How Dogs Display Nervous or Fear Aggression

Nervous Dog Behavior Variables


Our dogs can display fear aggressions in two vastly different ways. In between the two extremes are various increments of the same behavior, exhibited in slightly different forms. The behavior modification process to help these dogs get through their own fears, are the same regardless of which end of the spectrum or how the individual dog may be displaying those fears.

Aggressive, Fear Aggression Display

The most common form of nervous dog behavior or fear aggression that is usually interpreted by us as aggressive canine behaviors , is most commonly displayed as barking, growling and menacing . This type of fear aggression tends to be very difficult for the dog owner to accept or believe, as nervous or frightened behaviors on the dogs part. [ Aggressive Dog Bite or Nervous Dog Bite ]

At one time or another everybody has seen or encountered a barking growling seemingly ferocious dog. Unless the dog was specifically trained for protection work and in which case this behavior was encouraged, you happen to be witnessing the behaviors of a scared of fear aggressive dog.  [ Real Men Don’t Need Protection Trained Dogs and yes they do eat quiche ] .

Although this specific display of fear aggression is just one of many different variations of fear aggressive behaviors that can be displayed by dogs, we will often remark that this type of dog is bad , not friendly, nasty or vicious. This is also the behavior that impresses dog owners the most, when a trainer calmly approaches this type of dog and relaxes him without much fanfare.

A dog trainer or behaviorist that possesses a superior knowledge of canine behaviors, understands that this is a display of fear aggression by their clients dog. Hence the trainer will show no fears or apprehensions in the handling of and /or the training of, the behaviorally troubled dog. [  Dog Training, Finding the Perfect Dog Trainer ].

For the dogs that display fear aggression in this way ( barking, growling, lunging, snarling) this is a learned behavior on their part, this is directly tied into their inherited behaviors dictated by survival instinct and self preservation. Some of these nervous dogs learn rather quickly that by acting ‘mean and intimidating’, they scare away what they perceive as an immediate threat to them. And most often that potential threat in the dogs mind is strangers; people they have only met a few times; people that are not part of their ‘pack’    ( that don’t live in your home) and sometimes even your family members living under the same roof.


I’ll be explaining some of the other ways dogs display fear aggression in future articles. But for now, one of the other ways a dog can display fear aggression is by being ‘Quiet and Stiff’, with this type of dog we often say, “the bite came out of nowhere”.


Related Article

What Is Normal Dog Behavior

Do Not Feed Your Dog A Vegan Diet, What Dogs Eat Is Meat



14 Responses

  1. my 6 month old puppy is a really sweet dog and all but she has a problem. she will let you pet her- shes fine with that. but then she can be agressive. she would start to nip you or bark. for example,she would nip your hand if you start to rub her tummy. sometimes she does it out of the blue. we’ve tried many methods,but none work. we even have her in training classes,but not so much progress. shes a sweet dog and loves people but shes very independent. which is not very good because we have children in our household and they want to give her so much affection to my independent pup,that she gets frustated. i need her to be calm,and

  2. Hello BK,

    I wish I could be of more help, but it’s not my place to tell you whether or not to give up your dog.

  3. Hello,
    My dog is not chained but is in a pen outside or in the barn. I just started college and have been told recently by someone that since my dog is not allowed in the house, I’m not taking proper care of him. He always seems happy and besides being very active for being nine years old is perfectly healthy, but should I try to see if someone else will take him? He’s a mix and nine years old I don’t think many people are looking for dogs like him. Anyway should I give him up?

  4. Hello Pebbles,

    So tell me what your big girl did .

  5. Yes Pebbles is my real name…….and I completely agree with the alpha dog training is a bad way to train. Not many people realize that this is a survival of the best behavior out in the wild. They also don’t realize that by using the alpha dog method they are in a constant struggle to be the alpha because that’s how it is in undomesticated dogs, such as wolves. Actually, even in cats (check national geographic and lions or tigers). I have a great dane and she is wonderful with my family including our two small children, except for a weird occurence that happened last week that i think is some form of fear aggresive biting but can’t find anyone to offer their opinion on the matter that seems intelligent to truly know the why and how to stop it.

  6. Natalie, you mentioned EXACTLY what I said, in that post. So I don’t understand what your disagreeing with.

  7. Your solution to being the dominant dog is not quite true. I don’t hold the rule that dogs never sleep on bed, or feed them later or don’t let them in the door first.

    That’s bullshit, to use your words.

    My dog does all of the above. All of them, and he is a well balanced dog. Why? because he listens to us. When we want the couch and he’s lying there, he gets down otherwise we’ll sit on him.
    I feed him when “I” want to, not when he demands it. And he gets feed before us. We can leave our plates on the living room floor, and he won’t touch it.

