Why Is My Dog Suddenly Aggressive Towards Me? (2022)

When once-friendly Fido suddenly snaps or growls at you, it can be scary and heartbreaking.

In fact, of all the canine-behavior cases I see, owner-directed aggression can be the most emotionally challenging issue that pet people face.

But don’t worry: There are things you can do to help solve your dog’s sudden aggression problem.

We’ll explain everything you need to know, including not only some of the reasons this can happen, but what you’ll want to do about it, below.

How Do You Know if Your Dog Is Being Aggressive Instead of Just Grumpy?

To distinguish between grumpiness and aggression, we’ll need to start by defining aggression.

Aggression is a threat or harmful behavior directed towards another individual (be it a dog, human, or another pet).

A few common examples of threats and harmful behaviors dogs may exhibit include:

  • Hard stares
  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Snarling
  • Lunging
  • Snapping
  • Biting

On the other hand, dogs can easily feel overwhelmed, tired, like being left alone, or even feel unwell — they can just feel, for lack of a better term, grumpy.

Grumpiness is really just another way of saying less-tolerant than normal. Any dog who is pestered or pushed beyond his level of tolerance could potentially lead to an aggressive response.

Grumpiness shouldn’t be taken any less seriously, and these signals should be respected. A grumpy response could tell us there is something more, perhaps even medically, going on.

In such cases, dogs may do things like:

  • Warning growl
  • Removing themselves
  • Warning nip or air snap
  • Yelp or bark

In general, “grumpiness” does not lead to bites unless you continue to provoke your pooch. But the more times they find themselves provoked, the greater the risk for a bite to occur in the future.

Why Is My Dog Suddenly Aggressive Towards Me? (1)

Addressing Your Dog’s Sudden Aggression: What Should You Do?

Regardless of whether he is growling at you because he is being aggressive or he is just telling you off, you must always heed your dog’s warnings.

Your pup has every right to tell you he doesn’t feel like cuddling, having his hair brushed, or sharing his food.

Ultimately, we need to understand the root cause of his aggressive behavior. What type of dog aggression is he displaying? What has caused your dog to act aggressively, and how can we help him?

Often, owners will need professional assistance from a qualified behavior consultant, positive trainer, or veterinary behaviorist to determine the underlying reason for his aggro behavior.

In fact, aggression is one of the leading reasons people call a professional for help.

But unfortunately, the dog training industry is unregulated, and not all trainers are equally qualified or educated.

So do your homework, choose a reputable dog trainer or behavior consultant with a solid evidence-based ethos, who is certified by an organization with a positive-based code of ethics. Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

It is especially important to obtain professional advice if your dog has bitten you or your dog has bitten someone else — particularly if the bite was severe enough to require medical treatment.

(Video) “Why is my dog SUDDENLY aggressive towards me?” – Dog Trainer Explains

Nevertheless, whether you try to treat your dog’s sudden aggression issues with professional assistance (recommended) or on your own (not a great idea), the basic plan of attack will be the same.

All dog behavior issues are treated by addressing one or more of three similar components:

  • Ruling out medical conditions or assessing for medical interventions.
  • Training (behavior modification).
  • Implementing management solutions.

We’ll talk about each of theses three facets below.

1. Medical Solutions

If your dog’s aggression seems unusual and out of character, it is advisable to see your vet.

Your vet can do a complete check-up to rule in/out any underlying medical issues. This is one step that many people don’t think about, but pain or feeling unwell can be a common reason for the sudden onset of aggressive behavior.

Even if there are no medical issues causing the sudden aggression, behavioral meds (available through your vet) may represent a treatment option.

However, the cautionary tale here is, behavioral medications should always be used in conjunction with behavior training. Otherwise, we are not addressing the root cause of the aggression; we’re just treating the symptoms.

Alleviating the symptoms may, however, be helpful for the training process, as it will help him to feel more relaxed and less anxious, thereby allowing him to learn new coping strategies.

For example, my dog is on canine anxiety medication because she has “stranger danger” issues (as well as generalized anxiety).

We have made incredible progress with by implementing behavioral modifications to address her underlying issues. This two-pronged combination of behavior medication and behavioral training can help you more safely socialize an aggressive dog.

