Lesson #6: Fear Aggression isn’t Just for Dogs

This is not a fear aggressive look. Just snarky.

I got hurt today. Not physically, but took a bruising to the emotional ego.

It shouldn’t have happened, but I should have seen it coming. The signs were all there and I failed to recognize them. That I was in a position to be hurt is something I initially questioned and blamed myself for, but in the end, that’s the part I should be proud of. It’s who I am.

I got hit with fear aggression.

Fear aggression isn’t a phrase that comes up in normal, natural conversations for most people, but for those of us who fall into the category of dog person or enthusiast (or as we’re more often than not referred to as fanatics, crazy dog people) it’s not unfamiliar. In fact, it’s far more familiar than the uninitiated may realize.

Fear aggression is when a dog acts out over fear. (See, we’re not all that confusing in our lingo!) Some of you odd non-dog people know this to be similar to the fight or flight syndrome, but taken a little further. When faced with something uncomfortable or scary, the fear aggressive dog tries to remove itself from the situation. If that is not an option, they become aggressive. For you non-dog obsessed folk, think of the cornered rat concept.

A fear aggressive dog may take advantage of an opening to attack, even if the opportunity to retreat is available. For instance, if you turn your back on a fear aggressive dog, that could be taken as an opening to attack, even though you have apparently offered the opportunity to diffuse the situation and remove the fear. The aggression is still fired up, and in need of an outlet.


The little lesson here is unless you know dog behavior and are well versed in canine body language (and can tell the difference between the evil eye and the stink eye), don’t second guess which snark you’re getting from a dog. The quick fix to always try first is avoid eye contact by lowering your head and back away slowly without turning your back.

Only turn your back to an apparently aggressive dog if you’ve done the instantaneous nerve ending density analysis and realized the back will hurt the least. Don’t laugh, it happens in a split second, I know, I’ve done it. If this is the case, brace yourself against something to balance the impending impact and do everything in your power to remain upright.

Fear aggression is rooted in, well, fear. (See, see why us dog people can’t stand dealing with most people?! We like things simple, clear and obvious.) The fear aggressive dog is torn between it’s job (say, to protect the person, the home, the toy, the dust bunny, the spot he or she is sitting in ….) from perceived evil doers, and their preference to be left alone by evil doers. (Again, pretty dang simple, and not a bad philosophy on life!)

When a fear aggressive dog’s world is rocked, it can get ugly. For a fear aggressive dog owner, the challenge and responsibility is to understand the root cause, and work to overcome it as much as possible, and also to reduce or avoid situations where concerns can arise.

Simple. Show the dog you will protect him or her. That you will do whatever is possible to avoid harm or agitation entering their lives. Respect that they want to protect you, but offer protection to them. Sounds easy, right? Yep, is so isn’t. But it’s doable, trainable, and manageable.

The responsibility for managing fear aggression is on the owner and handler, not the dog.

Dog freaks like me do this. We love our fear aggressive dogs. When we meet one, we see the pain and fear in them, and the good dog wanting to be protected and loved and adored. We understand their need to do their job, to protect what’s theirs, and to fight for what they hold dear. We respect that and take that challenge on to teach them new ways while allowing them to still hold what is important to them.

Dog folk recognize the stance.

We hear the faint catch of the breath, the awkward grumble. We see the sideways look, the askew tail that isn’t moving even in the slightest, and the tensed up body.  We know to look at the whiskers and to look at their mouth. We can tell the mood often by which teeth are showing. Most importantly, we know HOW to look at their eyes, and when we do, it’s usually the last place, after we’ve checked all the other cues.

(Quick side note to non-dog nuts: please don’t look dogs directly in the eye unless you really really really know the dog well. Seriously, please.)

So here’s the thing. I know this about dogs. I know this instinctively now after so many years. I know this having had my run ins with fear aggressive, mean aggressive, defensive, territorial and protective aggressiveness … in dogs.

Why have I not extended this awareness to other animals?

I have. I can recognize it in cats. And now in birds. I can see it in some other animals, too. But I continue to forget one main group.

All you nice people out there. (and yeah, fine, whatever, ok … this one in here, too. There, happy? Quick, turn your back, I wanna do something  … seriously? You missed the reference to the comment about not turning your back on a fear aggressive dog? It was like what, 3 paragraphs ago? Do you need an ADD patch?!)

So I got bit today, metaphorically.

Another person and I took on a challenge and we not only put in the effort we were required to, by the nature of our positions, but we put our souls into this. We cared, deeply. We went the extra mile, put in the heart and integrity, and dug down deep to put whatever we could on the table to work as a team with the others involved for a common goal.

We had become frustrated as the input was discarded, and the ensuing outcomes were expected. But each time we put away our discouragement and met their expectations and requests with more.

Or so we thought.

We got bit.

And holy hell did it sting.

Like a dog bite I had to walk it off. We tried to talk it out after, but no. It was too soon. We had to let it hurt, to let the blood flush out the dog spit, as it were.

As you may have realized, as a dog crazy person I have had my share of bites, bumps, bruises, and yep, even had a dog actually open paw smack me once. Right across the face. Some of you nice readers know that I took a pretty nasty full on dog attack a couple decades back. At the time I felt like a failure. I hadn’t been able to help that dog. I hadn’t been able to save him.

It was a pathetically long time before I realized that I had.

Today I processed the “bite” quicker. I allowed it to sting. I tended to it. And then processed it. I knew the bite came from a place of fear, pain, grief. I also knew simultaneously that I, we, had done our very best and had delivered beyond what we were prepared to. We were and remain proud of the work we have done. We remain strong and committed to the veracity and value of what we gave. We are confident in the efforts and deliverables.

We did not fail. And in recognizing where the bite came from, we will be able to clean it, dress it, and let it heal. And when we face the dog again (and for you non-dog people, that is a term of ENDEARMENT), we will use the same emotional ties, investment and connection that we had before the bite.

That closeness that made it sting so bad … is what makes us a great team. The very reason it hurt allows us to be proud of what we have achieved.

My ignorance came from not recognizing the signs of fear aggression so the bite could have been avoided in the first place. Lesson learned.

People can be fear aggressive, too.

Seems simple enough, but this dog person … sometimes misses the obvious.


To learn more about aggressive behavior in dogs, and how to recognize and, where appropriate, assist in managing it, visit the ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist. And while you’re there, consider donating to help save a life!


About Laurissa Doonan

I'm a marketer. I've been a professional marketer for over 25 years, but in reality, I have always been one. Marketing to me is about communicating effectively, regardless of platform, regardless of channel. Marketing is understanding both your objectives and your audience, and finding the right method and message for your customers to reach them where they are. Now I dedicate my efforts to helping very small and small companies pursue their passions and grow their businesses through marketing; providing agency trained expertise without the overhead. www.Charter-Marketing.com www.CharterMarketing.wordpress.com
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One Response to Lesson #6: Fear Aggression isn’t Just for Dogs

  1. Pingback: What I finally learned from Jack « What's On LJ's Mind

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