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Guide To Australian Shepherd Training & Care

How To Deal With Fear Aggression In Dogs

By Anton Hout, author of The Guide to Aussie Training & Care

Fear aggression in dogs is a very misunderstood behavior but it is more common than you might think and can be very dangerous. There can be many reasons why a dog may show fear and it may even happen suddenly, without warning. But you can help your dog overcome his fear if you approach the situation correctly and that begins with understanding what is happening and why.

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Most of the time when a dog displays aggression people assume he is trying to establish dominance. In fact, much of the time what you are experiencing may actually be dog fear aggression. The two manifest similarly but there are certain specific physical signs you can look for that point to a fear response rather than a play for dominance.

A typical display of fear aggression in dogs may include:

  • the head held low,
  • wrinkling of the nose and curling of lips with both front and back teeth showing,
  • corners of the mouth pulled back,
  • ears back and usually pinned to the head,
  • raised hackles and a tucked tail,
  • lowered body and,
  • fast panting.

The sooner you can recognize these signs the better, so that you can handle the situation properly.

Australian Shepherd sitting by owner's legs.

Irina /

Dog Fear Aggression Isn't Necessarily Due To A Previous Bad Experience

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Start with our official ebook Guide To Australian Shepherd Training & Care. It was created by Aussie lovers for Aussie lovers. You can read this practical guide on any computer, tablet, or smartphone.

It is common with dog fear aggression for owners to assume something bad must have happened to the dog in his past in order to trigger the response, but this isn't necessarily true. In most cases, fear response stems from a lack of proper socialization during the early stages of the dog's life. In order to prevent him from becoming afraid of different people, dogs or situations, he needs to be exposed to them early in his development.

Without the proper socialization it can be possible to see signs of fear aggression in dogs whenever they sense a threatening situation. This can be true for any breed, including normally friendly Australian Shepherds.

If you begin to see signs of fear aggression in your dog, you need to approach him carefully. Dogs that are fearful may back away when approached head on, but they are also likely to respond with several small bites, usually as you begin to walk away.

Possible Triggers For Fear Aggression In Dogs

There are many possible triggers for dog fear aggression, the most common being a direct, head-on approach that the dog takes as a threat. Often, the clumsy and awkward behavior of children can become a trigger, which may lead to unfortunate results.

In any case where a dog displays fear, the worst thing you can do is assume that it's his fault or that he's somehow "gone bad". Consider how you react to things that frighten you and whether it's something you are doing consciously.

Guide To Australian Shepherd Training & Care

What You Can Do To Help Your Dog With Fear Aggression

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help your dog overcome his fear. In order to prevent fear aggression in dogs, you need to identify what is causing the response and then expose your dog to it gradually under controlled circumstances.

Initially, the exposure should be at a distance and for a short time, then you can slowly increase the length of exposure and bring the trigger closer. Remember to praise him gently but firmly each time he responds calmly to reinforce the proper behavior.

In extreme cases you may also want to use a natural product such as St. John's Wort to ease anxiety, but you should always check with your vet first before administering any medication. In any case, you need to remember that, as with humans, when it comes to easing fear a little patience and understanding can go a long way.

Doggy Dan, Professional 
Dog Trainer

"Doggy Dan" Professional
Dog Trainer

If you are looking for a great dog training program, I highly recommend The Online Dog Trainer. It is a video-based program featuring hundreds of videos which are organized into categories that cover the foundations of dog training, puppy training, obedience training, and dealing with behavior problems including aggression.

It was created by a professional dog trainer known as "Doggy Dan" who walks you through his dog training lessons step-by-step. Not only will Dan's program help you deal with specific behavior issues, but you will also get a handle on all of your dog's training which will allow you to prevent other problems from developing before they even start! You can learn more about Dan's program on his website here.

Check out this introductory dog aggression video...

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