Fear Aggression in Dogs

Fear Aggression in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

Most common symptoms

Collapse / Itching / Licking / Out of Breath / Separation Anxiety / Seperation Anxiety

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Rated as serious conditon

12 Veterinary Answers

Most common symptoms

Collapse / Itching / Licking / Out of Breath / Separation Anxiety / Seperation Anxiety

Fear Aggression in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

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What is Fear Aggression?

Fear related aggression can be a difficult and dangerous problem and typically takes time and patience to reverse. Some dogs, such as toy breeds and shepherding breeds, are more likely to develop fear responses, and sometimes aggression.

Although many fear related problems may be eased through the application of proper exercise, diet, and training, some dogs may need additional help such as antianxiety or antidepressant medications to control their actions and reach their full potential. 

Aggression related to fear can be a difficult behavioral trait to change and should be handled carefully. This is an easier disorder to prevent than to treat.

Symptoms of Fear Aggression in Dogs

Dogs that are experiencing fear around people may express it in several ways. Behaviors that may be exhibited when a dog is afraid may include:

  • Aggressive chewing
  • Biting
  • Cowering
  • Ears held back
  • Escape behaviors
  • Exaggerated yawning
  • Excessive vocalizations
  • Holding head lower than back
  • Licking nose or face (with no food present)
  • Lip tension
  • Nipping
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • “Punching” with the muzzle
  • Showing the whites of the eye
  • Tail tucked under
  • Timidity
  • Trembling
  • Whites of the eye turning pink or red

Types

In some cases, aggression issues due to fear can become unmanageable with behavior modification and training methods alone. Chronic fear and aggression may require psychiatric medications to assist in treatment. Most psychiatric medications require six to eight weeks before substantial improvement is seen, although a few are relatively fast acting. The most commonly used psychiatric medications for canines include: 

Benzodiazepine Derivatives

This category of drugs includes medications such as Valium and Xanax, which are frequently effective for the temporary relief of anxiety and fear as these medications have a relatively quick action. Unfortunately, dogs often build up an immunity to the  compounds used for these treatments making them less suitable for long term usage.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

Often used in canines for generalized fears and obsessive-compulsive behaviors, this category of medication includes Fluoxetine, Prozac, and Zoloft. SSRIs are one of the most frequently prescribed medication for anxiety disorders, and Fluoxetine is one of the more successful treatment methods for aggression issues. 

Tricyclic Anti-anxiety Medications

Medications such as Clomicalm and Elavil fall into this category, and are commonly used to treat both anxious and obsessive behavior in canines but may cause troubling side-effects, particularly when weaning the patient off of the drug.

Causes of Fear Aggression in Dogs

Triggers that may cause fear and aggression in dogs are typically a combination of nature and nurture. Possible components to developing aggression due to fear could include: 

  • Developmental Factors - Circumstances such as abuse, traumatic events, or loss of a caretaker may have more of an effect when they occur during a puppy’s developmental phase and improper socialization early in life can cause a dog to be more fearful

  • Environmental Factors - Being in an environment of restriction and overcrowding such as a shelter or puppy mill may induce chronic fear in dogs that may lead to aggression; violent environments or incidents may trigger fear in canines, and in some situations may lead to the development of anxiety disorders or PTSD 
  • Genetic Predisposition - Certain dogs or breeds of dog may have a slight predisposition to develop aggression due to fear; some shepherding and toy breeds may have an inherited predisposition for fear 

  • Physical Disorders - Some physical disorders, particularly those that cause chronic pain, can elicit aggressive behavior in canines due to fear; other disorders with a physical basis that may lead to fear-based aggression may include bacterial or viral infections or the loss of senses such as hearing or sight

Diagnosis of Fear Aggression in Dogs

Your veterinarian will collect information for a behavioral history when you visit the clinic for a behavioral problem such as aggression. Data that is requested to complete a complete behavioral history would typically include the patient’s sex and age as well as anything else that may be known about the breed of the canine. Information about the circumstances prior to any episodes of aggression as well as how your dog’s behavior changed after the incident can also prove helpful in diagnosing any underlying disorders. 

