An aggressive dog is an unhappy dog

Don't miss the latest post from The Pet Loss Blog

aggressive dog snarling

From growling thru’ snapping to a single bite or an all-out attack, aggression is a serious matter.

frightened aggressive dog snarling

An aggressive dog poses a danger to us and other humans. It tells us the dog is unhappy. Even in a mild form or in a small dog, aggression typically signals the dog is tense and not enjoying his life at that moment – or, sometimes, not at all.

Get expert assessment about a dog’s aggression early on

Having `a life worth living’ and a good life are important for all of us animals. It not just about externals like square meals and exercise. It’s also to do with things like feeling secure and having opportunities to be freely yourself. So, getting expert assessment about a dog’s aggression early on makes kind and practical sense all round. This blog offers no specific advice but just some general thoughts.

Advertising rarely shows the challenging aspects of pet ownership

It’s not clear how many dogs are generally aggressive. We do know that some of them are euthanased or handed over to shelters, especially larger breeds.

spaniel running with toy in mouth

Understandably, advertising never shows these challenging aspects of pet ownership. Instead, there are harmonious, happy scenes. So it’s not surprising if non-owners or new owners think an  aggressive dog is abnormal or their owners are failures. I’d say, in general: Not so. It’s the images in ads that are unrealistic.

Bossing dogs about will make them more afraid

There used to be a lot of talk about dominance aggression and “showing dogs who is Boss”. We now know that is incorrect. Regardless of size, many dogs are stressed when they cannot predict and cannot control what will happen next. Their stress can show as aggression.

woman kissing king charles spaniel`Bossing’ them about and overwhelming them physically will make them more afraid. They will either be more likely to bite or they will become completely inhibited due to extreme fear. Either way, they will not be “sorted”.

Small dogs can find our attentions unpredictable

We may also make things worse for small dogs if we suddenly snatch them up to give them cuddles etc. They don’t understand we do it to express our love. For them, it probably feels like another thing they can’t predict and can’t control.

Some dogs may show predatory aggression, if the situation triggers them. Then, they are probably back in touch with the ancient and natural instinct to chase down a potential meal.

Rough play and inhibited bites—which is how playful young wild animals learn about who not to hurt, and how to catch prey—may also tip over into potentially serious attacks. This brief news clip seems to show some of that. It also shows how cats can save the day!

Aggressive behaviours like that are dangerous to us and we rightly cannot allow them. Yet the behaviours are entirely natural for the dogs.

An aggressive dog may actually be unwell

sad dog lies on sofaAnother cause of aggression can be underlying disease, especially painful conditions. Diagnose and manage the medical condition, and the aggression goes.

The list goes on. But, so much for theory. When a dog is aggressive, it can be a very difficult situation.

We’ll come back to this in the next post.

Over to you. We can’t advise on individual cases, but we’d like to hear from you on Facebook.
Has your cat ever seen off a threatening dog, like the cat in the video?
What do you think of marketing images about pet ownership?

Caroline Hewson


Author: Caroline Hewson MRCVS
Caroline Hewson is a vet and has a PhD in animal behaviour. She writes and gives talks that translate research relevant to pets’ end of life into points to keep in mind. 


Read more posts from The Pet Loss Blog

Do you have a sick pet and are facing difficult decisions? Our Pet Bereavement page has  a list of helpline numbers and links to useful websites. You can also read pet owners’ personal bereavement stories.