    A dog that respects you will listen to you. It usually helps when you’re dog has your company all day too… working humans have a different relationship than non full time working humans…

    So, you might want to reconsider your articles on dominant dogs.

  8. Hello Barbara, hope you’ve been well.

    The point I often try to make about breed specific behaviors, is that you can take ten dogs of any given breed ( take aussies for example, yes we have one here at the sanctuary).

    And you can have five guys with that high prey drive instinct ( which we mistake as herding instinct) and you can have five guys that could care less about chasing things.

    I advocate potential puppy buyers to think about getting a small breed dog, especially if they have children. Because of three reasons;

    1- A significant portion of the dog owning public, does not have the experience they believe they have with dogs; ( and )

    2- Being that your in animal rescue, you have first hand knowledge on how much easier it is to adopt out a small breed dog as apposed to a medium or large size dog.

    3- In worst case scenario, a child has a much better chance of fighting of a small breed dog in the event of a dog attack.

    And , as you mentioned in the last line ; “There are breed characteristics and even the best training cannot always suppress hardwired instincts.”

    That really depends on the trainer, and how well they truly understand animal behavior and their ability to communicate effectively with said dog.

    ( on another note) Are you getting ready for the busy owner turn in, time of the year? What a world.

  9. Alan,
    I agree with you that the statistics can be scewered based upon popularity of breeds. But I also beleive that breed does indeed play a big part along with upbringing.
    I run a municipal shelter and it is sad how often we get in “working” dogs like border collies and aussies that become destructive due to boredom. These dogs are hardwired to herd and need constant excercise. the only appropriate placement for some of them is a cattle ranch or other farm environment. Not bad dogs but the wrong dog for a family pet.
    There are breed characteristics and even the best training cannot always suppress hardwired instincts.

  10. Hello Mr. Cricket

    I’m gonna guess by untrainable , you are referring to problematic behaviors and not the ability for a given breed of dog to earn his UDX title.

    To answer your question which is a common one, ” Are some dogs untrainable” , if you know dogs well enough the answer is NO. Every dog is trainable.

    “Are some breeds inherently aggressive”, Again this comes down to an individuals abilities to understand dogs.

    There are plenty of statistics out there, that will tell you breeds ( A, B, C, D, E) are responsible for the majority of dog attacks each year. What the statistics don’t tell us is the popularity of the breeds.

    Meaning if, 10 million homes have dog breed ( A ) . And 1 million homes have dog breed ( Z ) . The dog bites perpetrated by dog breed ( A ) will be much higher, than those bites by dog breed ( Z ). The significance of this being, we may think certain breeds of dog are more “Safer” than others.

    Obviously the larger the breed of dog is, the more chance of serious injuries that can be sustained by a dog attack. Every year millions of children and adults are bitten by small breed dogs , yet these attacks are not newsworthy enough for us to read about.

    One of the biggest hurdles that we have to overcome in stemming the tide of abandoned and euthanized dogs in our country and the world for that matter. Is to stop with all this nonsense about making sure you do your ‘Breed Research ‘, before choosing a breed of dog.

    There are tens of thousands, to hundreds of thousands of dog rescues organizations for every single breed of dog out there. That should tell us that every dog, regardless of the breed can only act and behave like a dog.

    If the available dog bite figures are accurate ( 4.5 million dog attacks a year) , these figures should prove that dogs are not the domesticated animals we are lead to believe they are. It’s our job to teach domestication to each and every new puppy we bring into our home.

    Alan Papszycki
    ( The Spirit Dog)
    Spirit Animal Sanctuary
    2539 East Road
    Boonville, NY 13309

  11. Are some dogs untrainable. Are some breeds inherently aggressive. I dont really know the answer to that one? Do you have any thoughts on it?

  12. Hello Bill. Any relation to Ray, the protection equipment guy ?

    This is an obviously “Canned” comment you must of made somewhere else. So here’s my “canned” response.

    Dog Training Your Way To alphadom

    The first thing you gotta understand is, an alpha is an alpha, plain and simple. They lead the pack by being the toughest bastard in the group. That is their only prerequisite for being the boss. The reason why I bring this up is, to many dog trainers and behaviorists adhere to these totally bizarre alpha dog principles. That somehow make sense to us humans, but assuredly makes absolutely no sense to dogs. Sadly these trainers have learned this from somebody else, who learned it from somebody else and so on and so forth. They should have really paid more attention to the dogs themselves. The following are some examples, of the advice some trainers teach on learning how to be the alpha.

    (1)- Dogs eat after humans.. ( Alphas don’t always eat first, when they get hungry they’ll wander over to whoever is eating something and with their body language will say, ” U dun wit dat”. Not really asking them, more or less telling them. It’s a Brooklyn thing.)

    (2)- Humans go through doorways first.. ( Alphas are not usually in a rush to get anywhere, the dogs that run out first are normally the younger or more excitable dogs. That’s like saying your kids are trying to show dominance over you, by running out the door first.)