Facts regarding any changes to diet or any new medications that have been introduced recently will also be needed as well as which corrective methods have already been tried and the result. If your veterinarian suspects a medical component to the behavior at all they will typically perform a complete physical examination as well, which will include standard diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis.

Cannanine

Treatment of Fear Aggression in Dogs

Treatment for behavior issues will depend on both the severity and the underlying trigger for the behavior. Chronic aggression due to fear can be a potentially dangerous situation and should be addressed by a veterinary professional. Treatment for dogs who have shown fear related aggression should be a cooperative effort between the animal’s owners and a professional trainer or behaviorist. It is important not to scold or punish the fearful dog for its fear response. Scolding your dog for fearful behavior may actually enforce their feelings and increase the chances that fearful behavior will turn into aggressive behavior. 

One of the training methods that is commonly utilized to treat fear disorders is known as desensitization, a method in which treats and praise are used in conjunction with the presence of the object of fear to cause the feared object to become more a more positive and familiar presence and thereby reduce the fear of it. Regular obedience training may also be effective in mitigating fear and anxiety, reducing the likelihood of an aggressive response, and may be utilized to distract the dog from negative stimuli in a technique known as a counter-conditioning treatment. In some cases, behavioral therapy and training are not enough to calm the patient and anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications, such as diazepam or Prozac, may be employed to calm your companion.

Recovery of Fear Aggression in Dogs

Medications given for psychological imbalances will take several weeks before their effectiveness is known, and it is essential that your veterinarian knows all of the other medications your dog is on. The way that canines metabolize this drug is very different from the way that a human metabolizes the drug and dosages will vary based on your dog’s specific response to the medication. 

Many anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications have contraindications with certain pain medications, antihistamines, and even herbal treatments such as St. John’s Wort or Kava Kava. Medications alone are rarely effective in eliminating challenging problem behaviors, and changes to both your pet’s exercise levels and diet are often helpful in reducing problems. Continuing behavioral training will help your pet to become a happier and healthier individual.

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Fear Aggression Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Marley

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British Bulldog

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3 Years

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Moderate condition

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0 found helpful

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Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Fear
Snapping
Aggerssion

Hi, I have a nearly 3yr old British bulldog that I bought of someone 4months ago, she is not desexed (but will be getting desexed as soon as her health is ok), she is perfect in every way, housed trained, walks well on lead & perfect in car etc, she is very loving towards me my 10yr old but as soon as my 21yr old walks in she growls at him he goes to pat her & she will snap she also does this to my mother (78ys old), she is ok with some but not with others, she gets quite nervous & growls, it’s like she’s scared, not sure what to do, thanks carol.

Sept. 4, 2018

Marley's Owner

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rocky

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Alaskan Malamute

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7 Years

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Moderate condition

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0 found helpful

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Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Growling
Snapping
Fear Aggression
Touch Sensitivity
Reactivity

Hi, I have been fostering a ~7 year old malamute/husky mix through a rescue center for about a year now. From day one at the shelter he was a difficult dog-- he was kept chained up in a backyard for the first ~6 years of his life with little socialization with people or dogs. He is very sensitive about being handled and will often react by snapping and growling, even when being pet (by basically anyone besides me). When I first took him home it took me about a month to be able to pet him without him snapping or growling. One strange thing is that he often invites being pet and has "happy" body language, but once he is touched he will snap. Now, we loves to be pet by me, cuddle, and wrestle. Originally we thought he might be in pain, but we took him to the vet and they did not find anything conclusive. He is also reactive to people, and dogs while out on walks (but that's a different problem). All of his issues seem to stem from fear, as he was probably never properly socialized and had negative experiences with not being touched/handled nicely. Malamutes in general are often stubborn, so I understand with his lack of socialization, genetics, and past bad experiences make up his behavioral issues. He has been working with one of the best positive-reinforcement dog trainers who we were able to find who actually specializes in fear aggression and has plenty of northern breed experience. She mapped out an 8-week training program for him, but his progress has been extremely slow. About 3 months of training has now passed and we are still only working on handling issues indoors (which was supposed to be 4 weeks). I wonder if you have any insight or advice to give to help this guy become more confident and fear-free! I wonder if medication like fluexotine may be helpful to help his behavior modification along with training-- although I have read that in some cases it makes aggression worse. I also know this might be a long shot, but I have read that hypothyroidism is very common in malamutes his age and can cause behavioral issues.

