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What is Conflict Aggression in Puppies?

Conflict aggression is also known as dominance aggression. Puppies often exhibit this kind of aggression when they are testing their limits and establishing their dominance within the pack or your family. But how can this be addressed and what is it exactly?

The more common form of owner-directed aggression is conflict aggression. Dogs with conflict aggression frequently adopt ambivalent body postures, such as having their tails tucked while lunging forward and show warning signs, such as growling.

What is Conflict Aggression?

The term dominance-motivated aggression has been overused and may need to accurately describe why the dog or puppy acts aggressively toward family members. Conflict-induced aggression, on the other hand, is a term that has recently been used to describe what was previously known as that behavior. To assess the prognosis, the possibility of safe and effective improvement, and create an effective treatment strategy, it is crucial to be aware of all situations in which aggression may occur and understand why and how the aggression has developed.

Fear and anxiety, conflict, uncertainty or unpredictability regarding the human’s response, defensive reactions such as when the pet perceives that it may be punished, possessive behavior like resource-holding potential, redirected aggression, and rarely social status aggression can all be causes of aggression toward family members. Aggression based on social status is most likely due to a combination of ingrained or conflict-induced behaviors, or it may be linked to impulse control disorders. Even when circumstances or body postures have changed over time, analyzing the history concerning the initial encounters can help identify underlying motivation.

How Does Conflict-Induced Aggression Start?

Puppies who control owner interactions by biting, barking, or attention-seeking will quickly discover that these are effective behaviors to get what they want. They need to learn that owners decide on rewards or that being submissive, obedient, or settled is a way to earn rewards. As the puppy learns this is a successful way to gain control of resources, this assertive and demanding behavior may eventually escalate into increasingly pushy and even aggressive behavior. Conflict or competing motivations that occurs when dogs interact with owners who use rewards and punishment in unpredictable and inconsistent ways is another issue to be concerned about.

When family members occasionally give in to the puppy’s demands and other times punish the puppy for the exact same behaviors, this is a common scenario that leads to conflict. When training their pets, pet owners frequently use inconsistent methods; they may use positive reinforcement or rewards to encourage the desired behavior, but when the pet does not comply, they may use a range of harsh punishments. Any form of physical discipline can quickly escalate into conflict or defensive aggression, both at the time of the punishment and in subsequent interactions when you try to control your dog.

Some dogs may aggressively challenge their owners to keep a precious resource, with the owner’s subsequent withdrawal resulting in a successful outcome. Although it’s wise to flee if your dog threatens you, some dogs may eventually discover that their aggressive behavior is effective and repeated. When confronted, punished, threatened, or subjected to owner fear and anxiety, the dog is more likely to become defensive and anxious in anticipation of future confrontations.

Instead of dominance, the aggression in each case is brought on by conflict, fear, possessiveness, or learning. However, how assertive, pushy, and persistent a dog may act can also be greatly influenced by genetic factors. This may be seen when a dog’s owner tries to approach or pet it while it’s sleeping or otherwise not interested (or in the mood) for social interaction. During these times, relatively innocent challenges by family members, such as attempting to move, pass by, sit next to, lie down next to, pet, or hug the dog, may result in threats and aggression.

Regardless of the underlying cause, the treatment program calls for you to establish the right relationship with your dog using physical restraints. These rewards are applied correctly and consistently, stopping all forms of punishment and regaining control over resources and reinforcers so that you can teach your dog what is desirable. Excessive anxiety or a lack of impulse control may play a role in some instances where the aggressive displays are so severe and out of proportion to the challenge (in which case, drugs might be considered).

How to Determine if Conflict Aggression is Developing?

Conflict aggression typically shows up gradually. When expressing intent, dogs primarily use their faces and body positions. Unwanted interactions between family members and the pet usually start with prolonged eye contact. They may progress to growling and snarling or lifting the lip to reveal the teeth, usually without sound over resources like food, resting spots, moving the dog, and possibly handling the body. 

There may be ambiguity in the relationship if the owner occasionally concedes but occasionally still maintains the challenge. As a result of the dog’s anxiety, the situation might get out of hand, and the dog may snap, lunge, or even bite. It will be necessary to identify the circumstances that led to the aggression, such as specific types of handling or petting, approaching while the dog is dozing or resting, touching toys or food, correcting or reprimanding the dog, being able to control one’s body, or stepping over the dog. These aggressive behaviors may not always be present; they only happen when the dog is more driven to guard a particular object, when it is not in the mood for social interactions, or when it is fearful and defensive.

