Language is truly incredible. Even when we say the same thing as someone else, there can be layers of nuance and meanings that are polar opposites. Context, sarcasm, and other factors can take the same word and spin it in a whole new direction.

In some ways animals can be very similar. While they don’t use the spoken word like we do, they are constantly communicating through body language and action. Like us, these communication strategies don’t always mean the same thing. Aggression in pets is one of the areas that we sometimes need to read a little to understand.

Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital knows that aggression in pets can mean a lot of things, and we are here to help you decipher them.

The Nuance of Aggression in Pets

If a dog snaps at you, it is easy to assume the dog is just “mean”. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for the dog), this is not always the case. There are many reasons why a nip might occur, and just as with other types of language it is important to dig deeper for the true meaning.

There are three main categories of aggression in pets. These include:

True aggression — A truly aggressive pet may be trying to establish dominance over you or another animal. They may feel insecure in their position or simply have a very dominant personality. While this type of aggression is the most often interpreted, the other types are actually more common.

Defense — An animal who feels threatened by a situation will often show signs of aggression. Illness or injury, including things like arthritis, can bring this on. Sometimes pets may also be trying to defend something such as puppies or a valuable resource like food or a special toy. This is called resource guarding.

Fear — Pets who are scared often become aggressive. If an animal feels trapped or otherwise in danger, fight or flight mode kicks in and they are compelled to defend themselves. Even the best of intentions can elicit a fear response in some animals, especially those with a history of abuse or trauma.

It is important to work to recognize the different causes of aggression, because all of them need to be approached in very different ways. Reprimanding a dog for growling when there is pain or fear, for instance, can have a very negative outcome.

What’s an Animal Lover to Do?

If a pet is showing signs of aggression, obviously some action must be taken. Dog bite prevention is very important, and we must feel safe in our homes with our own pets. So what is a pet owner to do?

There are some vital things that you can do when aggression rears its ugly head:

  • Call us to have your pet examined for signs of illness or pain, especially if the behavior is new
  • Try to make connections as to what situations seem to be triggering the aggression
  • Reward your pet for calm, positive behavior
  • Avoid exposing your pet to very high-energy situations such as rough play and chaotic social areas like dog parks
  • Remove overly valuable treats, toys, and other objects from free access
  • Work with your pet to learn basic obedience and proper socialization
  • Set up a behavior consultation appointment with us for help
  • If  your pet has bitten someone or the situation is otherwise out of hand, consider working with a board certified veterinary behaviorist

In most pets aggression issues are very treatable and manageable. Finding the root cause of the issue is often the key to solving the problem. We are happy to help in this process!