Fear-based aggression can be a serious problem for dogs and their owners, but you can help your pet overcome this behavior by understanding what causes it and how to prevent it. Dogs can become aggressive when they feel that they’re in danger. Your dog’s fear may be sparked by situations or people that are new or unfamiliar. You may notice signs of fear such as avoiding eye contact, crouching, lying down, freezing or tucking the tail between the legs.
When a dog feels that it’s in danger, it may react aggressively.
During a fear-based aggression episode, a dog may show signs of fear such as:
- Avoiding eye contact with you and other people in the room
- Crouching down or lying on its side
- Lying down and freezing when approached by people or other animals it perceives as threats
- Tail tucking under the body to make itself smaller and less threatening (also called “tail between legs”)
Dogs are likely to become fearful when they’re exposed to new situations or people, which can lead to aggression.
Fearful dogs, like any other animal, are likely to become aggressive when they’re exposed to new situations or people. This can include dogs who are afraid of certain sounds and environments, as well as those who suddenly growl, snap, bark or bite without warning. Fearful dogs may also display other signs of fear aggression such as hiding under furniture or shying away from visitors. Dogs that are afraid of people may be more likely to become aggressive when they’re approached by strangers than friendly dogs would be in the same situation.
Fearful behaviors may include avoiding eye contact, crouching, lying down, freezing and tail tucking.
Fearful behaviors may include avoiding eye contact, crouching, lying down, freezing and tail ticking.
Your dog may also exhibit the following:
- Whimpering or growling (this sound is a precursor to aggressive behavior)
- Snapping of teeth at you or another person or animal in close proximity. This is sometimes mistaken for play when it’s actually fear-based aggression.
If your dog pins his ears back during playtime with other dogs or humans—particularly if he does so when he’s approaching someone—it could be an indication that he’s feeling threatened by the situation and doesn’t feel comfortable interacting with others.
Fearful dogs may suddenly growl, snap, bark or bite without warning.
- Dogs cannot communicate their fear through words.
- They may growl, snap, bark or bite without warning.
- They may also urinate, defecate or run away from you.
- Some dogs become aggressive toward their owners and other dogs in the same household because they don’t feel safe or comfortable with them around.
You can help calm your dog by remaining calm yourself and speaking in a quiet voice.
It’s important for you to remain calm yourself, especially if your dog is fearful or anxious. Speak in a quiet voice, and don’t rush to pick up your dog if he becomes afraid of something. If you try to force interaction with him (even if it’s just to pet him or take him for a walk), this will only make matters worse by reinforcing his fears.
To help prevent fear aggression in dogs:
- Don’t force your dog into situations that frighten him; instead, wait until he’s comfortable before introducing new experiences.
- Make sure that the leash doesn’t get tangled around any furniture or other items when taking the dog outside; keep it short enough so that he can easily turn around on his own without becoming entangled with anything else nearby.
- When introducing new people into their lives—especially children—it can be helpful if they wear hats or sunglasses while playing with dogs who are prone toward this type of behavior because these items will obscure their faces somewhat and give them less reason than usual reasons causing panic attacks at first sight of strangers’ faces looming over them!
You should not punish your dog for fear-based aggression because this can make the behavior worse.
- You should not punish your dog for fear-based aggression because this can make the behavior worse.
- Instead, you should try to figure out what is making your dog afraid. If you can remove or mitigate that trigger, it will be much easier to prevent the behavior from happening in the first place.
One thing I want to emphasize is that punishment will not help a fearful dog learn how to act appropriately around other dogs—it’s going to set him back further and make things more difficult for you both. In fact, it could even make him more aggressive over time!
If your dog exhibits fear-based aggressive behavior, consult a professional trainer to find ways you can help alleviate your pet’s fears and prevent aggressive outbursts.
- Consult a professional trainer or behaviorist. If your dog exhibits fear-based aggressive behavior, consult a professional trainer to find ways you can help alleviate your pet’s fears and prevent aggressive outbursts.
- Learn about the causes of fear aggression. There are many potential causes for this type of aggression, including poor socialization as a puppy or kitten, being startled by loud noises or sudden movement (such as someone approaching quickly), being punished harshly when acting in an anxious manner, and overexposure to other dogs while living with other animals at home or at work.
- Watch for signs of fear aggression in order to avoid being bitten by your pet during an episode: panting heavily with its mouth open; dilated pupils; raised hackles on the back (the hairs standing up); low growling noises; teeth exposed; tail between legs.
The best thing you can do to help your fearful dog is to remain calm yourself and make sure that your pet feels safe. This means not punishing fear-based aggressive behavior, which can make the situation worse. Instead, speak softly and gently to your dog and consult a professional trainer to find ways you can soothe your pet’s fears.