A dog being aggressive while its owner holds its leash.

Are Dogs Naturally Aggressive?

8 mins |

Aggression in dogs is a way of expressing dislike, fear, domination, or a need for self-defense. Aggression is sometimes a problem for dog owners, but, in some instances, some degree of aggression is desirable as seen in guard dogs. The question though is whether or not dogs are naturally aggressive. Or do they get aggressive over a period of time due to certain factors?

Dogs are not naturally aggressive. However, they are born with inherent tendencies that can make them aggressive due to certain factors. Aggression will manifest if the puppy is exposed to a certain environment and learns this behavior to deal with stress and threats.

How Does Aggression Develop In A Dog?

A dog on a leash growling and raising up off the ground.

Some people believe aggression is inherent in a dog or a puppy is born with it, however, this is not true. Aggression is something that develops in a dog as it grows up. 

Aggression can be understood as a trait a dog adapts to deal with stress, frustration, and also in case of possessiveness and to dominate competitors. A wild dog displays aggression to protect young ones or itself from attack by predators.

Aggression mostly develops during puppyhood. A lack of training or exposure to abuse can prompt such behavior. If not dealt with through proper training and behavioral therapy, aggression can become a part of a dog’s personality. 

Aggression can also manifest later on in an adult dog if the dog gets exposed to certain factors involving fear, pain, or stress. For instance, a female dog that just whelped is most likely to display aggression because of possessive and protective behavior linked to the safety of her pups. 

Role Of Certain Factors In The Development Of Aggression In Dogs

As discussed earlier, dogs aren’t inherently aggressive; they become so over a period of time while being exposed to certain external factors. The following are some of those factors involved in the development of aggressive behavior in dogs.

Early Weaning Or Separation Of A Puppy From Dam:

The early dam (mother dog) and pup relationship involves the nursing and grooming of pups by the mother. This maternal behavior alters the hypothalamic-adrenal pituitary axis of the puppy. In other words, licking and breastfeeding help in altering the stress-responsive pathways of pups, which makes them more stress tolerant in later life.

Furthermore, this maternal-pup bond helps the pup develop social relationships and better adapt to its environment. Adequate maternal care for 4 to 5 weeks is essential to reducing anxiety, stress, and managing aggression in a growing puppy. 

Therefore, a puppy that didn’t spend enough time with its mother or was weaned/separated before 4 weeks is prone to stress and aggression. 


Second to maternal care is the environment in which a puppy grows and receives nourishment. The environment is important for the development of stress tolerance and positive, confident behavior.

A calm and secure environment and safe housing develops a state of positive affirmation in a puppy that everything is going the right way. However, sometimes a little discomfort in the form of training is necessary for learning how to handle stress.  

On the other hand, a hostile environment may stimulate a dog to get offensive by displaying aggression. Territorial aggression and possessiveness in relation to certain places and objects may make a dog aggressive towards other pets and humans too.

Moreover, the socialization of puppies with other pets, their competitors, and with humans is necessary for developing stress tolerance in them. For instance, a puppy not socialized properly may get fearful and stressed in the presence of strangers, prompting aggression.


Another key factor that is quite a common cause of aggression is pain. A dog in pain is far more prone to developing aggressive behavior compared to a healthy dog. 

A study conducted on a group of dogs concluded that 8 out of 12 dogs showed extreme outbursts of aggression due to a common condition called hip dysplasia in which the hip joint gets displaced resulting in pain.

Similarly, a wounded dog may get frustrated because of pain and may even bite its owner. Early detection of a medical condition is imperative for preventing aggression and stress in dogs.


Genetics is the transfer of genes from parents to offspring. Traits of aggression from aggressive dog parents may pass to offspring, however, a phenotype or trait manifests itself in the environment. Therefore, if the environment is healthy and training is up to date a pup that has the genetic propensity of getting aggressive may learn to control aggression. 

Lack Of Proper Training 

A common misconception certain breeds are more aggressive is not true because a dog’s personality is determined by the way it gets nurtured by human owners. Although breeds like Pitbulls and Rottweilers are bred for their inherent propensity to get aggressive, with proper training they can learn not to be aggressive. 

On the other hand, a lack of obedience training and bad training, in general, may turn an otherwise calm breed like a Labrador into an aggressive dog.

