Frustration and Agitation  

Aggression is often created, or intensified, due to some form of frustration or agitation. This could be a momentary agitation or a build up of long term frustration over time. Regardless, it’s important to understand that aggressive outbursts can be an easy way for dogs to release frustrated energy. Even friendly dogs can put on quite a display of aggression when frustrated. This is why many cases of “leash aggression” are really just “leash reactivity” because the dog is not really out to harm anyone, they are just pitching a fit. In fact, many supposedly aggressive dogs just want to go see the dog or person but, by their behavior, you’d think they want to kill somebody. All that being said, sometimes an ordinarily friendly dog will bite due to being highly frustrated, so this is not something to be taken lightly. 

Below are a few bullet points regarding frustration induced aggression in dogs. 

Barrier Frustration

  • Windows, fences, gates, crates, enclosures, leashes and tie outs can all potentially cause what is commonly called barrier frustration. 
  • Being held back or kept away from things is frustration inducing.
  • Frustration often leads to rage/aggression. 
  • See: Tight Leash


  • Restraint on a tight leash can agitate a dog into an aggressive state
  • Weak, ineffective, nagging attempts at correction or punishment can often cause escalation in aggression. 
  • Correction Interrupts – Restraint Intensifies
    • A proper correction reduces aggressive behavior whereas nagging or restraining causes agitation, which intensifies aggressive behavior. 
  • See: Tight Leash

Redirected Aggression 

  • Biting and aggressive outbursts are an easy way for dogs to release frustration. 
  • Sometimes dogs will vent their frustration on whatever is closest or whatever they have access to. This could be the leash, your arm or leg, the dog on their side of the fence, grabbing and shaking a toy, etc. 

Lack of Fulfillment

  • Lack of fulfillment creates an underlying level of frustration on a regular basis which, over time, can become chronic. 
    • Too much time indoors, for example, is totally unnatural and can cause a buildup of frustration.  
  • Insufficient or improper walks can cause a buildup of frustration. 
  • Lack of socialization
  • Lack of freedom and adventure
    • Too much confinement, always on-leash, crated/kenneled too much, never allowed to explore or put things in their mouth, etc. can lead to a buildup of frustration. 
    • Little to nothing in the way of long hikes, off-leash freedom, time in nature, time with other dogs or even just time in the backyard can lead to a buildup of frustration.  
  • No chance to “open the throttle” (run full speed off-leash in a large open space) 
  • Lack of Play
    • Tug, fetch, wrestling, playing with other dogs, etc. 
  • Even though it sounds cute to call them “fur-babies”, dogs are actually not furry babies, they are 99.96% wolf and desperately need to have a chance to “just be a dog” once in a while. 
  • Cuddles and cookies do not compensate for a lack of fulfillment. 

Overindulgence or “Spoiling”  

  • Lack of structure and leadership on a regular basis = frustration intolerance whenever instant gratification cannot be had. (see: Hyperactivity)
  • Instant gratification of the little household wants and needs with a lack of fulfilling the dog’s true needs is very common and, in some cases, can lead to aggression. 
  • Lack of leadership can be chaotic, stressful and frustration inducing for dogs. Some dogs, especially those with low levels of confidence, will become fearful and neurotic due to spoiling and coddling that is not in balance with adequate leadership. (see: Stress, Hyperactivity, Fear, Dominance)

Along with calmness and confidence (see: Hyperactivity and Fear) we would all do well to begin developing patience, impulse control and frustration tolerance in our dogs from day one. It builds good character, makes the dog more enjoyable to be around, makes the dog’s emotional life more comfortable and it could very well help keep the dog from becoming aggressive. If your dog has already developed some frustration induced aggression, that’s ok, it’s not too late to get started turning things around. Focus on reducing the frustration and there’s a darn good chance a reduction in aggression will follow. 

Chad Culp – Certified Dog Trainer, Canine Behavior Consultant, Owner of Thriving Canine. 

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