Signs of Aggression

Our pets can be very complex animals with their behavior. Behaviors often change naturally over time as an animal ages. For a puppy or kitten their range of behaviors come out the quickest and change without much or any warning. One minute they may be happy and playing, then the next being timid. Dog and cat behaviors allow us to understand their personalities, sense when they are sick/injured and when they are likely to become aggressive. Aggressive behavior and fearful behavior are the most important behaviors to be able to recognize for the safety of yourself, others and your pet. Spotting aggression and fear can prevent attacks, injuries, and loss of trust in both the pet and human.


Signs of Dog Aggression/Fear


Wrinkles on forehead or side of face Barking Stiff tail and bristled hair Body hovering
Hair on back and neck (hackles) raised or puffy Growling Tail raised or tucked under Stiff body
Ears backwards or straight up forwards Snarling Body leaning slightly forward Lips curled or drawn back
Exposing teeth and gums visible Snapping without contact Furrowed brow Pupils dilated


Why is My Dog being Aggressive?


There can be many underlying reasons for a dog to show aggression including fear, feeling threatened for themselves or their human family, previous trauma or abuse, living environments, exercise regimens, socialization, genetics, miscommunication, mismatched expectations and medical problems. Trying to determine what factor(s) is causing aggression can be difficult. The first step to be taken should be scheduling a vet appointment to rule out any injuries or illnesses. If these conditions are ruled out your vet will ask you questions about any changes in the home and routine for both yourself and your pet. Together and in some cases with the help of an obedience dog trainer you will work to find out what your dog deems as threatening. Some of these “threats” may be ones that we as humans would not perceive to be triggers such as having guests over or being close to a dog’s bowl while eating, but it is important to recognize these threats and adjust you and your dog’s way of thinking. It is important to never add to the aggression by hitting, yelling or some way of physically challenging a dog under an aggressive state as this can enhance their aggression, putting you at risk of being attacked.


Signs of Cat Aggression/Fear


Tail curved down around body and bristled Tail hangs straight down Tail raised and bristled Twitching or flapping of tail
Growling or Yowling Hissing or spitting Ears out sideways and flattened Ears straight back
Back arched and hair up Crouching Head tucked in Pupils dilated
Direct stare and forward posture Biting Striking with claws out Walking sideways around opponent


Why is My Cat being Aggressive?


Cats are very different from dogs with personalities and behaviors. Most dogs want to be your best friend and show you constant devotion while many cats are the opposite. They spend a majority of their time sleeping and when awake can be inconsistent with their behaviors. Sometimes they demand attention while other times want to be hidden away alone or they can be playful then suddenly walk away. Unlike their “good” behaviors that can change suddenly without much warning, aggressive behavior shows many warning signs.

If your cat is showing continuous aggressive behavior or showed a very strong reaction suddenly, a vet appointment should be made to rule out any injuries or illnesses. If a clean bill of health is given then assess the time, place and what was happening before the aggression to determine what caused the behavior. These reactions could be due to predatory reactions, territorial, multi-cats, fearful or defensive, play (especially in kittens), redirected aggression, petting induced, maternal or in unknown cases idiopathic. Once the cause of the reaction is understood behavior adjustment training and solutions can be applied. The best advice for these would be given by your vet. Never try to pick up, corner or hold an aggressive cat.


Positive Behavior


You may not be able to fully control what happens outside of the home with other animals that could trigger aggression with your pet but having a safe positive home environment is the best place to start by reinforcing positive behavior for your dog and cat. Starting at the preliminary stages for puppies and kittens positive reinforcement training methods, early and continual socialization and knowing how to observe and prevent problems can help prevent aggressive behaviors from forming.

Puppy training classes allow your dog to socialize with other personalities, eliminate dominance and build confidence for the fearful or timid dog. As the owner you will learn to read and understand signs and reactions, when and how to intervene if aggression is shown between two dogs, and positive reinforcement techniques to use in new situations that may cause an emotional reaction from your dog. Classes or one on one sessions for older dogs are often offered by professional private pet trainers. Ask your dog walker or sitter for a recommendation.

Creating an enriched home environment for a cat is easier as they are more independent species who do not need to attend training classes. This doesn’t mean though that positive reinforcement is not necessary to direct your cat’s behavior. Toys are a great solution for kittens that are in the playing, biting, and swatting phase. Switch your body part out for a toy that has catnip inside of it to show your cat what is appropriate to “attack.” A multi-level cat tower offers a play gym for them as well as places to feel safe resting and scratching at. In cases of a cat attacking the use of a water squirt bottle can be used to intervene with the reminder that finding the reason for the aggressive signs should be done to provide a positive change to stop it from happening again. Often the use of more scratch pads, more litter boxes and using vet-approved products can help divert aggression to a positive form of release.

Aggression can come out in all animals, even the most docile pets. Pets that often show fear are more likely to become aggressive if feeling threatened. Learning the body signs of your pets for aggression and fear will provide you with ease of the unknown, allow you create a positive environment for your pet and make any changes that help your pet feel comfortable and confident. Positive reinforcement and positive emotions from you will lead to a happy, safe and relaxed life for your pet.

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