Aug. 2, 2018

rocky's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

The problem here is that Rocky was kept chained up for six years and therefore it is only a fraction of his life that he has been with you and old habits die hard; fear aggression can be difficult to control in any dog and care needs to be taken to address it properly. We have an article on fear biting (linked below) and there is a section where you can ask a question to our certified dog trainer for follow up questions. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://wagwalking.com/training/not-fear-bite https://wagwalking.com/training/not-attack-strangers https://wagwalking.com/training/not-attack-other-dogs

Aug. 3, 2018

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Remmy

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Puggle

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2 Years

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Mild condition

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0 found helpful

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Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Fear Aggression

Hey, we just rescued a 2 year old pug/beagle cross. She wasn’t taught anything and was just spayed before we got her. She is seemingly very affectionate towards us, though she’s been pawing at our faces and laying on her back basically on us at anytime. She’s has been nipping a time female dogs but hasn’t been fine with people. She’s loves to try and escape anywhere and anyway possible. She’s also barks at everything and howls when we leave the house. She also flinches and cowers when we move around her. We’re wondering how to support her and hopefully end the howling/barking and possibly get her to come when called?

July 21, 2018

Remmy's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

I think, from your description, it would be best to work with a trainer for Remmy and your family. You don't know her background, and now is the time to address any behavioral concerns. Your veterinarian can recommend a trainer for you, and you want to make sure that you have a trainer that uses positive techniques rather than punishment.

July 22, 2018

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Stanley

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Dachshund

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6 Years

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Moderate condition

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0 found helpful

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Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

I adopted a 6 yr. old Dachshund from a rescue 4 weeks ago. The dog is so sweet to me and my grandchildren, but when my husband moves, he will run after him, bark and nip or plow into the back of his legs. Between, the adoption fees, neutralization fees, shots, we don't know the dogs background and are scared to put hundreds of dollars into trainers. My husband says that the dog needs to go back to the rescue tomorrow. I have been researching and my husband has tried so hard to make up to this dog, and there are times the dog will want up beside him, and is find, until he moves . What is left to do ?

April 23, 2018

Stanley's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

We have a section on our site on training (see link below) at the bottom of the page there is a section to discuss this with a certified dog trainer for free. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://wagwalking.com/training/not-be-aggressive

April 23, 2018

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Lexi

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Australian Shepherd

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3 Years

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Mild condition

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0 found helpful

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Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Fear Agression And Biting

we have just adopted a 3 yo australian shep mix. Since having her the past 6 weeks she has been a little hyper and have had a habit of nipping if she got excited. We have been working on that. Tonight after our 8 yo son backed into her when he did not realize she was behind him, she reacted by biting his hand and breaking the skin in one small puncture wound. She did not give any warning. We don't know if this is something we should now be worried about will happen again, or is this just a one off of her being startled and afraid. Very sad and don't know what to do.

April 15, 2018

Lexi's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Since you don't know Lexi's history, it is difficult to say whether she was just startled, or if this is a behavior that needs to be corrected. You have not had her very long, and it can take some time to learn each other's personalities. It would be best to have a trainer work with her, and you, to identify the triggers for her behavior and learn how to correct it, sooner vs. later. It is important to find a trainer that works with positive techniques, and not punishment. If you need to find a good trainer, your veterinarian will be able to recommend one for you. I hope that all goes well for her.

