Interpreting Dog Aggression

Interpreting Dog Aggression

By Tyler Brown

I recently was in the vet’s office with one of my dogs. There was a man there who had brought his young dog in for a check-up. His dog was of a breed that is often considered aggressive. He stood near the counter with his dog on leash. His dog sat near a chair with his hair up growling at everyone and showing his teeth. One woman walked past and commented, “Wow, your dog is really aggressive.” It was as if the man transformed into a proud father before my eyes, “Yeah,” he replied, “He always acts like that.” As he said it you could see the pride dripping of his person. He had obviously acquired this dog for moments like these, expecting that this dog behavior would be interpreted as tough and powerful. Oh, how wrong he was.

Dog aggression is one dog behavior that is so often misinterpreted. Many see a dog such as I saw in the vet’s office and think “That dog is really mean” or “That dog is vicious”. But what is the real cause of this so-called dog aggression. The answer may not be what you think.

The man at the vet’s office thought he had a tough guy on his hands. He saw the growling and the hair rising and the lip curling as signs of dog aggression, which for him was a desired trait. I am sure he imagined that this show of aggression would protect him if the situation was ever called for. His dog, however, was telling a story with his body language that had nothing to do with dog aggression.

Police dog trainers and protection dog trainers argue about many training methods and techniques, but there is one thing that they will all agree on. A dog that is called on to protect must be full of courage and must be very self-confident. Only a dog that is strong of mind is capable of actually engaging a human in combat when called upon.

So what of the dog in the vet’s office? Let’s examine his body posture and language.

• Hair raised. A dog that has the hair on his back raised up is showing a tell-tale sign of stress. His surroundings make him so nervous and fearful that the manifestation is the hair going on point. This is more a sign of fear than dog aggression.

• Growling. Whenever you see a movie where a dog is attacking a person there is almost always some audio work done to add growling as the dog fights the person. The reality is that growling is rarely a part of the equation when a police dog goes to apprehend a criminal or when a protection dog protects his family by biting. If there is growling involved it is a sign of weakness and that dog is not really committed to the fight. Growling is another sign that the dog feels stressed and unsure of his surroundings.

• Lip curled. When a dog shows his teeth it is because he perceives something as a threat. In the case of the dog in the vet’s office he perceived everything as a threat. This is a poorly socialized dog and a liability to the owner. This is a very undesirable trait. Even if you want a dog for protection it is a very bad idea to have a dog that sees everything in terms of level of threat. A dog like this isn’t capable of protecting you or your home.

Dogs that show these traits are typically weak dogs. They are often poorly socialized and don’t see the world as they should. That doesn’t mean that you should approach dogs like these because they are too mentally weak to bite you. On the contrary, their fear and uncertainty is so ingrained that they may see anyone as a threat and could possibly run away or bite out of fear. It is best to avoid these dogs at all costs.

If you own one of these dogs your best bet is to learn proper socialization techniques and work to show your dog that the world isn’t a scary place.

Author Ty Brown is a renowned dog trainer whose training adventures and clients have taken him to 18 states and 5 countries to teach others how to properly train their dogs. Go to for more dog training articles, advice, tips, and answers from a professional dog trainer.

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