Accordingly, we’ll soon be able to start weaning her off of these meds knowing we have helped create better coping strategies and more positive associations with her triggers.

2. Training Solutions

Once you’ve established that your dog is in good health (or you’ve begun treating any health problems causing the aggression), you can start using aggressive dog training procedures to help your dog overcome his aggressive reactions.

Because the aggressive reaction is an emotional response, we need to address the emotional underpinnings. This typically involves one or more of the following techniques:

Desensitization

Desensitization involves slowly, consistently and repeatedly exposing your dog to his trigger at a tolerable distance or intensity. This is often done in “baby steps” until you reach the end goal.

If, for example, walking near your dog’s food bowl triggers him, you can try sitting or standing at a far enough distance that there is no response from him at all. Then, over time, you can begin moving closer and closer to his bowl at meal times.

I never advise “poking the bear,” (so to speak), or in this case, sticking your hand in his bowl while he is eating. But you may, over days, weeks, or months, be able to walk by your dog while he is eating without soliciting a reaction.

Counterconditioning

This is a big word that really means changing your dog’s underlying emotional response. This way, instead of thinking a given stimulus is bad or scary, your dog will begin to find that it is harmless, and therefore not scary.

For example, if sitting close to your dog triggers his anxiety and aggressive response, you can try tossing treats to him every time you sit on the couch with him. Start far enough away that he doesn’t act reactively — this might even mean that you start on the floor.

The goal is for your pup to equate you sitting next to her with her favorite things (like cheese, peanut butter, or yummy sausage!). The associations she makes with you sitting near her will change over time as your proximity begins to foretell good things.

Teaching Him Alternative Behaviors

Sometimes we need to provide our dogs with an alternative way to cope.

If, for example, your dog reacts aggressively when you get up to walk to the kitchen, you can teach him that when you stand up, it means “go to your bed” (and get a piece of meat for doing so).

By teaching him to do something instead of reacting aggressively, it will give him clear direction, a predictable outcome, and it will mean that he’s about to enjoy something tasty and positive.

(Video) Why is my dog suddenly aggressive towards me? | Frequently Asked Questions

Relaxation Protocol

Teaching anxious dogs to relax is one of the first things I teach new clients. Doing so can help the pup cope with his overall environment, and it will also help him to settle down. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol is one tool to help with this, but there are others as well.

Why Is My Dog Suddenly Aggressive Towards Me? (2)

If you think about it, all of these training solutions work together.

When we counter condition a dog, we can also desensitize him at the same time. Similarly, when we ask for an alternative behavior, we are also desensitizing, and the reward he is earning for the new behavior is an example of counterconditioning.

3. Management Solutions

Management is a key component to helping your dog through the difficulties he is experiencing.

Management helps to prevent aggressive reactions, and in some cases, it may be all you need to do to address the situation.

For example, if your dog acts aggressively when his food bowl is down, try feeding him in a separate space and pick the bowl up and put it away once he is done eating.

Management tools can also help to keep you safe.

If your dog is triggered by scary situations while out on a walk and redirects this onto you, you could condition him to wear a muzzle (which is also an example of a management solution).

If your dog is triggered by strangers or other dogs, this might not only be a good solution to keep everyone safe, but it may also cause strangers to steer clear of you, creating a little less anxiety for your pooch.

What Not to Do When Faced with Sudden Dog Aggression

A common misconception about aggression is that our dogs are actually trying to dominate us. This then leads people to attempt to gain the upper hand by using force, intimidation, and punishment.

But here’s the thing:

  1. Your dog is not trying to be dominant. Your dog isn’t trying to gain rank by displaying signs of aggression. Think of aggression as a defense mechanism, an emotional response to something scary or anxiety provoking.
  2. If you punish your dog for growling or reacting aggressively, there is a good chance you’ll make that aggression worse. Punishment will often result in stress and anxiety, which will only make aggression more likely.
  3. If you punish your dog for growling, they may bite without warning the next time. Again, growling is a warning, which is a good thing.

Ultimately, you want to avoid punishment or corrections if your dog is acting aggressively. Instead, try some of the strategies discussed earlier.

Why Is My Dog Suddenly Aggressive Towards Me? (3)

Why Would a Dog Be Aggressive Towards His Owner?

