"My dog is fear-aggressive" is a phrase that I hear a lot from dog owners. The truth is, ‘fear-aggression’ does not exist. It cannot exist. Fear has an inhibitory influence over aggression. Fear makes you want to run away and hide, not stand your ground and fight. Fear and aggression arise along different pathways in the brain and simply cannot occur simultaneously. That’s not to say that fear and aggression cannot be displayed in quick succession, they can, but when this occurs the behaviour is usually pathological in nature – abnormal or irrational.
Because fear and aggression cannot arise simultaneously, a dog is either fearful OR aggressive – there can be no motivational contradiction. True contradictory behaviour or ‘conflicting signals’ is uncommon in dogs and specifically occurs when a dog is stuck between conflicting drives or emotions, simultaneously displaying behaviours from each. For example, a snarling dog that has its ears raised but its tail between its legs is displaying true, contradictory behaviour. A snarling dog that is cowering with flattened ears, is not. Neither dog is displaying ‘fear-aggression’ though. A dog cannot signal fear and aggression at the same time. ‘Fear-aggression’ is not a contradiction – it’s an impossibility.
Then let me try and explain …