Are All Aggressive Dogs Fearful?

Luzelle & Puppy Sage of HausTralis Malinois at Starbucks Botany Auckland

By Luzelle Cockburn

Now, while many people try to explain aggression and fear, few people properly explain how tolerance and aggression interacts with fear and confidence.  In fact, I don’t think very many people, even dog trainers, understand this. 

The same fallacies perpetuated that aggression is from fearful dogs and all tolerant dogs are confident.  Most of the information on the internet related to aggression and biting is woefully inaccurate to downright dangerous! 

Why Do Dogs Resort to Aggression

So I’ve put together a graph to try and explain it better. But, we’ll get to that later. Firstly, what goes into a dog becoming aggressive? There are two things: their genetics and their learning. But I have to be very quick to add that a dog with a genetic ability to resort to aggression to solve a problem can learn how to deal with life without resorting to aggression – that’s the learning part (even after they have learned to make bad choices).

Dogs resort to aggression to solve a problem. If it is successful, they’ll use it again. If it’s not, they’re less likely to use it again. But dealing with aggression requires skilled handling. You need to understand what’s going on in your dogs head so make sure you speak to a trainer who knows how dogs think and understand how aggression starts.

If you have a dog who has a problem when you go too close to their food it signals a trust (commonly) or respect (I’ve seen this on very rare occasions) issue. If you handle it wrong you can make the problem worse! Just because you are human doesn’t give you the right to touch a dog’s food. In the dog world whoever has the bone is who that bone belongs to. If you want to be an idiot and touch your dog’s bones I can’t have sympathy if you get bitten. You need to build that trust first. I’d bite you too if you touch my food.

If your dog doesn’t guard it’s space or food, you have a very tolerant dog. That still shouldn’t give you a licence to feel like you can be disrespectful to your dog. So don’t push your luck. If you want to be able to take bones off a dog, see a trainer, there are very specific things you need to do to build your dog’s trust and respect in you.


Dogs resort to aggression to solve a problem. If it is successful, they’ll use it again. If it’s not, they’re less likely to use it again. But dealing with aggression requires skilled handling.

Are All Aggressive Dogs Fearful?

OK, so let’s examine the graph. This graph is of a few dogs I know very well. As you can see, dogs fit in all over the graph. I’m not going to discuss the individual dogs because it’s too easy to label dogs, when the general public and the authorities doesn’t understand aggression. Even the majority of dog trainers don’t understand aggression.

As you can see, most of the dogs fall in the confident-aggressive quadrant – but that’s mostly because that’s the type of dog I enjoy working with.  When looking for good pet dogs, we want to look for dogs in the Tolerant half of the quadrant.  However, with an experienced trainer, dogs in the Aggressive half of the quadrant can still make great dogs and companions, though these dogs will not make good assistance dogs or pet dogs for novice handlers.

Dogs at the extreme end of the fear-aggressive quadrant do require a lot of extra time, patience and skilled handling.  If you are looking for pet dogs, you want to select dogs around the center to tolerant sides of the quadrant.  If you are selecting dogs for the police or military, you need to look at the confident, aggressive side of the quadrant.  Fear is not necessarily a bad thing, dogs with a level of fear can still make great dogs, they just need a bit of help to bring out their confidence, though extremes of fear and aggression can be difficult to work with.

Is All Aggression Bad?

Well, if you understand aggression and know how to use it and understand how to teach a dog how to behave despite their genes, then this is not a bad thing. And as I said before, aggression is needed when training police and military dogs – and I’m sure you guys feel a lot safer knowing those dogs are out there helping out. So no, all aggression isn’t bad.

Us humans have actually bred some dogs to be aggressive. We did this so that they can protect our homes, families and livestock. We did this so that they could help us hunt pests and food. But I’m too scared to name breeds here, because next minute they’ll all be banned, because people just cannot be rational (and though I love training other people’s Labs, I don’t really want one for me, they’re not my kind of dog, they’re too over friendly). If you don’t want an aggressive dog, your safest bets are your Gun Dogs and Beagles. 

The problem comes when aggressive dogs are placed in homes without the skill, experience or mentorship to help them deal with these dogs. So, if you find yourself with a dog that is growling or barking and you, your children, your partner or your guests, please get help! Get help RIGHT NOW! Don’t wait till your dog bites someone and has to be put to sleep before trying to get help! Then it will be too late and no one can help you!


Need Some Help with Your Dog?

The whole reason I’m a dog trainer is to keep dog out of shelters and rescues and off death row. The best way to do that is to keep dogs with their families! So, I’ve put together some resources to help you with your dog! It’s all kept in The Dog Training Lab – you’ll find heaps of free resources, just pop your email address in The Free Resources Hub to get access and you’re set! 

What information is in there? Tips to help you with walking your dog on lead, toilet training, problem barking and so much more!

A Dog Trainer's Journey. Delta and I at a Forrest Micke seminar.

Hey, I’m Luzelle!

If it has to do with transforming your naughty, embarrassing, frustrating or worrying dog into an obedient, well behaved member of the canine society that you can actually enjoy spending your life with, I can help.

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