    (3)- Dogs sleep on the floor, not on your bed. ( For the most part dogs like sleeping together, with their boss. Whether you like having your dogs sleep with you or not, is your choice. Does sleeping with your dogs build a better bond ? In some cases yes but not necessarily, the depth of your bond has more to do with how you interact with your dog.)

    (4)- Games, such as fetch must only be started and ended by the human. ( I’m not even going to say anything about this stupid shit, I would like you to tell me what’s wrong with this.) I just can’t wait, if you don’t throw the ball…….

    (5)- Never allow your dog on furniture. ( Dogs like comfortable stuff, just like we do. The logic of this one, just has to make you laugh. I can see your dog laying on your couch thinking to himself,)
    The King

    The King

    (6)- Your dog can only go to the bathroom in one spot, and no sniffing. ( We’re talking about outside here, not in your house. how does this even seem logical to some people.)

    No wonder so many dog trainers fail the dogs that they were hired to help. I say they fail the dogs and not their owners, because the dogs are the ones that are going to pay for those failures, with their life.

    The Spirit Dog
    Read This Before Hiring A Dog Trainer / Behaviorist
    Dog Training, Finding the Perfect Dog Trainer

  13. Dogs and Aggression
    Last year I used Google Alert to get some insight on dog bites and attacks. For those of you that don’t know about this service, you give Google a topic and it e-mails you news releases on that topic.
    So, for the last year I have been getting on average of, lets say, four alerts a day, and at least one report every day. Now, if I disregard the reports that are non relevant (articles that happen to have the words dog and bite or dog and attack in the story) then disregard the articles that are multiples of the same stories, I am still left with a staggering amount of violent incidences between humans and K-9’s.
    Reading through every word of every article is not my cup of tea. My research skills are not great. However, I have trained myself to at least skim through all the articles to find the age of the human victim and the breed of the dog involved. Many of the attack releases are horrifying. Most involve young or small children, the dogs are (usually) known to the victim and of course “Pit Bull” is the news popular breed.
    I am not writing this article to bash Pit Bulls. I would never own one, because I am not a Pit Bull “type”. Nor am I a Poodle or German Shepard “type”. I think for the most part this breed is getting its reputation because of irresponsible humans that have no idea how to manage a dog that has been bred to be a killer. Do Jack Russell Terriers not bite? We breed them to kill. No one wants to take the time to read a story about a ferocious JRT. But we do pay attention to the dangerous breed attacks. As well, we have to take into consideration the severity of a Pit Bull attack.
    Part of my dog related business involves dog attack training for utility companies. These are the people that go to your house to read meters or to service equipment and it’s usually in the same place where many people STORE their dogs. I have labeled these dogs “backyard lawn ornaments”. The utility workers tell me their biggest fear is going into a fenced yard and seeing a dog on the end of a chain. They also tell me that some people will actually chain the dog to the meter, or build the dog run around the services to the house. The meter still needs to be read so there is usually some type of confrontation between the worker and the dog or the worker and the dog’s owner when asked to remove the animal from the area. It is easy to see that people that keep dogs this way did not get a dog for companionship. This dog is nothing more than a tool and eventually grows to be a social misfit. If it escapes or a child wanders into the yard the outcome is usually grim.
    Dogs, like humans, are social animals. They need interaction with other living beings to be mentally stable. A dog that grows up on the end of a chain will not develop the social skills needed to suppress the attack or bite reflexes when confronted by another dog or human. Understanding pack mentality is crucial to raising a dangerous breed pup.
    There are many other reasons why dogs develop aggression problems. Dogs are naturally aggressive. It is a survival instinct they are born with. The aggressive pup in the litter gets the most nutrition, warmth and affection. Once humans are in charge of the nutrition, warmth, and affection, care must be taken to insure that the pup knows its place in the human pack. The pup must be raised as a dog, not a human. Humanizing a dog will cause aggressive behavior. Issues can come from something as trivial as letting your dog on the furniture. Height is status in the pack. A dominant dog will stand over the submissive dog to show dominance. So letting your dog sit or sleep with the human pack members can give the dog a sense of authority that needs to be protected by aggression.
    Not controlling the entrance to the house can cause aggression issues. If your dog charges the door at the sound of a knock or a doorbell, it is a dominant response to protect the pack. A stable dog will know to alert the pack by barking once or twice and let the pack leader deal with the intruder. When you take your dog for a walk, the dog should be the last one through the door. In fact the dog should sit at an open door until it is allowed to go out. These may seem like small details to humans, but in a dogs mind Alpha Status is everything.
    If your dog is showing signs of aggression look for the triggers. What causes this dog to react violently? It may be something as subtle as a food dish by a door, or just being frustrated from lack of exercise.

    Bill Allen

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