Redirected Aggression in Dogs

Nov 28, 2023 | Dog Behaviour

A landscape-oriented image illustrating redirected aggression in dogs.

What Is Redirected Aggression?

Redirected aggression in dogs, also known as displacement aggression, occurs when a dog’s aggression towards one target is redirected to another, often nearby, entity. This behaviour typically arises in situations where a dog becomes aggressively aroused but is unable to act on its primary target due to physical barriers or intervention by others​

Common Scenarios Leading to Redirected Aggression in Dogs

Redirected aggression in dogs occurs when they are prevented from reaching a specific target of their arousal or aggression. This can lead to unexpected and potentially dangerous situations where their aggression is redirected towards a more accessible target, often a person or another animal. Here are some common scenarios where redirected aggression is observed, with insights drawn from extensive behavioural research and case studies.

Intervening in Dog Fights

When dogs engage in a fight, their arousal levels are extremely high. A person attempting to separate fighting dogs might inadvertently become a target of redirected aggression. This is a risky situation where dogs, in the heat of the moment, may not distinguish between the fight opponent and the person intervening. Understanding the dynamics of such aggression, as discussed in our article on types of aggression, can provide valuable insights into safely managing these scenarios.

Frustration Behind Barriers

Dogs may experience barrier frustration when they are separated from a desired target by a physical barrier, such as a fence or a window. For instance, if a dog spots a cat or another dog on the other side of a fence, their inability to reach it can lead to frustration. This frustration can result in the dog turning their aggression towards other dogs, nearby objects, or even people in the vicinity. Also, a frustrated dog may meet their threshold for aggression faster than calmer dogs.

The nature and management of this behaviour are closely related to the understanding of fear aggression in dogs, as fear can often be an underlying factor in such scenarios.

Unfulfilled Predatory Behaviour

Dogs possess innate predatory instincts, a fundamental aspect of their behaviour deeply rooted in their ancestral lineage. These instincts can be triggered by moving objects, such as wildlife or even vehicles, eliciting a natural response to chase. This is where understanding fixed model action patterns, as detailed in this article, becomes essential. These patterns explain the instinctual behaviours in dogs, including their predatory behaviour.

When a dog is restrained from chasing what they perceive as prey, a common scenario being a dog on a lead or a dog confined behind a barrier, they might experience frustration. This frustration can manifest as redirected aggression towards nearby individuals or animals where a dog bite might occur. This behaviour is particularly noticeable in situations where the dog’s natural predatory drive is aroused but left unfulfilled.

 A  landscape image for an educational blog, showing a dog with redirected aggression.

Ethological View of Dog Aggression

Understanding the ethological approach to dog behaviour, which involves studying dogs in their natural environment and considering their evolutionary history, provides valuable insights into managing this behaviour. As outlined in Understanding Dog Behaviour through an Ethological Approach, recognizing the natural behavioural tendencies of dogs is crucial in developing effective training and management strategies.

Causes of Redirected Aggression

Understanding the root causes of redirected aggression is crucial for effective management:

Arousal and Frustration

Arousal and frustration can directly contribute to redirected aggression in dogs. When a dog becomes highly aroused, perhaps due to the presence of another dog or an exciting stimulus, and is then prevented from reaching or engaging with that stimulus, frustration can build up. This frustration may manifest as the dog redirects the aggression to nearby people or animals.


Reactivity in dogs, especially if it stems from underlying fear or anxiety, is closely linked to redirected aggression. When a reactive dog encounters a trigger that causes anxiety or fear, their heightened emotional state can result in redirected aggression if they are unable to confront the perceived threat directly.

Lack of Socialisation

A lack of socialisation during a dog’s early development can contribute to redirected aggression when they encounter people, unfamiliar dogs, animals, or environments. Dogs that haven’t been exposed to a variety of situations may react with fear or aggression when faced with new stimuli.

Pain or Discomfort:

Dogs in pain or discomfort may exhibit redirected aggression as a defensive response when they feel threatened or touched. This aggression is a protective mechanism.

It’s important to consider pain as a potential cause of redirected aggression. A thorough veterinary examination should be conducted to rule out medical issues. Treating any underlying pain can be a crucial step in behaviour modification.

Resource Guarding

Dogs that resource guard their possessions, such as food or toys, may react aggressively and redirect their aggression if they perceive a threat to their valued items. This can occur if someone attempts to take away the guarded resource.

