A Dog Parent Learns About the Signs of Dog Aggression

Sometimes we walk our dogs on the Centennial Trail.  Rodrigo and Blue love seeing people, especially the cyclists and joggers and cry and bark when they go by us; and I’m ashamed to say that sometimes they lunge at people too – there is a 10 feet distance and they’re on leashes, but to someone who isn’t used to dogs, it’s got to be disconcerting.

Sydney, on the other hand, just wants to introduce herself to everyone and we’re teaching her that she can’t just go up to every stranger and expect attention; by the way, she’s off leash, because she walks besides us with the exception of when something fascinating captures her nose.

Training requires consistency, confidence, and we’re getting exercise.  Because our dogs aren’t great on the leash, we go out on the Trail at first light (right after dawn) and we walk for a mile or two and come across very few people.  When we do make people nervous, I want to shout “My dogs aren’t aggressive, they’re just having fun!!!”  But I get that they don’t want to take a chance.

So I decided to learn more about the signs of dog aggression and dog trainers from the BarkZone in Hillsboro, Oregon, Eric Simpson and Roxanne McCredie, shared the following great information that taught me about dog aggression…

Here are some things that can create an aggressive dog:

  • Lack of proper socialization
  • Excessive physical punishment
  • An attack or scare from another aggressive dog
  • Isolation from human contact
  • Frequent teasing, taunting, or other harassment from children or adults
  • Aggravation from strangers or other passersby

Types of dog aggression are:

  • Fear or defensive aggression – caused by the dog being fearful of something, in pain, feels threatened or punished
  • Dominant aggression – demands attention, exerts their will, possessive, does not obey commands
  • Territorial aggression – aggressive when someone comes to your home or becomes aggressive when someone walks by you while your dog is on leash
  • Sex-specific aggression – either aggressive towards male dogs or just female dogs
  • Predatory aggression – harasses or attacks dogs smaller than them
  • Parental aggression – nursing moms or when with pups

Signs and symptoms of dog aggression and a dog that is becoming aggressive:

What I find interesting about this list is that our dogs do many of these without being aggressive, but now I see how their behavior can be seen as aggression by others who don’t know them.

  • Growling
  • Curling lips
  • Lunging – our dogs do this when they get over excited and are on the leash
  • Blocking your path – Sydney does this with joggers and cyclists to say “hello”
  • Barking aggressively – I call it “barking excessively” and our dogs do this when they see joggers, cyclists, and other dogs
  • Snarling
  • Biting – doesn’t have to break the skin
  • Mounting people
  • Snapping
  • Over-protective of things
I’ve found that walking them more often cuts down on their “aggressive-like” behavior – tired dogs are better behaved dogs.

An Aggressive Dog’s Posture:

Aggressive attack:

  • hackles up
  • tail stiff and raised
  • ears erect and tilted forward
  • eyes staring
  • lips curled
  • teeth bared, snarling
  • charging and weight forward

Defensive dog aggression:

  • hackles up
  • ears back, pupils dilated
  • tail down and tensed
  • posture mildly crouched, weight over rear legs
  • muzzle tense, wrinkled and snarling, teeth exposed
Our dogs get their hackles up when they get excited and when they see dogs at the dog park.  I used to think this was a sign of dog aggression, but soon learned that it’s important to look at all of their signals, not just one.

20 Comments

  1. First, thanks for the Twitter chat last night – it was great – learned a LOT! SlimDoggy can appear aggressive too, first just his size can be intimidating but he can be a lunger too. But what is odd, he really isn’t interested in other dogs – he’d just as soon ignore them and go on his way, but I’ve found the more I try to prevent him from approaching, the more he wants to lunge. So, of course it’s my behavior that’s creating the unwanted behavior in him. I know this and have resolved to get him into some more advanced socialization exercises.
    SlimDoggy recently published..Wordless WednesdayMy Profile
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    • I completely relate to that; I’ve had to learn to refocus my energy to keep this from happening, because our dogs feed off our energy. When I see a dog running towards us, I take a deep breath and think “what a happy dog!” because if I allow my annoyance that someone’s dog is running at us at high speed, our dogs pick up on that, and it all goes down hill from there. Yuck!
      Kimberly recently published..5 Common Foods that Can Poison your Dog #poisonpreventionawarenessMy Profile
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      • Hi I’m reading your blog for the first time and that comment has really struck a chord – I’ve noticed it as well. I’ve also become very good at making a quick detour if I see another dog heading our way aggressively!

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  2. Great list there Kimberly! I think it’s important to look at ALL the signs just not one or two of them. I also think any dog can become aggressive for any reason without ever showing any signs, just like people :) Interesting read!
    Bren (Pibbles & Me) recently published..Almost, Wordless Wednesday: PoseMy Profile
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    • I have an amazingly non-aggressive pug. While he plays with our new cat, he generally lets her be the chaser. So, I’d definitely be surprised if he ever “snapped.”

      While I think my favorite breed is probably generally that way, I did have one get really aggressive when my cat at the time got too close to her food. Never get between a pug and their food!