During the encounter, the dog’s body posture is crucial. Most dogs exhibit uncertainty in these circumstances, which can be seen in their body stances and facial expressions. They frequently have their eyes closed, are licking their lips, have their heads and bodies turned away, and may even be hunched over. Although they might also be growling, they are trying to diffuse the threat they perceive rather than continuing to be aggressive. Having multiple motives is also conceivable. As was previously mentioned, many dogs exhibit aggression when they experience fear, anxiety, uncertainty, or conflict.

Before making a diagnosis, it’s important to describe the dog’s appearance, how they responded to challenges and the context in which they occurred. Not all of these dogs behave the same way. A dog may only display aggression in specific situations, such as when guarding food, in which case the diagnosis is not conflict aggression but instead guarding a highly valued resource. In this situation, the focus of treatment should be possessive aggression. A dog may challenge or display conflict with some family members while avoiding or submitting to others within the same family.

Since the dog learns new ways to behave in that situation or with that person with each aggressive event, the dog’s behavior during the initial aggressive episodes is probably a better indicator of cause. The dog may growl in fear at family members, and if the person runs away, the dog will learn that using aggression to get the better of a situation will work. The dog eventually learns that aggression yields a positive result by repeating the same scenario over time. As a result, the dog may display confident behavior rather than fearful behavior, but underlying fear and anxiety may be the root of the aggression. This would lead to a different diagnosis because the dog might act out of fear or conflict rather than social status aggression.

What are the Signs of Conflict Aggression in Puppies

Most dogs under a year old who are puppies or adolescents are more likely to display conflict aggression. 90% of conflict-aggressive dogs are males, and they start to exhibit problem behaviors between 18 and 36 months, corresponding to canine social maturity. Female conflict aggression frequently starts to manifest in puppies.


  • Baring teeth
  • Growling
  • Ears down
  • Tail tucked
  • Trembling

Puppies that occasionally exhibit overt conflict aggression, snarling, growling, might act submissive in other circumstances. For instance, they might retreat when around other dogs. You should keep an eye on the puppy’s body language for hints. Conflict-aggressive puppies may tremble after encounters and keep their ears and tails down as signs of submission. Owners might describe them as acting repentant or guilty.

What Causes Conflict Aggression in Puppies

Although the exact reason for conflict aggression isn’t always known, some typical causes are as follows:


Testosterone increases the level of aggression in male dogs. Male puppies have much higher levels of testosterone during adolescence than they do as adults. However, hormonal imbalances can also cause aggressive behavior in female dogs.


According to behaviorists, a first-time instinctive display of conflict aggression may result from anxiety or disputes during out-of-control play. Even if the other dog has no malicious intent, it can still happen when the dog feels threatened by another dog near its toys or food bowl, like an older dog, for example.

Idiopathic Aggression

Idiopathic aggression is aggression for which there is no known underlying cause. A dog that exhibits this type of aggression frequently switches between being happy and aggressive. Although it may appear to be in submission, it still attacks with excessive aggression that is out of proportion to the circumstances. Most young dogs exhibit idiopathic aggression, under three years of age.

How to Tell if Your Puppy is Aggressive or Just Having Fun?

Consequently, the good news is that puppy play often appears aggressive to the untrained eye. They appear to be acting extremely rough, but in reality, they are simply honing skills that will increase their chances of surviving in the wild or acting in a manner that is entirely typical for puppies to act out.

In all seriousness, puppies play rough. It sounds like they are trying to kill each other in that wrestling match, especially when they are playing with one another! Every growl and snarl possible.

It can be frightening for kids, especially when they play that way with us at times.

We’ve provided information that helps you determine whether the signs you’re observing are those of a playful or aggressive puppy.


  • A low growl accompanied by a freezing
  • Grabbing and snapping
  • A forward body stance that is frequently frozen
  • Body posture that appears stiff
  • Furrowed brow, hard stare, and closed mouth


  • A loud growl with a lot of movement
  • Tugging
  • A backward stance with the bum in the air, also known as a play bow
  • Body posture is loose and wiggly
  • Open-mouthed, lips covering teeth, soft face

Reasons for Aggression

You may have been informed that your puppy’s aggressive behaviors are due to dominance aggression. We want to reassure you that this term, “puppy dominance aggression,” is outdated. In reality, most aggression is caused by your puppy and another dog fighting over a particular issue.

