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Why Did My Dog Suddenly Become Aggressive? Here’s 7 Reasons

Did your dog suddenly become aggressive to you, or another animal? Perhaps it became aggressive to someone else in your home? Veterinary Technician Amber LaRock looks at the most common reasons this happens, and when it's time to call a veterinarian.

Amber LaRock

Last Updated: February 27, 2021 | 8 min read

Aggressive Dog About to Bite Owner

Did your dog suddenly turn to you aggressively with no warning at all? There are many different factors that can impact canine behavior. Some are more obvious than others, so it’s important to understand what may be causing the behavioral change.

Aggression in dogs is not something to take lightly. Not only is this a concerning behavior for dogs in general, but it is especially worrisome in a pup that is usually friendly! So what could cause a dog to suddenly turn aggressive toward you or other dogs?

In order to address and change the behavior, you need to understand why it’s happening. In this article, we’ll discuss the details of canine aggression in our furry friends and help you understand why your pup is experiencing this sudden change in temperament!

Signs of Aggression

Small Dog Barking at Another Dog
There are many ways dogs show aggression toward other dogs and humans.

Before we discuss the details of this sudden behavior in dogs, it’s important to understand what aggression can look like in our furry friends. Aggressive behavior is very different from mouthing or biting behavior. Some dogs can experience mild grumpiness from time to time, which is not always a major cause for concern. So, what are the signs of actual aggression in dogs?

The most common signs of aggression in canines include:

  • Tense or rigid posture
  • Intense stare
  • Hackles raised
  • Growling
  • Showing their teeth
  • Muzzle punch, which involves the dog hitting you or others with their nose
  • Deep bark that sounds more threatening than usual
  • Snapping
  • Growling or guarding objects
  • Bites ranging in intensity
  • Biting and retreating
  • Biting and continuing to attack

While this is not always the case, most dogs show some warning signs before they bite. These warning signs are often one of the many different ways a dog may be trying to communicate. Some dogs may turn to destructive behavior by digging up the yard or stress-induced yawning to let you know they are unhappy, but aggressive warning signs look entirely different.

Many dog owners label their dog’s aggressive behavior as “sudden” or “unexpected” when really, they are missing many clues leading up to the action. The best way to stay informed on canine aggression is to educate yourself on the many possible signs. Staying informed can help keep those in your home safe, as well as prevent negative interactions with other animals.

Types Of Canine Aggression

German Shepherd Baring its Teeth
Growling, barking, and baring of teeth are the most common signs of canine aggression.

Before diving into the most common causes of sudden aggression, let’s first discuss the types of canine aggression you may see in your furry friend. Multiple examples of aggressive behavior can stem from these categories, making it important to understand the fundamentals.

Protective/Maternal Aggression: Aggressive behavior that stems from protecting their offspring or puppies, often coming from a female.

Territorial Aggression: Aggressive behavior directed toward an animal or person that is entering their territory. Their territory can include their home, their yard, or any other space your dog claims as to their own.

Predatory Aggression: Aggressive actions directed toward other animals that they are interested in hunting. This aggression can be tied to a dog’s prey drive and often results in a deadly strike.

Fear Aggression: Aggressive behavior that is fear or anxiety-based. This behavior can involve fear in new situations, environments, or meeting new people. This behavior is often due to an animal feeling cornered or trapped by its current surroundings.

Sexual Aggression: Aggression that is tied to mating behavior. This behavior is directed toward the animal they are mating with or other dogs that seem like a competition.

7 Reasons For Sudden Canine Aggression

Now that you understand what canine aggression can stem from, it is time to discuss the seven most common reasons behind sudden aggression in our beloved companions. Ranging from protecting their favorite toys to feeling unwell, your dog’s aggression could be pointing to something more!

Being Possessive

Small Dog Being Protective of Ball
Dogs can be very possessive over their space, toys, food, and even their owners.

Possessive aggression is one of the most common forms of canine aggression that pet owners experience. Possessiveness, or resource guarding, involves a dog guarding a specific object they claim as their own and becoming aggressive when anyone approaches it. This aggression can happen when an owner tries to take this object away or even when a person or animal approaches the area.

Not only can this occur when a dog is guarding their food or a favorite toy, but it can also happen when strangers enter their home. Dogs can become extremely possessive over their space, causing them to display aggressive behavior if they feel like their territory is being invaded. If aggressive behavior occurs when he is trying to guard a resource, it is likely due to possessive aggression.

Redirected Aggression

German Shepherd Growling at Another Dog
It’s common for dogs to be triggered by one thing, then direct the frustration toward another trigger that interferes.

Redirected aggression is another common form of canine aggression. Redirected aggression involves a dog becoming stimulated by a specific trigger, only to be interrupted by something or someone in the process. This trigger causes a dog to redirect its aggression away from the original trigger and turn it onto the person or animal that interrupted them. This reason is why it is so important to never interrupt a dog fight with your bare hands.

For example, many pet owners will receive severe wounds when de-escalating a dog fight. The owners often reach for their dogs to separate them, only to have one of the dogs turn around and suddenly bite them. This aggression can occur in otherwise friendly animals and dogs of any age or sex.

Pushing Their Limits

Child Playing With Beagle's Ears
You should always pay attention to warning signs your dog may show that his limits are being pushed.

