My boyfriend and I recently adopted a dog with some issues. We know that she was exposed to domestic violence in her previous home. One side note before I explain the issues: We are scheduled to see a highly regarded trainer who specifically works with difficult dogs, and most likely will see her for several sessions. I came across this site after searching for this particular issue and couldn't find an answer so I figured I'd ask. My point by saying this is that I am not looking for some magical answer to "fix" my dog on this forum. Just looking for more info on what might be happening.

So the dog is extremely sweet with most people. She gets upset and barks/snarls/lunges when someone unexpectedly comes to our house, but as soon as we greet them and let her sniff their hand, she stops barking and does the tail/body wag. If she is unable to sniff them, she will continue to get more and more aggravated, barking and snarling at them. The other day we went to a full-service gas station and she acted like she wanted to tear the attendant apart because he was standing right next to the car and talking to me.

The other issue she has is with other dogs. So far we haven't purposefully introduced her to any dogs because we know she is reactive and wanted to wait for the training session to find out how to properly train her. However, we had an unexpected run-in with a family member's dog. We were at someone else's house and this family member came over with their dog, without us knowing. The dog came running in and saw our dog, and came over to meet her. Our dog at first was friendly, they sniffed each other's faces for a second, then sniffed each other's back sides. But after a few seconds of this, our dog suddenly became very still and rigid, growled for a second, and then started attacking. She didn't actually bite the other dog, but they were going around in circles until the other dog had a chance to run away and we grabbed our dog.

Is this a common thing? I've only been finding stories about dogs who are aggressive towards other dogs immediately upon seeing them. In this case, our dog is not aggressive at first, she seems very interested and friendly. It's only after the initial introduction that she seems to freak out and snap at them. What might be going on? I can try to provide any other info that might be helpful.

  • Do you know her breed? Some breeds are less dog friendly than others.
    – Joanne C
    Jun 20, 2014 at 18:51
  • my dog has the same issue at times. he has met many many dogs and usually does great but there are those times when the same thing happens. he does great in training class and on pack walks. I would suggest doing those too it is a good way for her to get to know dogs slowly
    – jana
    Dec 5, 2017 at 18:45
  • Was either of the dogs on leash? This can really aggravate aggression.
    – Nova
    Dec 6, 2018 at 3:50

2 Answers 2


You've pretty much, at least in my view, seemed to have described a classic case of territorial and/or protective aggression. Basically, the aggression is linked to relative distance (e.g. the proximity to you) with the aggression getting stronger as the perceived threat draws near to what they are defending. Karen Overall describes these in quite a bit of detail in the Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats and it is fairly common in that many dogs will demonstrate some amount of one or the other from time to time. It's also not limited, necessarily, to any species as they can react to humans or other dogs as perceived threats in any case.

My sense is that much of the aggression is centred around protecting you, rather than a location (though there's some minor territory aggression with your home). The problem is, under these circumstances is that the aggression isn't warranted and persists, especially with other dogs, despite your cues that it's not necessary. While we expect dogs to be protective, that expectation is with the understanding that the dog can determine threat correctly. You should observe if her change in reaction to other dogs is heightened by the other dog getting closer to you.

You're going to be seeing a specialist, clearly, so it would be interesting to learn if they come to the same conclusion. I suspect that they'll work through a course of behavioral modification, but in the meanwhile what you can do is minimize/avoid situations where the dog thinks she has to protect you and keep her from people that are already dog afraid.


Every dog has a different personality. My grandmother has a dog that is only dog aggressive towards large dogs, ignoring any dog that is cat sized. That being said, the best advice you will likely get is from a trainer. You already have the proper additude in not expecting an instant "fix" and the training will probably work well. In the specific instance that you mentioned, I think it may be a good idea to redirect your dog when another dog appears. Perhaps your dog has a low threshold for other dogs. It may be saying. "oh hello...you are too close to me... please go away... GETAWAYFROMMENOW!"

Let's start with some ASPCA advice.

To say that a dog is “aggressive” can mean a whole host of things. Aggression encompasses a range of behaviors that usually begins with warnings and can culminate in an attack. Dogs may abort their efforts at any point during an aggressive encounter.


It is important to learn the warning signs in your dog. For my grandmother's dog, his warning sign was a silent growl. Once you know when your dog may be getting agitated, you may be able to remove it from the situation before it turns ugly.

I'm not sure what specific type of aggression your dog has, but here is a summary of fear aggression (also from the ASPCA)

Fearful dogs sometimes run away from a person or animal who frightens them, but if the person or animal turns to leave, they come up from behind and nip. This is why it’s a good idea to avoid turning your back on a fearful dog. Fear aggression is characterized by rapid nips or bites because a fearful dog is motivated to bite and then run away. Sometimes the aggression doesn’t begin with clear threats. A fearful dog might not show her teeth or growl to warn the victim off. In this kind of situation, the only warning is the dog’s fearful posture and her attempts to retreat. Male and female dogs are equally prone to fear aggression, and this type of aggression is common in both puppies and adults.


It is also important to note who the aggression is focused on.

Determining whom your dog is aggressive toward is essential to understanding her behavior. It’s common for dogs to behave aggressively toward unfamiliar people. Some studies report that as many as 60 to 70% of all pet dogs bark threateningly at strangers and act unfriendly when around them. Aggression toward unfamiliar dogs is also widespread. It’s less common for dogs to direct aggression toward family members or other pets in the home. Most problematic are dogs who are aggressive toward children, especially children in the family. Not only is aggression toward children exceedingly difficult to treat because of safety concerns, the likelihood that a dog with this problem will ever become trustworthy is slim. Some dogs are aggressive only to a certain category of people. A dog might be aggressive only with the veterinarian or groomer, or with the postal carrier, or with people in wheelchairs or individuals using canes and walkers. In some cases, it’s easy to limit a dog’s access to the people that upset her. For instance, if your short-haired dog dislikes the groomer, you can just groom her yourself at home. But in other cases, the targeted people are impossible to avoid. For example, if you have a dog who dislikes children and you live in a densely populated urban apartment building next to a preschool, it will be difficult to avoid exposing your dog to children. Aggression toward people, aggression toward dogs and aggression toward other animals are relatively independent patterns of behavior. If your dog is aggressive toward other dogs, for example, that doesn’t mean she’s any more or less likely to be aggressive toward people.


I once had a dog that was only aggressive towards tall men, men in hats, and black men. He was abused as a puppy and we guess that his abusers fit that profile. This was a big problem because my boyfriend was also tall and it took a lot of work for the dog to trust him. (He had to lay on the floor with the other dog before he was considered okay).

I think that you should work with the trainer and take careful notes of your dogs behavior. It will not be easy and there may be some people or dogs that your dog will never trust. (My dog still could not stand hats until the day he died)

Here is the story of someone who had a dog that became aggressive when excited. Perhaps you can learn from their experience as well.

And this article has pictures that help to learn dog body language.

I wish you luck

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