There are other reasons you might think your puppy is acting aggressively. Here are some clear explanations below to aid your understanding and inspire some ideas for how you might handle puppy aggression.

Overstimulation and Insufficient Sleep

This is very typical. Well, you do become fractious and irritable when you don’t get enough sleep, don’t you? It’s not surprising that your puppy becomes grumpy when worn out. When in reality, it’s normal, this is frequently misinterpreted as aggression.

Resource Protection

They have developed a protective nature toward resources; this frequently happens when an overly enthusiastic puppy owner repeatedly removes things deemed unsafe from their pet without exchanging them. However, we need to be careful to avoid resource-guarding-related problems. We want our puppy to think that trading things are fun and that taking things away from them shouldn’t be a big deal.


Puppies learn that an early warning sign, such as growling, doesn’t work when they see those earlier indications of discomfort disregarded or even punished. Before they bite, puppies and dogs typically exhibit many warning signs.

There is a saying that goes, “Never punish a growl,” and it is true because that growl was communicating something, and by punishing it, we take away that early warning system, which makes them feel as though they must escalate to a snap or bite.

Fear-Based Dog-Dog Aggression

Maybe your puppy is afraid of other dogs. Like humans, dogs have a fight-or-flight response, and if they can’t run away (flight), they’ll usually resort to aggression to tell the other dog, “I don’t like that,” which can then develop into a learned behavior. It may result from improper play in a puppy class or dog park where you don’t get role-swapping.

The Irritated Greeter – Dog/Dog Reactivity

They’re overexcited and anxious to get to other dogs, like the one you see standing on its hind legs and lunging and snarling down the road. Well, some of those dogs were once young puppies who were free to go and greet anyone they pleased! Until they were told they couldn’t, it greatly enraged them and caused them to become a snarling, hot mess.

Fear Aggression

Puppies who lack early socialization can develop a variety of fears and sometimes have aggressive reactions to them for the rest of their lives. Puppies raised in unfavorable environments, such as puppy farms, where they are not exposed to enough novelty or stimulation, may become shut down or exhibit aggressive behavior when they encounter it.

Territorial Aggression

Like resource guarding, except that this time it is over a place or space rather than a thing or object, it might be a dog that guards their bed against people or other dogs, or it might be a dog that guards their house against that terrifying delivery man who’s come to murder everyone – but that’s what puppies sometimes think.

Maternal Aggression

An excessive amount of aggression from a mother dog toward humans, other dogs, or puppies is known as maternal aggression. A small amount of hostility is likely typical, particularly during the weaning process. Aggression at a high level may be harmful to the puppies. Once the puppies stop nursing, the aggression should subside. Females who have “false pregnancies” are also susceptible to the behavior, which should disappear once their hormone levels return to normal. This abnormal conduct might run in the family.

Dominance Aggression

You may have heard that your puppy is being dominant or acting aggressively due to puppy dominance, but the truth is that this is not a thing. When dogs fight, they are not competing for dominance or any hierarchical position; instead, they are more likely to be concerned with resource guarding and having the same thing in mind.

It has been proven countless times that dominance doesn’t exist in the dog-human world either. Dogs only do what works for them; they are not domineering over you.

Predatory Aggression

The aggression of a different kind is also discussed but is relatively uncommon. Every dog has a motor pattern known as Eye-Stalk-Chase. They pick up hunting and killing prey in this manner. For most dog breeds, parts of this sequence have been removed because it is useless to have a gundog that dissects the bird they are supposed to bring back, but in terriers, it is very helpful to have that part of the sequence to “dispatch” the rat! This sequence can occasionally be switched on in some dog breeds in response to interactions with other animals, especially when larger dogs are involved. Predatory aggression or drift is what we refer to as this. And yes, thankfully, it doesn’t happen often, but it’s still something to be aware of if you have a small, noisy dog who plays with large dogs.

What Should You Do If Your Dog or Puppy Shows Conflict Aggression?