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  3. Oh, how I’ve been there. It’s one thing to have an aggressive dog (which I have had), it’s another to have one that people perceive as aggressive. The times I’ve called out idiotically, “He’s friendly!” when Leo’s gotten away from me. Sigh, they should make dog psychology a required class in high schools.
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  4. It’s always a hoot to me equally when people are telling me their dog doesn’t have aggression problems as its hackles are up, ears back, tail stiff, and is growling!

    “he’s just a little uncomfortable, he’ll be fine”

    lol….yeahhhhh….surrrrrre
    KD Mathews recently published..The morons in Maryland………My Profile
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    • LOL

      My favorite is a woman who kept telling me her dog is friendly as Rodrigo’s hackles were up, teeth baring, and his body is tense. I’m using all my strength to keep him with me and her dog is approaching and I’m asking her to grab her dog. “he’s friendly, he just wants to play.” Plus her toddler was right there too! WHY BRING A TODDLER TO THE DOG PARK!!!

      I say “my dog is pissed” just as Rodrigo gets ready to lunge. Her dog had been chasing (aggressively) our puppy from the moment we arrived and Rodrigo was PISSED!

      Her husband apologized to me and I quickly got out of there. That was one of the last times I went to the dog park.
      Kimberly recently published..How to Have Fun When Attending Dog Friendly Fairs and FestivalsMy Profile
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  5. Great advice, Kimberly, as usual! It can be so scary when we are faced with aggressive dogs, or even dogs that seem aggressive. Have you heard of The Yellow Dog Project? The Yellow Dog Project was created to bring awareness to the general public about dogs who need space while training, recovering from surgery, or being
    rehabilitated.http://theyellowdogproject.com/The_Yellow_Dog_Project/Home.html
    Deena O’Daniel recently published..How Can I Stop My Dog Barking?My Profile
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    • Yes – I was looking for a yellow bandanna for our leashes, but I think I’m going to have to go with fabric – I love the idea and plan to share it at summer festivals – I’m going to buy bandannas (I will find them) to sell to dog parents.
      Kimberly recently published..Being Neighbours-ly | New Kid on the Block, Adding a Third DogMy Profile
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  6. Just found your site through Twitter – love it!

    Thanks for the free pdfs about blogging – very nice.

    I had a dog a long time ago that was dog aggressive. His tail would be straight up and stiff, but go side to side a little. Some people thought he was wagging his tail and wanted to bring their dogs over to play….I would have to say “No – that is not a good idea”!

    Good report.

    Mary
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    • Thanks for stopping by, Mary – that’s awesome that you recognized your dog’s signals. It took some time for me to understand all of our dogs – too much was happening at the same time. Now I know and we no longer go to the dog park – LOL.
      Kimberly recently published..Being Neighbours-ly | New Kid on the Block, Adding a Third DogMy Profile
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  7. This is great information. The signs aren’t always so obvious.
    I was wondering if you’ve (or anyone else here) has ever seen a dog get into a stance where s/he looks like a werewolf? I know that sounds weird but I’ll try to explain the posture.

    It’s a large Shepherd mix I see do this and he’s not my dog. I walk him for someone.

    When I’m in the kitchen, preparing his meal or even just getting his treats…and he knows what I’m doing or is expecting it from conditioning, he stands in the adjoining dining room with his head down but facing forward intently watching me. His weight seems to be evenly distributed to all fours.

    There are no other signs of aggression and although I know wagging his tail isn’t necessarily a sign of non-aggression, he will wag if I say his name while he’s like this. It’s like he’s studying me. I’ll take quick glances in his direction but I don’t stare at him when he’s doing this. No need to take chances. ;)

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  8. This should be mandatory study for all dog owners. I have roommates whose dogs are never walked, cooped up in the house all day, and never play with other dogs. I walk them when I can, but they’re not mine and I refuse to get roped into taking care of dogs (it’s been a pattern in my life). All three dogs, two in particular, have major barking aggression issues. They bark at weather that changes abruptly. Passersby in the street. The very sound of school buses. The list goes on. I’m this close to anti-barking collars. Anybody have experience with them?

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    • That is so frustrating and it can be turned around so easily if the dogs are put on a schedule. Rodrigo and Blue bark at joggers and cyclists so we started walking them nearly every day to train them out of the pattern. They weren’t being aggressive, but the cyclists/joggers don’t know that. Before recommending a bark collar, I’d recommend a dog trainer, but it doesn’t sound like that’s an option if your roommates don’t have the time to walk the dogs. There are bark collars that mist a scent on the dog when they start barking, those are more humane than the electric shock ones, which can cause a lot of pain and distress for the dogs. I know a trainer who worked with a dog who had a bark collar and it would shock him whenever the neighbor entered their garage – someone the garage door opener was activating it. So sad. The dog developed horrible behavior issues and the family almost put him down, but decided (thank God) to get a trainer instead. So sad.
      Kimberly recently published..50 Things I Wish I Knew About Dog Care When We Adopted Our DogsMy Profile
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