An aggressive dog on a leash

Good pet owners spend a lot of time with their pets and understand what they’re doing (at least most of the time!). However, it’s not unusual to be utterly perplexed by certain behaviors. For example, typically laid-back animals can go from zero to sixty when scared, surprised, or stressed.

Aggression in pets can be the direct result, but, fortunately, there are ways to prevent and manage these behaviors.

Know the Signs

Body language is highly informative when it comes to understanding how animals feel about something or someone. Aggression in pets is sometimes warranted, but if it’s something you deal with on a daily basis, it’s time to take a closer look.

Be mindful of the following signs of aggression in pets:

  • Growling, snarling, hissing
  • Frozen in a rigid posture
  • Exposing teeth
  • Unwavering eye contact
  • Nipping, biting, swiping, or lunging
  • Spitting
  • Hair standing up

Never ignore any of these signs, as they indicate a defensive attack is imminent. Pets can quickly feel threatened, so it’s important to give them space or diffuse the situation in other ways. Try to either eliminate known triggers or reduce their exposure to them.

Types of Aggression in Pets

Any of the following may be causes of aggression in pets:

  • Defending territory
  • Predatory or inherited tendencies
  • Perception of social standing (the “alpha”)
  • Guarding possessions
  • Protecting their family
  • Pain
  • Mating

A Note on Fear Aggression in Pets

When pets are frightened, they’re not necessarily the aggressor. However, this makes them behave in such a way that is perceived as aggressive. You may see your pet crouch down, tuck their tail, lay their ears flat, avoid eye contact, yawn, pant, or even withdraw if they can find an escape. Pets must be taught and trained that sources of fear, stress, and anxiety don’t actually pose a threat. Professional help may be necessary to neutralize fear aggression in pets.

Frightened pets can be dangerous if they can’t find a way out of the situation. While you may want to comfort them, an animal may misinterpret your actions and lash out. A fight or flight reaction can develop, and you may have a fight on your hands. Always give animals enough space so they won’t feel threatened. Only approach them once they’ve calmed down.

Defense Mechanisms

Cats and dogs definitely react aggressively if they perceive they’re being cornered or threatened. Defensive animals will only attack when someone encroaches on their space; they won’t chase a threat and seek it out for a fight.

Self-defense can be a shock to a pet’s system, and they may need time to regulate their breathing and heart rate. Animals who aren’t used to small children or being around other animals or people may need help understanding they aren’t in peril. Sure, a little distrust is normal, but if you notice any fear of being mistreated, your pet could use some positive social exposure.


Once you’re able to pinpoint triggers of aggression in pets, you can work toward enlisting the help of friends and family. Try creating experiences that facilitate a positive or neutral response. This can take time, patience, and constant support.

The team at Harris Parkway Animal Hospital is always here for you. Please contact us with any questions or concerns related to aggression in pets.