It is important to take all hostile challenges seriously. With their bites, dogs can hurt and cause great damage. A dog acting aggressively may become more aggressive if you physically confront it, which could lead to injuries. Dogs that growl, snarl, or snap are indicating that they are prepared to use aggression if the stimulus does not stop; otherwise, they may step up their challenge. It is crucial to be able to predict the dog’s behavior accordingly. 

It is best to recognize and steer clear of any hostile or potentially hostile situations. The circumstances and the responses sometimes follow a formula. The dog should never be coerced into submission by family members in any way. Human severe injuries may result from this. All physical reprimands and punishments must end because they instill fear, anxiety, and pain in children and are almost sure to provoke more aggressive reactions than they do.


Recognize all potential triggers for aggression and take steps to prevent exposure to them (by crate or confinement, use of a muzzle, or other environmental controls), or control the dog in any different situation where a combative circumstance might occur (e.g., leash and head halter control, tie-down). Even though the long-term objective would be to lessen or completely eradicate the possibility of aggression in these circumstances, every new incident has the potential to cause harm and worsen the issue. While a muzzle might be even more effective at preventing bites, a head collar and leash are good ways to control the dog inside the house.


With the help of the rewards your dog enjoys, figure out what behaviors you want your dog to learn, and work to teach it how to submit to owner control. Where they might be possessive, protective, or disobedient, dogs shouldn’t be allowed in those areas or on that furniture. It’s best to have a mat or crate where the dog can be left alone when it’s relaxing, sleeping, or chewing on one of its favorite toys. Your dog must be constantly watched when not confined and away from danger.

Ensure your dog always complies with your commands while training, and give rewards immediately. To ensure security and success, leaving a leash and head halter on can be helpful. It is best to refrain from mouthing, play-biting, and tug-of-war contests. The fact that they emotionally stimulate a dog and teach it to use its mouth to influence outcomes may not increase aggression, but they do get the dog agitated. Start by teaching the positive dog confinement if it is uncomfortable being confined.


All resources such as treats, praise, and toys should be under your control; use them to encourage good behavior. We want to implement a “please” and “thank you” system for our dog interactions, just like humans. The dog is reinforced for its behavior and controls the timing and location of rewards when given on demand. As a result, if a dog requests any love, play, food, or attention, the dog must be ignored to prevent it from gaining control over these things.

List a few target behaviors you want the dog to do calmly and respectfully, and insist on these actions before you give the dog any rewards (learn to earn). The dog can also be trained to unwind and settle down before treats. Contrastingly, anxious, excitable, pushy, mouthy, and attention-seeking behaviors are discouraged. This way, calm, obedient, and deferential interactions are reinforced. Remember that the dog is not ignored; the attention-seeking behavior is. The most effective reinforcements are only for the behaviors you want your dog to learn. Rewarding behavior is most motivating when reinforcements have been withheld.

Additionally, you can ensure that you respond consistently by having your dog display appropriate behaviors or defer to you every time you would typically give a reward rather than a few quick training sessions each day. Some dogs, especially young ones, might not comply with your request for them to settle when given. You have two choices if they don’t comply: either ignore your dog or leave the area until things are resolved. The second would be to find a way to guarantee that your dog succeeds, whether through lure training or by leaving a leash and head halter on. If you concentrate on teaching your dog the behaviors that will result in rewards and withholding social interaction for bad behavior, your dog should pick up new skills quickly.


Reward-based obedience training is imperative to communicate with your dog effectively and quickly to elicit desired responses rather than punishing unfavorable ones. Start in secure, well-regulated environments where compliance will be rewarded. Get “come” and “settled” reactions by working hard.

Once successful, these commands should be practiced with the entire family and in various settings. Once more, use a leash and head halter to ensure success and keep the head and mouth under control. Additionally, clicker training can be an effective and quick way to mold desired behavior. Instead of calming the dog and enhancing owner control, training tools that choke or hurt, such as pinch collars, may exacerbate aggression and increase anxiety.

The Prognosis of Conflict Aggression in Puppies

With the committed attention of an informed owner, a dog with conflict aggression has the best chance of success. Aggressive puppies require more than just affection and attention; they react poorly to rage or repeated punishment. Inexperienced dog owners who need to learn how to handle this situation or are unwilling to try will probably end up with an unhappy dog who never behaves well. These puppies frequently end up in new homes or are abandoned by their angry owners. Puppies in these situations may become more hostile and untrusting, raising the possibility that they will be put to death.

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