The term aggression applied to dogs can mean many things. It is important to understand that aggression is a behavior and that behavior does not occur in a vacuum. Whenever a dog exhibits unwanted behavior there is sure to be a reason. It is also important to realize that aggressive behavior does not occur without warning.

There are a number of warnings to watch for. A low, sharp bark may be a warning. If your dog becomes very rigid and still and shows his teeth, or clicks his teeth together, it can mean that aggression is impending.

The best way to avoid aggression in dogs is to use common sense and provide good rearing, socializing and training. Regardless of whether you have started with your dog as a puppy or an adult, there are lots of things you can do to avoid and address aggressive behavior.

In this article we will identify the 11 common triggers of aggression in dogs and give some advice on how to watch for them and how to respond. Read on to learn more.

territorial aggression in dogs

1. Protecting Territory

It is natural for dogs to protect their territory. Although you do want your dog to alert you when strangers are present and to discourage trespassing by other animals, you want this done appropriately. A properly socialized dog will bark appropriately to let you know that something needs your attention. Be sure to praise your dog for alerting you and discourage him or her from being aggressive.

Your dog may also be territorial about you or about his or her own space. You can sometimes let your dog know that the person you are talking with or the people around you are not a threat to you by shaking hands with them and displaying friendliness yourself.

If your dog is territorial about his or her own space, to some extent you should respect this. Your dog should have a quiet, private space where he or she can get away from others and take a break if needed. It’s a good idea to set up an airline crate in a quiet corner with food and water close at hand that your dog can retreat to.

dog pack aggression

2. Protecting Members Of The Pack

In the wild, canines are very social animals who live in packs. They protect and defend their own. In a domestic setting, you and the rest of your family are pack members to your dog. Your dog may naturally aggress when he or she feels that one of you is threatened.

Your dog may also aggress against you or your family members if she has puppies. This is natural, but of course it should be discouraged.

You should give your dog the proper amount of space and respect to care for her babies. She will probably calm down after a day or two.

Sometimes a dog may feel threatened when new members are added to the family. This may be a baby or new spouse or any other new member of the household.

It’s important to let the dog see that the new family member belongs and is welcome. Remember that babies and toddlers should never be left alone with any dog.

doggy food aggression cartoon

3. Food Aggression

A dog that comes from an unknown background may have had some hungry times. This can cause food aggression, and it can be quite serious.

To avoid having food aggression develop in any dog, you should always feed your dog the same amount in the same place at the same time every day.

Your dog’s food dishes should be in an out-of-the-way place where he or she will not be disturbed while eating.

While it is ideal to have a foolproof dog that will not feel threatened if petted while eating, it’s smart to make sure that all members of the family understand that the dog should be left alone at feeding time. It’s also kinder to the dog to simply respect its space and allow it to eat.

If you have taken in a dog that has been starved in the past, consistent, ample, regular daily feedings will eventually help your dog feel more secure about food.

dog playing with a toy

4. Defending Belongings

Some types of dogs like to hide food, toys and other special belongings. This seems especially to be true of terrier type breeds.

This type of dog may aggress when he or she thinks that another dog or person is trying to get a coveted object. This can be especially distressing if your dog has hidden something and you are completely unaware of its whereabouts.

If your dog likes to hide special treasures and then defends them vigorously whenever anyone comes near, it’s smart to take note of favored-hiding places. You might also try correcting the behavior by gently moving hidden objects to an “approved” hiding place.

For example, you might place a special box or basket in the back of your dog’s airline crate or house and simply move these treasures to that place whenever you find them. It’s very important that no one ever bother the approved hiding place, though.

abused dog showing aggression

5. Defensive And Fear Aggression

Dogs that are afraid of being hurt may aggress because of fear. A dog that lacks confidence or one that has been abused in the past may attack out of fear. This type of dog may be afraid of many things that you might not think are frightening.

A dog that has low confidence will usually try to get away before it will attack; however, if a dog is backed into a corner literally or figuratively, he or she may aggress in self-defense.

A dog that lacks confidence that has been put in this position multiple times may aggress as the first course of action when frightened.

To avoid fear aggression, it’s very important that you know that your dog has this tendency. A dog that has been abused may very well have triggers that you’re unaware of. This is why it’s very important to treat any dog gently and consistently.

Put time and effort into socializing your dog and working with him or her to create good communication and obedience.

Good training will help your dog to be more confident and to know how to respond appropriately even in frightening situations.