big dog.

Melissa is a mother of 2, lives in Utah, and writes for a multitude of sites. She is currently the EIC of HarcourtHealth.com and writes about health, wellness, and business topics.

Most of us see dogs as lovable, playful and loyal companions for life, but just like any other animal, they have a wild side. Where humans have brains, tools and a few natural defense mechanisms, dogs have one serious weapon: their teeth.

Dog bites can be fatal at worst and painful at best. To make matters worse, Fido can change his tune at the drop of a dime. In many states, dog owners are responsible for damages or injuries caused by bites – regardless of whether the animal has a history of aggression.

Knowing the causes and warning signs of aggression in dogs can help you avoid a dog attack.

1. Fear

Fear is a major driver of aggression in dogs. When the fight or flight response kicks in, many dogs choose to fight.

Dogs may lash out aggressively if they feel they are in danger or need to defend themselves. Biting is typically a last resort for fearful dogs, who feel they have no way to escape potential danger.

2. Resource Guarding

Some dogs have issues with resource guarding, sometimes referred to as possession aggression. This occurs when dogs become possessive of certain items, like food, toys, beds or some other object.

Dogs with possession aggression may growl if someone comes near his favorite toy or food bowl.

The degree of aggressiveness can vary greatly. Some dogs will bite anyone who walks through the door. Others are content to have you pet them while they eat, but will turn around and snap at you if you try to take their food away. Some dogs are only possessive of really tasty treats, like ham bones or pig ears.

3. Dominance

Dogs may also become aggressive or bite when trying to establish dominance. While this is more common between two dogs, it can also happen with people.

Dogs with dominance issues think they’re in charge. They may growl or snap at their human family if they feel that their leadership role is in jeopardy.

It’s important to rule out any other issue before assuming that dominance is what’s causing your dog’s aggression. Some dogs may become aggressive because of an illness in an attempt to protect themselves from further danger.

If dominance is the real issue, proper training and rehabilitation can help correct the issue and allow the dog to live a happy, balanced life.

4. Pushed to the Limit

Some causes of dog bites don’t fit into any of these categories. Dogs, just like people, have limits, and when pushed to those limits, they act out the only way they know how: biting.

This cause of biting may occur when dogs are pestered by children or other dogs to the point where they snap. Bites can be avoided by paying attention to the dog’s body language and gauging when he’s close to his limit. Dogs may growl or snap before lashing out and biting. Making sure children respect dogs and separating two dogs that are getting on each other’s nerves can help prevent bites.