Media – Fear & Protective Aggression


Who’s to Blame?

Fear is often the in-the-moment reason for canine aggression. Adrenalin-driven reactions aren’t always bad; it’s actually a survival mechanism that’s built into all of us. But if it gets out of control it can lead to defensive aggression, injuries, and more fear.

As I gathered the history on Kipper, the Catahoula mix, I came to learn that he endured frequent emotional outbursts from his female owner. The whole family was on edge. Mom unloaded often, triggering Kipper to react. This waiting for the other shoe to drop, for humans and other species, causes a problem called anxiety. It’s the worry that something unpleasant may be lurking around the next corner. I treat a lot of anxiety and fear.

Mutual caring – empathy – is another emotion that’s shared by dogs and humans. It’s part of the reason so many of us share our homes with pets. It’s the glue that bonds them to us. I encourage empathy because it makes kindness possible.

During our consultation Mom provided information freely. She told me that “whenever she severely scolded” her 5 year old son, as she put it, Kipper became aggressive toward her, lunging and snapping at her face.

The idea of frequent severe scolding of a 5 year old triggered an immediate reaction in me. I felt jolted back to the emotional and physical violence of my childhood. I immediately understood Kipper’s fear and his impulse to protect. I needed to help. But I’m a veterinary behaviorist. What do I know about family counseling? I was flying by the seat of my pants on this one.

Kipper’s aggression was not just about his boy’s mother; this dog’s unhealthy behavior also played a significant part. He didn’t just stand closer to his child to protect him. Kipper was reacting violently. Punishing him could only worsen his anxiety and fear. He needed to cope better and feel better too. Antianxiety medication, while never the only solution, improved this struggling dog’s wellbeing and his behavior.

Come back next week. Mom’s commitment to her son saved his dog.
For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website,

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Post pet behavioral or physical questions on or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.