Overview of Fearful Aggression

Fearful aggression is the second most common type of canine aggression. Fearfully aggressive dogs react inappropriately when they sense intrusion or feel cornered. This behavior may include the following:

  • Barking, growling, snarling
  • Biting
  • Lowering or tucking the tail
  • Pulling the ears back horizontally
  • Piloerection (fur standing on end) on the neck, shoulders, hips, and tail
  • Salivating or urinating
  • Slinking

Fearfully aggressive dogs growl or bark aggressively in situations that upset them, such as approaches from other dogs, people, or children, and in specific places or involving certain noises.

Dogs that have been abused and older dogs with physical ailments often develop fearful aggression. Treatment requires dealing with the fear and the resulting aggression.

Treatment for Fearful Aggression

It is very important to reduce the dog's fear. Do not reach for the dog, especially if it is cornered. Instead, call the dog and ask it to sit and stay. Reward the dog when it relaxes.

Do not physically correct or punish the dog.

Do not reassure the dog when it behaves aggressively. This reinforces the inappropriate behavior.

Introduce the dog to visitors in your home only if the dog is calm, is on a leash, and responds to verbal commands. Minimize sudden movements and loud noises and request that your visitor does not stare at the dog. Always supervise visits, especially with children.

The dog should have a "safe" room or area away from situations associated with their fear. This area should be comfortable and not used as punishment.

Many dogs can benefit from the use of anti-anxiety medication in addition to behavioral therapy.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 01 Dec 2001

Last Modified: 04 Nov 2014