How Can You Tell if a Dog is Nervous to the Point of Being Aggressive?

What is Fear Aggression?

What is an aggressive dog? We tend to think in terms of black and white – we think that aggressive dogs try to prove that they’re the pack leader. The truth is that dogs display 21 types of canine aggression. And, for each example, there’s a different reason and way to deal with it.

Fear aggression is the type you most often encounter. Here dogs are much like humans. They’re hardwired to deal with stress in one of two ways – fight or flight. If a fearful dog can’t flee, he might adopt a submissive posture in the hopes that the threat will pass. 

Unfortunately, though, if he feels that intimidation is required, he’ll fight. Fear aggression is something of a cry for help on the dog’s part. There’s something that he fears, and this is how he chooses to deal with it. 

Signs a Dog is Becoming Fear Aggressive

Fear aggression is often mistaken for dominance or territorial aggressionbecause the symptoms are similar. The first step is to learn what signs indicate that the dog is fearful. An attack is never out of the blue. If you can learn to pick up on the subtle cues, you can stop an attack.

What are the Signs of a Dog Being Afraid?

The trick is to pick up on the behavior before an outbreak. It’s relatively easy to tell if a dog is feeling scared. He’ll:

  • Probably cower or try to hide. He’s more likely to walk away from you than to you.
  • No doubt, be panting a lot to calm himself.
  • Have his ears pinned close to his head.
  • Look away or squint to convince himself that the danger isn’t there.
  • Possibly urinate.

These are all warning signs that the dog is feeling frightened. 

What are the Signs of a Dog Showing Dominance? 

  • These dogs will be more interested in advancing than retreating.
  • They’ll adopt more aggressive body language – like standing up straight and staring their target down. 
  • They’re planning their attack strategy and generally not showing fear. 
  • If it’s your dog and he steps in between you and the other dog, he might be displaying protective aggression. In his mind, protecting you is a good thing.  

How can you tell if a dog is nervous to the point of being aggressive?

A dog’s first instinct is to get the threat away from them. The canine might growl as a warning, which might then escalate into a quick snap. This behavior is a clear sign to back off. If you don’t back off, the situation could escalate into a full-blown attack.

Tips for Helping Your Fear Aggressive Dog

The first thing to do is to realize that you need to be patient. You also need to understand that the dog must be trained using positive behavior modification techniques. His behavior’s not acceptable in our eyes, but it’s perfectly natural for him.

Try Hiring a Trainer

Our top tip is to find a trainer that uses positive reinforcement to assist you. If your dog displays signs of aggression toward you, this becomes even more important.

Tips You Can Try On Your Own

If you can’t hire a trainer and your dog trusts you, here are some other options: 

  • Identify trigger events and avoid them. 
  • Set a daily routine and stick to it. Your dog won’t like surprises. 
  • Use your body language to indicate that the “threat” is harmless. Turn your back on the person or thing that the dog perceives as a threat and yawn to show that you don’t find it threatening.
  • Try desensitizing him slowly. Keep the scary item within eyesight but far enough away for your dog to feel safe. Then reward him for not showing fear. Over time, move the object closer and reward him for staying calm. 

Rule Out Physical Causes for the Aggression

Like humans, dogs can get grumpy when they don’t feel well. It’s best to have him checked out by a vet if the aggression is a recent change. If necessary, the vet can prescribe anti-anxiety medication.

Make Him too Tired to Fight

Finally, make sure that he gets plenty of exercise to keep him too tired to fight.

-up shot of a once fearful dog, now joyfully wagging its tail in a sunlit backyard, surrounded by children playing fetch with it, capturing the heartwarming transformation from aggression to happiness

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