There is a motivation behind every behavior. In many cases, whether we realize it or not, aggression can be caused by fear or anxiety.

In fact, fear and anxiety are the most common reasons I get called for aggression-related cases, and many of these dogs have reacted aggressively at least once in their lifetime.

Often times, when a dog feels anxious or fearful, their parasympathetic nervous system (which operates on an involuntary basis) kicks in, dumping hormones into the pupper’s bloodstream. This rush in hormones triggers the dog’s fight or flight response.

Also, in our society, dogs have a lot of restrictions placed on them; leashes, barriers, and the threat of consequences can both increase the anxiety and trigger an aggressive response because he has no option to flee.

Fear and aggression are not the only motivation for a dog to act aggressively towards you, though perhaps one of the more common reasons.

Some of the other common motives that can lead a dog to attack his owner include:

Resource Guarding (AKA possession aggression)

The root cause of resource guarding is also anxiety — he’s concerned about people being close to his valued possessions. These valued possessions could include food, toys, beds, or even people.

Sometimes aggression brought on by resource guarding seems sudden, when in fact your dog has given several subtle warnings that you’ve failed to detect.

Medical

There are many reasons why your dog might act aggressively that are caused pain or sickness. It is a good idea to talk to your vet and have a complete wellness exam, especially if the aggression is a new or a sudden change in their normal behavior.

Redirected Aggression

This is often an aggressive response that is redirected onto the closest person or another animal. For example, if you try to break up a fight between two dogs, there is a high likelihood that this aggression could be redirected onto you.

(Video) Why is My Dog AGGRESSIVE Towards Me? 😱

Similarly, if your dog is lunging and barking at the end of his leash at a passerby, he could turn and redirect his frustration onto you.

Punishment

We have a saying in the dog-training world: “Never punish the growl”.

First of all, punishing a dog for responding aggressively is a bit like punishing someone who has just been mugged for acting upset. Secondly, punishing the growl might mean that instead of warning you next time, he may skip that step and just go straight to the bite.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer a warning! Thirdly, punishment and aversive training tools such as shock collars have been proven to increase aggression in dogs.

Trigger Stacking

Say what? Trigger stacking refers to the cumulative effect of multiple triggers.

Imagine this: You are watching the new IT 2 movie. Suddenly, there is a large banging noise and the creak of a door down the hall. That noise and squeaky door likely caused you to jump a lot higher and your heart to beat much faster because you were already scared to begin with.

Similarly, your dog may be able to handle one or maybe two of his triggers with tact, but once the third one happens, he loses his ability to remain composed.

Age Related

Dogs who are experiencing Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (doggie dementia), can often become suddenly aggressive. Some senior dogs may become more irritable in the evening if they have dog sundowners syndrome. Similar to humans, aggression is a common symptom of CCD and is due in part to their confusion and memory loss.

Physical Disability

Dogs who have trouble hearing or seeing can react defensively if suddenly startled. Sometimes it can feel like this happens overnight if your dog is getting older and his senses begin to decline.

Consider talking to a vet or doing some in-home experiments to determine if your dog is blind or deaf.

Rage Syndrome

Though this term was coined in the 70’s, Rage Syndrome is currently considered idiopathic aggression (idiopathic simply means the cause is unknown).

The onset of this is generally between the ages of 1-3 years and is more prevalent in certain breeds, suggesting a possible genetic component.

Cocker and Springer Spaniels, Dobermans, German Shepherds, and Lhasa Apsos seem to be the most susceptible. Nevertheless, “Rage Syndrome” or idiopathic aggression is pretty rare.

A behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist can help you get to the bottom of the issue.

Why Is My Dog Suddenly Aggressive Towards Me? (4)

No matter the cause, just remember that aggression is the byproduct of an emotional response; it is not a conscious choice.

What Kinds of Things Commonly Trigger Aggression Towards People?

Aggression rarely just happens. Something your dog is feeling, or something in his environment triggers that fight or flight response.

Depending on your dog and his unique situation, triggers could vary greatly.

Some of the more common triggers I see include:

  • Being touched, moved, or lifted.
  • The dark can exacerbate movement or sound-related triggers
  • Someone getting up off the couch or moving around the house. This could be one person in particular or anyone who moves.
  • Moving near your dog’s bone, food or favorite toy.
  • Approaching strangers or other dogs when on leash.
  • Having someone visit the house.