Addressing resource guarding involves positive reinforcement training to change the dog’s perception of people approaching their possessions from a threat to a positive association.

Overstimulation and Exhaustion

Overstimulation or exhaustion can trigger redirected aggression in dogs when they reach a point of sensory overload or extreme fatigue.

Preventing overstimulation and exhaustion through environmental management and providing opportunities for rest is essential to reduce the likelihood of redirected aggression in such situations.

An image depicting a dog exhibiting redirected aggression, suitable for an educational blog.

Managing Redirected Aggression

Immediate Response and Prevention

  1. Avoid Trigger Situations: Prevent aggression by avoiding known triggers, such as other dogs, if your pet is prone to aggression​​.
  2. Exercise and Energy Management: An exhausted dog is less likely to be aggressive, so ensure your dog gets ample physical activity​​.
  3. Training Alternative Behaviour’s: Replace aggressive reactions with positive ones through training, such as redirecting to a different activity when triggers appear​​.

Long-Term Strategies

  1. Behaviour Modification: Work on changing the dog’s responses to stimuli that trigger aggression.
  2. Professional Training: Seek assistance from professional trainers for structured behaviour modification programs, especially for severe cases​​.
  3. Medication: In extreme cases of fear or anxiety-related aggression, consult a veterinarian about the possibility of anti-anxiety medication​​.

Importance of Early Intervention

Redirected aggression is unpredictable and dangerous, posing risks to both humans and other animals. Therefore, addressing the behaviour problem at the earliest sign is crucial for safety and successful resolution​​.

Image depicting a dog displaying resource guarding behaviour, suitable for an educational blog.

Prevention and Management Strategies

  • Recognising Signs of Arousal: Understanding a dog’s body language and signs of distress or high arousal is key in anticipating and preventing redirected aggression.
  • Avoiding Trigger Situations: It’s important to avoid situations known to lead to frustration and redirected aggression in dogs.
  • Training and Desensitization: Implementing training exercises that focus on desensitization and counter-conditioning can help reduce a dog’s overall level of arousal in triggering situations.
  • Safe Handling Techniques: Teaching dogs to tolerate and even enjoy handling, such as collar grabs, can significantly reduce the likelihood of a negative reaction.
  • Professional Consultation: In cases of severe redirected aggression, consulting a professional dog behaviourist for a tailored behaviour modification plan is advisable.

Addressing redirected aggression requires a comprehensive understanding of canine behaviour and a commitment to positive reinforcement and reward-based training techniques. By employing these strategies, dog owners can work towards ensuring the safety and well-being of both their pets, family members and those around them.

Related Aggression Types and Their Connections

Redirected aggression often intersects with other forms of aggression, highlighting the complexity of canine behaviour:

  1. Fear Aggression: Dogs exhibiting fear aggression may display redirected aggression when their primary fear response is blocked or frustrated. Understanding and addressing the underlying fear is vital for treatment. More on this can be found in our detailed article on Fear Aggression in Dogs.
  2. Resource Guarding: A dog that is aggressively guarding resources, like food or toys, might redirect its aggression if interrupted or approached. Learn more about this behaviour in Understanding Resource Guarding in Dogs
  3. Trigger Stacking: Trigger stacking refers to the accumulation of stressors or triggers that a dog experiences, which can heighten their response to subsequent stimuli. This build-up can increase the likelihood of redirected aggression occurring. Understanding how to manage and mitigate trigger stacking is crucial in preventing escalation of aggression. Insights into this can be found in Trigger Stacking in Dogs.

Comprehensive Training and Socialisation

Training and socialisation play a pivotal role in preventing and managing redirected aggression:

  1. Early Socialisation: Proper socialisation from a young age can reduce the likelihood of a dog developing reactivity and subsequent redirected aggression. Discover the significance of this in Understanding the Importance of Training and Socialisation for Dogs.
  2. Continuous Training: Ongoing training helps in managing a dog’s responses to various stimuli, thereby reducing the chances of aggression being redirected. Strategies for this can be found in our article on How to Train Your Dog to Walk on Lead.

Reactive Dog Training

For dogs that are already reactive, specialized training can be a game-changer:

  1. Finding a Local Trainer: Locating a trainer who specializes in reactive dogs can provide targeted help for managing and reducing redirected aggression. Learn more about finding the right support in Reactive Dog Training Near Me.
  2. Customised Training Plans: These plans should focus on the individual dog’s triggers and behavioural patterns for the most effective outcomes. Custom training plans are essential for addressing the unique needs of each dog.