April 16, 2018

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Russell

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Pug/Min Pin

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1 Year

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Serious condition

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0 found helpful

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Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Aggression
Lunging
Growling
Sniping
Ears Folded

I have 3 male furbabies: Paco who is 7, and 2 brothers from the same litter, Hiro and Russell, who just turned 1. Ive had Paco and Hiro since birth but adopted Russ about 6 months ago. All got along fairly well until 3 days ago, while sleeping in thei usual spots together (Hiro and Russ) a fight broke out! They can't stand the sight of each other now! Which is sad because they were best buds! Paco does not have an issue with either one of them, just the usual grumpy growl as I call it. I have been separating Russ and Hiro ever since. Russell has been the aggressor, begins to growl at first sight. I also tried CC&D, but I have zero confidence in my ability even though I really, really, want them all to get along. I'm not able to afford a proffessional at this time. What are some things I can do besides keeping them separated? Or how can I gain confidence?

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Nyla (9y) and Maci (4y)

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Terrier mix

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9 Years

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Serious condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Biting
Growling
Fear Agression
Snipping
Showing Teath

I have two dogs that do exibit signs of fear, luckily I have been able to keep it under control and work with them by providing avoidance, treat distraction, positive treat reinforcement. I don't think the fear has improved, but they have been more manageable with these tools I learned from the trainer. They are social with other low activity dogs, and have several dog friends. The problem here now, is the introduction to my girlfriend's dog. I am at a loss. Her dog is a 1 year old shepherd mix. He is full of energy and plays rougher than my dogs like. My dogs are fine on walks and in the yard with him, one actually enjoys paying chase with him. They will occasionally lick his face. Inside the house, they show fear of him, which I feel he mistakes for play. They will growl, and I don't separate them in time, they will scream out and start attempting to snip or bite him. It is like they cant get used to him, and he cant pick up on their social signs. We tried trazodone to help calm everyone down, but hes still very energetic, and my girls were no less relaxed. I know he is overbearing to them, and he means no harm. I cant seem to find a way to get every one to coexist. I know its possible, because there are times they appear relaxed around him. I am desperate for any help or suggestions.

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Belle

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German Shepherd

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2 Years

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Serious condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Nipping
Fearful
Personality Shift

We adopted a 1 yo female who was very timid, submissive, and high separation anxiety. She blossomed in our home, she still didnt like to be left alone even with our other dogs. However after she gave birth to her puppies she became very fearful. She has nipped and even bit someone who is family outside of our home. Even the way she walks has changed it's more of a lower crouch close to the ground. Nothing outside of her having puppies has changed. The puppies are now 13 weeks old and rehomed. Any ideas of what could have caused such a sudden shift in behavior? She even barks a lot more now also.

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Charlie

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Pembroke or Cardigan Welsh Corgi

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4 Years

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Serious condition

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1 found helpful

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Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Biting
Fear
Attacking
Biting Attacking

Hello, I have three corgis, henry 5, Tess 11 and Charlie 4.5. IN the last 6 months Charlie(4.5)has been very aggressive towards my other 2, too the point where both of them has been hospitalised. We have no idea where this came from, she has always been such a sweet little soul. We have now had to desperate them completely as every time she has the chance she will attack one of the other dogs. We have had blooods done and she is perfectly healthy, there may be a possibility she has low calcium which we are getting retested tomorrow. We saw a behaviourist vet Tuesday and he has diagnosed her with sever fear aggression. We were given three options , 1 - put her down, WHICH WILL NEVER EVER HAPPEN, 2 - Either rehome her or the other two, which i cant do, i love them so much, 3 - seperate them which we have and put her on antidepressants which we have done. Please help ? What else can i do? I am desperate and need help. Kate

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Delilah

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Staffordshire Bull Terrier Mix

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4 Years

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Serious condition

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Anti-Social, Agressive

I have an approximately four year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross Cattle Dog, who we rescued from the shelter, we have no information on her as she was a stray for a while, we are unable to walk her as she is very aggressive towards other dogs, she has no problem with people as long as we're with her, but tends to lunge, snap, bark, growl towards the other dog. We are unsure as to if the aggression is fear based or if it is past experiences or even just the way we have treated her, we've been working on it and it hasn't really paid off, we are unable to go in our front yard, so we work from the front door. I don't know if us doing this will help, but I would love to hear your advice. Thanks.

Cannanine