Pushing a dog to the point of frustration can lead to aggression in some of our canine friends. Many dogs have limits to specific behavior they can tolerate and may become aggressive if those boundaries are pushed. Just like you and I may not tolerate a repeated action over time, our dogs are the same way.

For example, many dogs will offer a few warning signs to show that they are frustrated with a current scenario. A dog may snarl and growl at a child tugging on their ear, only to become overwhelmed if their warning signs are not understood. Pushing a dog’s limits may cause them to become aggressive, often leading to bites and injury. If your dog was not left alone as their frustration began to rise, his boundaries were possibly pushed.

Pain

Fluffy Dog Laying on Wooden Floor
Newly developed pain can cause dogs to show hostility toward their caretakers.

Pain can cause a dog to behave in many abnormal ways. Discomfort can decrease their tolerance in multiple situations, causing them to become aggressive in some cases. Not only does pain hurt, but it can be extremely stressful for a dog to handle. This is especially true if it’s due to an acute injury or illness. A dog may become aggressive when the painful area is touched or experience aggression due to a buildup of stress.

Identifying why a dog is in pain can be tricky. Pain in dogs can be due to joint conditions, lacerations, injured limbs, GI conditions, back injuries, and more. If you think your dog is experiencing a painful episode that triggered their aggression, it’s best to contact your veterinarian for further care.

New Medical Conditions

Chihuahua Growling at Human Hand
A medical condition that presents itself can generate a mood shift in your dog.

A new medical condition can be extremely stressful for a dog to handle. Medical conditions can trigger sudden canine aggression, especially if it leads to changes in daily routine. Not only can the onset of new symptoms lead to heightened anxiety, but a change in their structure can further aggravate a stressed-out pup. A change in routine can involve new daily medications, more trips to the vet, and any decline in their overall health.

The onset of a new medical condition can not only lead to new canine aggression but may even provoke aggression in an already grumpy dog. If you think your dog’s sudden aggression is tied to a new diagnosis, we suggest speaking with your vet about ways to offer comfort.

Changes in Their Environment

Small Black Dog in New Home
Moving to a new home, having visitors, or staying at another home bring about stress and aggressive behavior.

Many dogs thrive in a structured environment. Our canine companions find comfort in a general routine, leading to stress if there are any sudden changes in their life. A stressed-out dog is more likely to snap in certain situations, opening up the door for behavioral changes. Major shifts at home can cause a dog to react in ways it wouldn’t have before and may even display aggressive behavior as a result.

Dogs can experience stress due to switching homes, the sudden absence of an owner, new people in the home, new pets in the home, and more. If your dog’s aggressive behavior began after a change in their routine, this could be the cause of their aggression.

Aging

Senior Dog in a Field
An older dog is prone to more complications that arise with age. Be patient and gentle when they begin this behavior.

While age is not a disease in itself, it can bring many life changes. A senior dog is more likely to experience chronic pain, new medical conditions, and even heightened stress due to environmental changes. Each of these complications can lead to sudden aggression on its own. Any one of these factors can cause noticeable behavioral shifts.

If you notice heightened aggression in your dog once they entered their senior years, it’s best to discuss this occurrence with your veterinarian. Your vet can potentially diagnose any condition that is causing your pet distress, as well as offer ways to bring them comfort in their senior years.

Addressing Your Dog’s Aggression

Pomeranian Baring Teeth at Camera
Though some aggression can seem cute, it is substantial to promptly and correctly address the behavior to avoid injury.

The sudden onset of aggressive behavior in your dog should always be taken seriously. Even more important than acknowledging sudden behavioral change is approaching it in the right way, as a negative reaction can worsen the situation. Let’s discuss the recommended steps you should take in addressing your dog’s aggression.

Find The Root of the Problem

The first step you should take in addressing your dog’s aggression is trying to get to the root of the problem. Examining your dog’s life for any potential triggers can help you solve the problem and even prevent future aggression. It is rare for a dog to experience a severe behavioral change without a trigger.

Speak With Your Veterinarian

If your dog is ever experiencing sudden aggression, we always suggest speaking with your veterinarian. The only way to rule out an underlying cause is by seeing a professional and discussing your dog’s history with a vet that knows them. If your dog’s behavioral change is due to an undiagnosed condition, you may never resolve the issue on your own.

Seek Professional Training

Canine aggression should always be taken seriously. Even the sweetest of dogs can accidentally harm us. You’ll need to seek professional training in situations involving aggressive behavior. Professional dog trainers are also skilled in identifying potential triggers in your home. This will help make it easier to get to the root of the behavior.

Avoid Potential Triggers

If you can identify a specific trigger for your furry friend, it’s critical to make it’s life easier by avoiding the situation when possible. While not all causes are easily avoidable, some canine triggers are. For example, if it seems like your dog is triggered by new animals entering your home, it may be best to avoid welcoming in any new pets.

Final Thoughts

Sudden aggression in dogs has been linked to many potential factors. After reading this article, you’ve likely been able to identify at least one reason why aggression may have become a newly developed problem.

If your pup suddenly became aggressive, the first thing to do is to consult your veterinarian. You’ll want to make sure it’s not health-related. From there, you’ll want to work through the steps above with a canine behavioral specialist. It’s critical to address the behavior and work with your dog to correct it do it doesn’t continue.

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