Understanding the Difference: Reactive vs. Aggressive Behaviour in Dogs

Dog behaviour can be diverse and sometimes challenging to interpret. It’s essential for dog owners and behaviourists to distinguish between reactive and aggressive behaviour, as the approaches for addressing these behaviours can vary significantly.

Reactive Behaviour

Reactivity in dogs typically involves a heightened response to various stimuli, such as other dogs, strangers, or environmental triggers. Reactive dogs may bark, lunge, growl, or display other signs of discomfort or anxiety when exposed to these triggers. However, it’s crucial to note that reactivity is not necessarily aggression. Reactivity often stems from fear, anxiety, or frustration, and it’s a response to perceived threats or discomfort.

For instance, if your dog becomes highly agitated when seeing another dog during a walk and reacts by barking and pulling on the leash, it may be a reactive response. This behaviour often indicates that your dog feels anxious or threatened by the presence of the other dog.

Aggressive Behaviour

Aggressive behaviour, on the other hand, involves actions intended to harm or intimidate. Aggression can be directed toward people, other dogs, or animals. It can range from growling and snapping to biting. Unlike reactivity, aggression is a deliberate act with the intent to cause harm.

To distinguish between reactive and aggressive behaviour, it’s essential to assess the individual dog’s intent. Aggressive dogs may exhibit a stiff body posture, direct eye contact, and growling or snarling as they approach their target. These behaviours are typically meant to intimidate or harm.

Reactive Dog Training Advice

For a more in-depth understanding of reactive behaviour in dogs and how to address it, you can explore our article on Reactive Dog Training Near Me. This resource provides insights into training techniques and strategies to manage reactivity in your canine companion.

Recognizing the distinction between reactivity and aggression is crucial because the approaches to training and behaviour modification differ. Reactive behaviour can often be addressed with positive reinforcement techniques, counterconditioning, and desensitization. In contrast, aggressive behaviour may require more specialised intervention and safety precautions.

Additional Resources and Support

For further reading and support, consider exploring these resources:

  1. Understanding Aggression: Delve into the complexities of canine aggression, its causes, and effective behaviour modification techniques in Understanding Dog Aggression: Causes and Effective Behaviour Modification Techniques.
  2. Canine Epigenetics: Learn about how environmental factors influence dog behaviour and genetics in Epigenetics in Animals: How Environment Shapes Their Genes and Behaviour.

FAQ: Redirected Aggression in Dogs

What is redirected aggression in dogs?

Redirected aggression in dogs occurs when a dog’s aggression toward one target is shifted to another, often due to frustration or barriers preventing the dog from reaching the initial target.

How to stop redirected aggression in dogs?

Stopping redirected aggression involves avoiding known triggers, managing the dog’s energy through exercise, and training alternative, positive behaviours in triggering situations.

How to deal with redirected aggression in dogs?

Dealing with redirected aggression includes implementing immediate safety measures like avoiding triggers, consistent training to redirect focus, and seeking professional help for behaviour modification.

How to solve redirected aggression in dogs?

Solving redirected aggression requires a comprehensive approach, including behaviour modification, professional training for severe cases, and possibly consulting a veterinarian for medication in cases related to anxiety or fear.

Can redirected aggression in dogs be a sign of underlying health issues?

Yes, sometimes redirected aggression can be a symptom of underlying health issues such as pain, hormonal imbalances, or neurological problems. It’s important to consult a veterinarian to rule out medical causes.

Is redirected aggression in dogs always directed towards other animals or humans?

Not always. Redirected aggression can be directed towards other animals, humans, or even inanimate objects. It depends on what the dog perceives as an accessible target in the moment of heightened arousal.

How can I recognize the warning signs of redirected aggression in my dog?

Signs include sudden changes in body language, such as stiffening, growling, or snapping, especially in situations where they are frustrated or prevented from reaching a target.

Are certain breeds more prone to redirected aggression?

Redirected aggression is not breed-specific but can occur in any dog. However, breeds with high prey drives or those prone to reactivity may be more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviour.

How important is socialization in preventing redirected aggression in dogs?

Socialization of puppies is very important. Proper socialization, especially at a young age, can help prevent the development of aggression by teaching dogs how to appropriately interact with various stimuli in their environment.

Learn more on this topic

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