There are so many scenarios and different triggers, and each one could have a different root cause.

My dog, Juno, is “people selective”. This means she likes certain people and dislikes others.

The people she dislikes either look unusual to her, are doing something unusual, or they try to approach her.

(Video) How To Train Your Dog To STOP SNAPPING at People (Stop Aggressive/Reactive Behavior)

Her resulting reaction stems from general anxiety and fearfulness of unusual or novel stimulus. Because I am aware of her specific triggers, I can better control her environment, and we can work on positive and controlled socialization.

I suggest making a list of all of your dog’s triggers. I also have people keep a journal. Sometimes we don’t know what the trigger is (or all of them) until we start logging the situations as they happen. But by journaling, you may start to see a pattern emerge.

Sudden Canine Aggression Is Often Surprising

Part of the problem with sudden canine aggression is that it comes about, well, suddenly. After all, if your dog is typically prickly, you wouldn’t consider displays of aggression to be sudden.

Quite often, these dogs who exhibit sudden aggression are normally quite happy and easy-going. They’re usually friendly dogs, not the Cujo-type canines we might imagine them to be.

But that doesn’t mean these dogs aren’t tipping their hand, because many are giving clues that there’s a problem. In fact, one common misconception about sudden aggressive behavior is that it happens “out-of-the-blue.”

However, in reality, our dogs give us plenty of warnings. It’s just that these warnings may be subtle and often go unnoticed or unheeded.

We’ll talk about some of these signs below

What Are Some Warning Signs that Your Dog May Become Aggressive?

Dogs communicate with their bodies. We just often fail to learn their language, a lot of the time.

We bring our own human biases to the table, and often misinterpret our dogs’ body signals, assuming they are synonymous to human behavior, which could mean we are entirely missing what they are actually telling us.

The video below shows several early warning signs.

Aggression is like a ladder. At the bottom of the ladder are avoidance behaviors, calming signals, and subtle signs of stress like yawning and lip licking.

As we climb the ladder, we see the warnings become more and more overt, such as stiffening of the body, freezing, or a hard stare. Once we have reached the top rungs of the ladder, it might be too late. This is where we see lunging, snapping, growling and/or biting.

The more you begin to learn about dog body language, the easier it can be to manage your dog’s aggression by recognizing the early warning signs. You can mitigate a problem before it becomes one.

Why is My Dog Aggressive Towards My Husband But Not Me?

There are several reasons that your dog may be aggressive towards one particular family member over another.

It could be that your dog feels safer with you, you are more predictable, or that you are not doing anything to provoke the aggression. Other family members may be unknowingly triggering an aggressive response, thus becoming a trigger themselves.

Your dog may also be resource guarding you. He may feel anxious when other people are close to his prized human.

My former dog, Stewie, used to growl when my husband came to bed. This is because my husband wasn’t as good at reading Stewie’s body language as I was, and often provoked him by getting too close.

I, on the other hand, was able to avoid this type of reaction by paying close attention to Stewie’s signals. Over time, he learned that my behavior was predictably safe (I never solicited his cuddles) and that my husband was predictably unsafe (he would try to force him to cuddle).

Stewie’s growl and avoidance was all that transpired, and eventually he would just automatically get up and leave the room as soon as my husband came to bed. But it easily could have gone in a different, more aggressive direction.

How Can You Prevent Your Dog from Becoming Aggressive with You?

Take the time to know what is normal and abnormal for your individual dog. Preventing a bite in the first place is our main goal. Often these bites seem to come without warning or when we least expect it, but here are some things you can do to prevent a bite:

  • Be considerate. We often forget about the concept of consent and autonomy when it comes to our pets and put them into situations that they perceive as unfavorable.
  • Have your dog examined annually by your vet. As he begins to age, you may want to visit your vet every six months, including routine blood work.
  • Notice subtle changes in his behavior or daily routine. Try to pinpoint what is happening right before this change of behavior occurs.
  • Keep your dog’s mind mentally stimulated. This means providing lots of enrichment such as walking games and puzzle toys, allowing him to sniff a lot during walks, and playing other types of brain games.
  • Avoid punishment. If your dog thinks of you as being scary, they won’t seek you out for comfort when they are feeling worried or anxious and it can be detrimental to your bond.
  • Be consistent. If your dog is anxious, having a consistent routine. When you act predictable, it can help your anxious pouch feel more at ease.

