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Aggression in Dogs: why & how to solve

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

Aggressive dogs seem pretty calm and balanced most of the time right?

Fight, flight, freeze or flirt

Dogs have four options in situations that they don't like: -

1. Fight - To bite, nip, dominate, bark, growl, lunge and become aggressive.

2. Flight - To run away from the situation.

3. Freeze - To freeze or submit to the situation. Dogs who choose this option often roll over and show their belly, or they just stand there shaking.

4. Flirt – To show appeasement gestures towards the other dog to tell them that they mean no harm. Such as licking the other dogs face.


When dogs choose to fight, they often learn that the end result from their aggressive outburst is that the stimulus that they don't like goes away. This is commonly known as 'learned aggression', meaning a dog has learned that aggression gets them what they want. The good news is that because dogs are always learning, they can also learn not to be aggressive. This is where a Dog Behaviourist comes in.

A classic example of this is a dog who isn't well socialised with children. A child comes in and pulls their ear or tail and their instinctual reaction is to growl, bark, snap, bite or lunge at the child (these are all forms of aggression). The child goes away, and they learn that these behaviours gets children to get out of their space.

#dawgfactday - It's thought that dogs think that children are a completely different species to adults. The reason for this is because they move faster, have higher pitched voices and smell different to adults.


When dogs choose flight they simply learn that by running away, they get away from the stimulus that they don't like. The problem with this is when the option of running is taken away from them; such as a dog being on a lead or if a dog is backed into a corner they can't escape from.

In these situations they only have fight, freeze or flirt left. Many dogs will choose fight rather than submission or flirt in this situation. This is known as 'fear aggression'.

A classic example of this is when dogs are on their lead. Now we've taken flight away from them, remember that they only have the options of fight, freeze or flirt left. Two dog owners walk directly towards each other, holding their dog on a lead, the lead is tense and not slack. In the dogs world, they are at their panic stations and a fight is just about to kick off! They can either become submissive or fight. Many dogs choose fight as they snap, growl, bark, bite and become aggressive.


When dogs choose freeze, this means that they either submit or shake in fear. When a dog rolls over on their back and shows their belly, they're risking all their vital organs being ripped open. This is not a decision that any human or animal makes lightly. If a dog attacks a dog who's showing them their vital organs, we've got a seriously aggressive dog that needs to be dealt with from a dog behaviour point of view. This is not normal behaviour.


When dogs choose flirt and the other dog is aggressive back, again the aggressive dog is not displaying normal behaviours and needs to be dealt with from a behavioural point of view.

Why does aggression occur, and how do we solve it?

Dog behaviourists and dog trainers all over the world have many different theories about what to call different types of dog aggression, what causes it and how to re-condition the un-wanted behaviours.

All of the following 10 forms of dog aggression exist and all of them need to be dealt with in a different way in terms of a behaviour modification plan: -

1. Dominance Aggression or Possessive Aggression - Fairly common in the dog aggression world. An example would be a dog biting another dog if they try to take their ball from them. Although this form of aggression isn't fixed overnight, with the right behaviour modification plan in place we can get the desired results.

2. Fear Aggression - Fairly common in the dog aggression world. We ask dogs to live in an un-natural world compared to their wild form, and sometimes this means that they don't like it. This is where fear aggression comes in. Most of the time this can be avoided if you know how to avoid it. Some dog trainers and dog behaviourists believe the dogs only become aggressive through fear and not dominance.

3. Learned Aggression - Fairly common in the dog aggression world. Most of the time just by chance a dog learns that being aggressive gets things that they don't like to go away. This can start as a growl and quite easily progress to a full blown #dogattack.

4. Predatory Aggression often known as Prey Drive - Very common in specific breeds because they've been specifically bred to have this natural instinct on high-alert. Wolves are only successful in every 10-15 hunts, so evolution has made the 'chase' part of the hunt very rewarding for many animals, including dogs. The 'chase' behaviour is so rewarding for some dogs that even if they did catch the Squirrel, they probably wouldn't know what to do with it. Through breeding the end part of this sequence has been disrupted.

Wolves = Sight - Chase - Catch - Kill - Dissect - Eat

Dogs = Sight - Chase - Catch (most dogs stop here) - Kill - Soft bite and return the animal to their owner.

Although this is one of the hardest un-wanted behaviours to recondition with dogs who have a strong prey drive, we can get great results with the right behaviour modification plan in place.

5. Male on Male Aggression - This is hormonal and castration alone can fix 60% of these cases. However, it's closely linked with dominance aggression so if it continues we can work with these dogs to recondition this behaviour.

6. Protective Dog Aggression or Territorial Aggression- This is very common and such examples include barking at or biting the postman, becoming aggressive when a human or dog gets near their food. This un-wanted behaviour can be reconditioned with the right behaviour modification plan in place.

7. Abnormal Dog Aggression or Idiopathic aggression - This form of aggression is usually unpredictable and the cause is unknown. Always consult a professional when dealing with this form of aggression.

8. Pain Induced Aggression - Anything from a cracked tooth, thorn in their paw, or a broken leg could cause a dog to become aggressive towards someone who comes close. Please approach with caution.

9. Red Zone Aggression or Red Mist Aggression - This is basically a form of rage that gets to a point where nothing else matters and they just want to destroy whatever is winding them up, be another dog or a human. So, it's not like dominance aggression where they want to become top dog. With this form of aggression, they want to kill, yes kill!

It's a bit like really bad road rage in humans. One-minute Frank is ok and then the next minute something happens that causes Frank to act completely out of character. Dogs are not born with this form of aggression and it doesn't come on overnight. There are a handful of things that need to be corrected to recondition this un-wanted behaviour that a good behaviour modification plan can achieve.

10 . Genetic Dog Aggression - Such as breeders breeding with aggressive or anxious dogs. This also includes maternal aggression in female bitches. The good news is that a good behaviour modification plan can achieve the desired results.

Here at Calm Down Dawg we will spend time gathering up all the relevant information that we need in order to work with the dog’s specific needs. Each of the 10 forms of aggression needs to be dealt with in a different way, with a different Behaviour Modification Plan.

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