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  • Writer's pictureGerman Shepherd Breeder

Aggression or Fear?

Often it’s difficult to determine if a dog is showing aggression or fear. This confusion is particularly evident in the facial threat gestures of dogs. Let’s start by examining the facial expressions of a dog as it becomes more fearful (Figure 1). The face in view A is alert and somewhat confident. It’s relatively relaxed, showing only a little tension. The face in view B illustrates an increase in fear. The ears become somewhat lowered, the mouth is partially drawn down, and the eyes are somewhat less alert. Finally, the face in view C shows great fear. Its eyes are averted or lowered, the ears are pinned back, and its lips are pulled back and down. As fear increases, with no increase in aggres- sion, there’s little likelihood that the dog will attack. What would a dog look like when it expresses both anger and fear? Figure 2a) shows the same illustration as that in Figure 1a). As fear and aggression increase, the dog’s expression changes. View 2 shows the ears somewhat lowered, but the hackles up. This face illustrates an equal mix of fear and aggression. At times this dog will fight, and at times it will flee. Finally, view C represents a face with extreme conflict between rage and fear. The hackles are up, but not as strongly as they are in a purely aggressive dog. Its teeth are showing, but its mouth is drawn somewhat downward. This espression displays an extreme show of emotion that would occur when a dog is confronted at short range by an oppo- nent that it fears greatly. Without fear (offensive aggression), a dog is very likely to attack without hesitation. As fear increases, the dog becomes less likely to attack. When a dog is dominated by fear, it’s unlikely that it will attack as long as it has a means to escape. Now Figures 3. View A is the same as that in Figure 1 and 2. The face indicates only a little tension and little or no fear and aggression. View B shows an increase in aggression. The dog is more alert, its hackles are up somewhat, its ears are pulled forward just a little, and its eyes are more focused. This is the type of face a dog shows when it faces an opponent it’s not too afraid of. The face in view C shows a great deal of aggression, with little or no fear of its opponent. The dog is angry but not afraid. Its ears are pointed forward, its hackles are raised, its lips are lifted to reveal its front teeth, and it’s making direct eye contact with its opponent. This dog may just walk away from its opponent, but it will probably attack if approached. For more information about us or our German Shepherd dogs / puppies, please text 305.904.9796 or visit our website at

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