Defensive Aggression Behaviour in Dogs

Defensive Aggression Behaviour in Dogs

Defensive aggression is sometimes exhibited by dogs because they feel threatened and are worried about their physical wellbeing. Dogs with a history of abuse or other trauma may be prone to defensive aggression. The stress from the discomfort and pain of abuse tends to trigger this type of aggression. This is why these dogs need special attention in learning how to trust and behave in a non-aggressive manner.

What Causes Defensive Aggression?

Dogs that were owned in the past and abused by their previous owners may exhibit this type of aggression. Some dogs may be not have been properly socialized when they were younger, and this coupled with abusive treatment can make a dog develop an aggressive nature.

Some dogs may exhibit the defensive behaviour because their owners are not giving firm obedience training to them as well as correct the bad habits in time, which leads to the dog thinking of itself as boss over its master.

How to Handle the Defensive Aggression?

Dogs become defensive aggressive when they sense a threat in their environment. In order to prevent this type of aggression, the owner must assert dominance on their dogs and never allow them to think that it is in charge over the owners. This can be accomplished through obedience training, setting rules and boundaries, providing regular exercise and play time. Always ensure that the dog is healthy and have enough mental stimulation to keep the dog entertained with playing games and other activities.

Why Are Certain Breeds Prone to Defensive Aggression?

Breeds that are prone to defensive aggression often come from herding breeds usually are both territorial and have a high prey instinct. Some of these breeds include the Border Collie, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, or the Doberman.

What Are the Symptoms of Defensive Aggression?

The symptoms of defensive aggression include:

  • Growling and snapping at the owner.
  • Barking at the door when you leave home or barking at someone outside.
  • Definitively showing the teeth at the owner when he/she comes to give a warning call to the dog or to play with him/her.
  • Threatening the owner with its body posture.
  • The dog threatening to bite when it is getting hurt or whenever they feel provoked or disrespected by someone (In some situations dogs do bite as their last resort).
  • In some cases, the dog shows the aggressive behaviour towards any stranger that comes into the house as well as at other dogs.

Why Do Dogs Show Defensive Aggression?

Most dogs show defensive aggression as a way of establishing dominance in the household. Being dominant over other members of the household, especially owners, is a status that dogs often seek to demonstrate. When a dog feels threatened, they may show defensive aggression, In order to prevent the defensive behaviour, owners should establish dominance over their dog and not allow them to intimidate them or any other member of the family. Please note that dominance does not need to include violence.

Sometimes dogs tend to be defensive because they feel threatened or are anxious by something in their environment. This type of aggression can sometime be associated with medical conditions that make them feel pain, such as arthritis or cancer, so these dogs should be examined by a veterinarian for any signs of physical distress.

How Might Defensive Aggression Change as A Dog Grows Older?

The level of defensive aggression in dogs tends to stay the same during the dog’s life, even though it can change depending on how much exercise they are getting. If the dog is given enough exercise and mental stimulation, it can decrease. However, if your dog is left unsupervised all the time without any training or proper obedience commands then this aggression will increase.

Stress Can Also Cause Defensive Aggression in Dogs

Sometimes there are times when a dog goes through some major stress in its life such as being taken to the vet for an examination and needs to be handled carefully due to their anxiety in having their body touched by strangers.

How Will I Know That My Dog Is in Pain?

If your dog is showing defensive aggressive behaviour it is important to understand that this behaviour can often be a sign that our dog is suffering from pain or discomfort. A dog may become angry when in pain or if it feels threatened and this can lead to them showing aggressive behaviour towards others.

How is defensive Aggression Treated?

  • If your dog is exhibiting defensive aggression, then the first step that you should take is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to determine whether or not your dog is suffering from an injury or illness that may be causing pain. Once this has been diagnosed and treated, the dog behaviourist can advise on how to correct the behavioural problem in your dog. Your dog will need obedience training as well as counselling from a behaviourist in order to stop this type of aggression because it can lead to more serious issues.
  • The next step is to get your dog evaluated by a professional dog behaviourist who will recommend on the best methods to correct this type of problem. The dog behaviourist will conduct a thorough evaluation and recommendation for your dog that may include planned play sessions, positive reinforcement training, and environmental modification.
  • If your dog shows defensive aggression in the home, it is best to change or modify the environment to make it more comfortable for your dog. In some instances, a crate may be recommended because it provides a safe space for your dog that gives him a sense of security. In some instances, the dog behaviourist will recommend that you separate him from other animals and new people coming into the house until he learns how to behave better.
  • If your dog has a tendency to be jealous and possessive and shows aggressive behaviour towards other dogs and people, then you need to give him positive reinforcement training so that he will learn to accept the presence of other dogs around him.
  • If your dog is suffering from severe anxiety due to injury or illness, it may be best for you to consider getting it treated with some medications. Unfortunately, this can have side effects on them, so you need to consult with your veterinarian first and follow their recommendations.


Defensive aggression is a form of aggression that occurs when the dog feels threatened or disrespected by other people and animals in his environment. This type of aggressive behaviour can lead to aggression in another animal, human, or property damage. If the dog tends to get overly jealous and possessive from other dogs or humans i.e. will attack them without reason, then this may be a sign that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety disorder (similar to human separation anxiety).

If your dog has an injury and is showing signs of pain, then it will require veterinary care before the behaviourist can recommend on how to treat it effectively. An increase in pain will make the dog more aggressive to protect himself from pain. The dog behaviourist can recommend on how to correct this other aggression in your dog.

It is also significant that people understand that these dogs do not need to be treated with any form of physical punishment or harsh discipline. Your reprimands and punishments will only increase their anxiety and hurt their confidence as a pet.

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