The dog’s overall behavior speaks volumes about its owner’s personality, training, and relationship with the pet. One must never use negative training techniques of hitting, shouting, and isolating dogs. These raw methods usually backfire, making matters worse, and the dog adapts aggression as a way out of this stressful and abusive relationship.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Aggression In Dogs?

Aggression can be frustrating for pet owners, but some degree of aggression in dogs is desirable to fulfill certain requirements. Examples include guard dogs, search dogs, etc. So, with that said, what are the pros and cons of aggression in dogs?


The pros are:

  • Aggression is a useful trait for a dog to defend against other dogs or hostile people.
  • Aggression helps dogs in the wild to maintain control of their territory.
  • Aggression, if controlled by training, can be used for adding value, for example, by trained police dogs.


The cons are:

  • Aggressive behavior in dogs makes them less sociable.
  • Aggression in dogs can depress a pet owner.
  • Constant aggressive behavior deteriorates the mental health of a dog.
  • Aggression makes a dog less desirable to be accepted as a pet.
  • Extreme outbursts of aggression can result in bites, leading to serious injuries.
  • Aggression in dogs jeopardizes the safety of children and other pets in a household.

Are Some Dog Breeds More Aggressive Than Others?

Any dog of any breed can get aggressive if not disciplined or trained properly. However, some dog breeds have the propensity to get a bit more aggressive compared to calmer breeds. Moreover, owners who select these breeds for their dominant nature often train them to behave aggressively.

It is due to the personality, alertness, protective nature, and high prey drive of these dog breeds that make them desirable for certain tasks, like security, hunting, and more.

A List Of More Aggressive Dog Breeds

Here’s the list of more aggressive dog breeds. We’ll start with the Doberman Pinscher.

Doberman Pinscher 

A loving, intelligent breed known for its alertness and suspicious nature towards strangers.

American Pitbull Terrier 

Although they make good family pets, if not trained properly, they can become violent and unpredictable.


With a strongly built and highly protective nature, Rottweilers can quickly get wary of strangers.


These dog breeds are highly active, territorial, have a high prey drive, and don’t take strangers lightly.


These small breeds may seem harmless, but they can get pretty aggressive and are very protective of their family unit.

How To Prevent Aggression In A Dog?

Owners can prevent aggressive dog behavior through training using positive reinforcement. Moreover, owners can prevent such behaviors by giving the pup proper time with its mother. 

Secondly, socialization, providing a stress-free environment, providing adequate exercise, and early diagnosis of health conditions like pain will help prevent aggression in dogs.

How To Deal With An Aggressive Dog?

The first and foremost step is the identification of stressors or motivations causing aggression in your dog. By identifying and removing those triggers, one can really help a frustrated dog. For instance, if certain people or other animals are interfering in a dog’s personal space or territory this can trigger a dog to act differently.

Secondly, always act safely by using muzzles and leashes to protect yourself and others around you.

Thirdly, consult a qualified veterinarian to rule out any health issue that may be a factor in changing your dog’s behavior.

Fourthly, consult a professional canine behaviorist and get a thorough behavior modification plan to get your dog back on track.

Lastly, always go for positive training methods and be patient. Do not use punishment in the name of training as this will further complicate matters. 

Reestablish leadership with your companion too. Dogs always look towards their owners for guidance. With proper training, one can guide a dog to behave in a proper manner.

Conclusion: Are Dogs Naturally Aggressive?

In conclusion, dogs are not born with aggression. They get aggressive due to certain factors, including early weaning, lack of socialization, improper training, a negative environment, and most importantly pain and stress. Dogs learn to get aggressive to deal with stress and this motivates them to alter their behavior. However, with proper training, discipline, and behavioral therapy, one can make a dog calm and friendly.

So, what do you think about dogs and aggression? Did this surprise you? Have you dealt with an aggressive dog before? Let us know your thoughts and why in the comments below!

Shahzaib is a qualified veterinarian and professional writer. He is from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. He did his DVM from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad. Being a Veterinarian, Shahzaib has technically sound knowledge of pet health, nutrition, breeding, and housing. He has more than two years of experience in small animal medicine and surgery. Currently, he is working as an Associate Veterinarian in a renowned pet hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan.