet, you can search for trainers and counselors near your home. Keep in mind you need a trainer that uses only positive reinforcement and will not hurt or push your dog beyond Its threshold.
Armed with a great trainer, a positive attitude, and love for your dog, you will help it become a better pet!
A dog with fear aggression can be a very challenging, but it is important to know that you can help your dog through this difficult time. Many people who are unsure how to handle a dog like this end up giving it to a shelter and that honestly puts the dog in a worse position with even more fear aggression.
I hope you found this article helpful in identifying if your dog has fear aggression and how to deal with dog fear aggression.
Do you have a dog that has this condition? Tell us your story in the comments below.
3 thoughts on “Dealing with Fear Aggression in Dogs”
My rescue is fearful of men. He’s fine around other dogs. He is hesitant with new females a first but is fine after a minute or two. He is like Velcro to me! Very high energy dog.
I just rescued a Doberman greyhound mix who is exhibiting extreme fear aggression. It’s like a switch and happens suddenly and over silly things. She sounds vicious and lunges. She’s bit me a couple times, but they are clearly warning bites (no broken skin, but a bruised finger nail). We’ve had her for about 5-6 weeks. She recently started regressing and showing the above written behaviors. It is obviously fear and it seems like she cannot help it. It’s hard to be in the house doing anything when she is like that because she viciously barks at any tiny noise. Do I just continue the positive reinforcement, more gentle approach? Will this get better? The other night she was sleeping in the bed and in the middle of the night started barking and lounging at me. What do I do?
Thank you for reading our article. I contacted Dr. Javed and asked about CBD/Hemp treats for your dog, as this is showing some promise in studies. Here is his reply: “Actually, more history will be required for an accurate diagnosis, but after reading all the information about the dog I think it is ok to provide CBD because it will definitely help the dog calm down. But I will recommend starting with a very low dose, so it doesn’t have a negative impact on the health of the dog. After a while, if no negative effects are observed dose can be increased slightly. Along with that, the permanent solution for this condition of the dog is by consulting a professional dog trainer. Because professional dog trainers really know what to do with these kinds of dogs and how to make their behavior more calm with the right set of training methods.”
–So you should always contact your vet before starting any new medications or supplements, as they might have additional resources. However, in the meantime, CBD might be something to look into. Also, Getting the dog into a professional trainer will be the long term solution.