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What is Displaced or Redirected Aggression?

Displaced or redirected aggression occurs when a dog or cat or human responds to excitement, fear, agitation, irritation, or arousal by external stimuli, a provocation, or perception, but is unable or unwilling to direct their aggression toward the stimulus. The aggressor may then direct the aggression toward whoever is nearest with hostility that is intended for a specific target but is thwarted or interrupted. The next dog, cat, or person then becomes the target of the attack. The dog or cat then actively follows the second dog, cat or person if they were involved in interrupting the dog's or cat's attack on its initial target because the hostility is not unintentional. Redirected aggression is therefore a type of affective aggression whereby the dog, cat or human is in a state of high arousal, the target of the aggression is altered, blocked or removed and the aggression is redirected and continued towards a third party.

When does Redirected or Displaced aggression happen?


1. When there is an intervention by a third party (human) between 2 dogs or 2 cats that are fighting, whereby the third party becomes the victim of aggression from one or other of the animals.

2. When a dog, cat or human confrontation results in the dog or cat being punished or reprimanded, the cat or dog directs aggression towards conspecifics or other family members on being returned to them.

3. In cases of acute presentation, the involving aggression is transferred from the original intended victim towards another victim.

What causes Displaced or Redirected aggression?


The cause of displaced or redirected aggression is a complex interaction of a number of factors, i.e., predisposition and stimulus. Predisposing factors include the type of breed and primary confrontations, e.g., dog fights that are interrupted.

A dog showing frustration
A dog showing frustration

Specific factors include frustration of behaviour that leads to increased arousal and aggression and the presence of a primary and secondary victim and a confrontation. Previous experience may also lead to learned aggressive behaviour towards third parties.

How is Displaced or Redirected aggression Diagnosed?


Diagnosis is done by analysing the presenting problem which often is aggression towards third party intervening or altering the original confrontation or human/dog confrontation resulting in the dog redirecting its aggression to a third party or parties.

A video recording of the behaviour can be taken by the owner whenever this is happening for analysis too.

What other conditions need to be differentiated from Redirected/Displaced aggression?

Fearful dog
Fearful dog

The other conditions to differentiated from redirected or displaced aggression include:-

  1. Fear Aggression.

  2. Epilepsy

  3. Possessive Aggression

  4. Predatory Aggression

  5. Accidental bite to human, e.g., human was in the way.

  6. Rabies disease

How is Redirected or Displaced Aggression treated?

  1. Do not engage in conflicts (triggers) or become very aroused.

  2. Be mindful that hostility can be aimed at a different person.

  3. The dog's overall obedience training should be improved.

  4. Address the main behavioural issue.

  5. stimulating stimulus counterconditioning.

  6. Orient behaviour towards an appropriate substrate, such as a toy.

  7. Enhance the status of the owner when aggression is directed at the owner or handler.

  8. Consider referrals if you lack specialised knowledge.

How is Redirected Aggression Prevented?

  1. Risk assessment: Owner to understand the potential for redirected aggression.

  2. If involvement is deemed required to stop harm to another animal, the owner should be ready with safety measures, such as a bite stick.

  3. When on a lead, use a headcollar for added control, especially if the hostility is directed at other dogs.

  4. Allow dogs to resolve any conflicts without human intervention as soon as possible only if the behaviour is typical and not pathological; otherwise, this is a bad idea.



Landsberg G, Hunthausen W & Ackerman, L (1997) Handbook of behaviour problems of the dog and cat. pp 145-146.

Overall K L (1997) Clinical behavioural medicine for small animals. pp 104-105, 113, 131-134, 244-245.

Askew H (1996) Treatment of behaviour problems in dogs and cats. pp 175-176.

Borchett P L & Voith V L (1982) Classification of animal behaviour problems. Vet Clin North Am Sm Anim Pract 12, pp 571-585.

Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, PO Box 46, Worcester WR8 9YS, UK. Tel/Fax: +44 (0)1386 751151; Email:; Website:

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