***

(Video) Sudden Puppy Aggression & How to Stop It (tutorial)

Aggression is not a conscious decision, it is an emotional reaction, often with complex underpinnings. It can be difficult and emotional for everyone involved. But if can often be remedied by employing the tips discussed above or by consulting with a certified trainer.

Do you have a story about your dog’s aggression you’d like to share? What management tools were successful for you? We’d love to hear about your experiences!

FAQs

Can a dog become aggressive for no reason? ›

It's not normal when a happy suddenly exhibits aggressive behavior for no obvious reason. If you take a closer look, always enlisting the help of your vet, you may be able to figure out the cause of your dog's behavior change. Fear can elicit sudden behavioral and temperament changes such as aggression.

How do I stop my dog from being aggressive towards me? ›

RECOMMENDATIONS
  1. Avoid punishment. Confrontational training techniques, including verbal scolding and physical corrections, will likely escalate aggression in the moment and worsen long-term outcomes.
  2. Consider an SSRI. ...
  3. Avoid triggers for aggression. ...
  4. Find a force-free behavior modification professional in your area.
2 Apr 2019

Why is my dog attacking me all of a sudden? ›

There are multiple reasons that a dog may exhibit aggression toward family members. The most common causes include conflict aggression, fear-based, defensive aggression, status related aggression, possessive aggression, food guarding aggression and redirected aggression.

Why is my dog all of a sudden aggressive? ›

1 Your suddenly aggressive dog may have an injury or an illness that's causing major discomfort and stress. Some possible causes of pain include arthritis, bone fractures, internal injuries, various tumors, and lacerations. Other illnesses may affect your dog's brain, leading to seemingly unreasonable aggression.

Is it my fault my dog bit me? ›

Dog Owner Liability

In California, if a dog bites someone, it is a strict liability issue. “If there is a bite, the owners are liable,” says attorney John Montevideo. “There are some exceptions to the rule, but, for the most part, it's the owners fault for it simply having happened.

Why does my dog hate me all of a sudden? ›

Health isn't the only reason a dog's behavior changes. A dog who suddenly becomes disinterested in his pack may be experiencing a wide range of emotions, such as jealousy, anxiety or depression. Has anything changed in your home environment recently? Maybe someone moved into your home (or out of it).

Do dogs feel guilty after they bite? ›

While there's little doubt that dogs are capable of feeling primary emotions, which include feelings such as happiness, sadness and fear, there's far less evidence that dogs experience what are called secondary emotions, which include guilt and shame, says Scientific American.

Why is my dog becoming more reactive? ›

Dogs that are reactive overreact to certain stimuli or situations. Genetics, lack of socialization, insufficient training to learn self-control, a frightening experience, or a combination of these can cause reactivity, and fear is typically the driving force.

Why is my dog becoming more reactive? ›

Though they can look the same, they are quite different beasts. Reactive behavior is a negative response to something that causes fear, anxiety, or stress in our dogs. When your dog displays reactive behavior, his goal is singular. He wants whatever it is that is causing him to feel ill at ease to GET AWAY.

Why does my dog hate me all of a sudden? ›

Health isn't the only reason a dog's behavior changes. A dog who suddenly becomes disinterested in his pack may be experiencing a wide range of emotions, such as jealousy, anxiety or depression. Has anything changed in your home environment recently? Maybe someone moved into your home (or out of it).

Videos

1. Why Your Dog Got Suddenly Aggressive?
(Holistic Dog Training)
2. Why is my dog suddenly aggressive towards me? 12 Reasons Why your Dog Sudden Aggressive towards you
(Mrs. YBAL Dog)
3. My Dog is Aggressive, What do I do? - How to Handle Aggressive Dog Behavior
(Upstate Canine Academy)
4. Sudden Dog Aggression
(Argos Dogworks)
5. Why dogs turn on their owners
(Beckman's Dog Training)
6. Dog BITES Its Owner! How I Fix It Quickly!
(Will Atherton Canine Training)

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