Agression in Dogs
Aggressive behaviour in dogs can be very dangerous to you, your family and any other animals. In extreme cases dogs can be put to sleep as they are seen as too much of a threat to those around them. If this happens then there has been a clear breakdown in the owner’s ability to identify the cause of the aggressive behaviour in their dog. Once any medical conditions have been ruled out by a complete physical examination, and blood tests result in no organ dysfunction then the next step would be to establish an appropriate treatment plan with your local veterinary or applied animal behaviourist.
This article aims to identify the different types of aggression your dog could exhibit, identify any tell tale signs and in certain sections suggest how to reduce the problem of aggressive behaviour.
Dominance aggression is when a dog believes it is in control over a family member or another dog. When the dog feels that their status is under threat then this may result in aggressive behaviour.
Dominance aggression - What are the signs?
Dogs show their dominance through signals from body posturing and / or facial expressions. Common indicators are snarling, staring and increasing their presence by standing tall with a high wagging tail.
A dominance aggression problem could be identified if the dog exhibits dominant signalling during specific scenarios including:
(1) around one particular family member
(2) During eye contact
(3) being handled by owner
(4) when receiving punishment
(5) around feeding, rest or play areas
(6) possessions e.g. toys or food
Fear aggression is when a dog encounters people or other animals which are unfamiliar to them. It also occurs when a dog associates a particular person / animal with a frightening or unpleasant experience.
Fear aggression - What are the signs?
If a dog is in a neutral environment then a retreating movement or submissive act may take place. Yet if a dog is cornered or is within their territory they are more likely to show aggression.
Play aggression is normal behaviour in young dogs. The dog will nip, bite and grab in a playful manor with family members and other pets.
Play aggression - What are the signs?
When a dog is young and excited then they may be exhibiting play aggression. Injuries can result from excited play and if handled incorrectly during the formative years could lead to your dog expressing inappropriate aggressive behaviour when they mature.
Possessive aggression occurs when a dog fears that a person or other animal will take an important item from them. Toys, food or treats could be classed as prize possessions. Dogs may also find trivial items such as tissues, rags or tit bits equally as important.
Possessive aggression - What are the signs?
Dogs communicate possessive aggression by body posturing and / or facial expressions. Common indicators include snarling, staring and positioning in order to defend the item.
Possessive aggression – What do I do?
The first step is to isolate your dog away from any items that they may find worthy of protecting. This could be done by confining your dog into a suitable dog cage or separate room. Treats or toys which are regarded as defendable possessions should only be given to your dog when they are alone in their confinement area. This action will benefit the dog as they will have no need to protect the item and over time the item should reduce in importance.During supervised periods you should place your dog on a long lead. The dog will be able to move freely within the room yet you will have control over your dogs actions. When your pet wanders off in search of an item to possess you can interrupt the act immediately. In addition to confinement and supervised interruptions booby traps or unpleasant smells may be created to try and put dogs off certain items or areas. A combination of techniques needs to be applied consistently over a long period of time if the problem is to diminish. The ultimate goal is for your dog to accept approaches and give up possessions on command. Dogs must be trained to believe that by giving up their possession they will receive a favourite treat or reward which is more important.
Territorial aggression occurs when unfamiliar people or animals enter the area the dog perceives as being their property. Some dogs may also regard family members as part of their territory and will protect them regardless of the environment they are within.
Territorial aggression - What are the signs?
Territorial aggression is evident when a dog becomes aggressive due to an invasion of their property. Dogs become very animated with snarling and barking common indicators.
Some dogs include family members as property. This means the dog could be aggressive towards any animal or person who may seem to threaten a family member.
Territorial aggression – What do I do?
Early socialisation of puppies is the key when ensuring that they mature without anxiety or fear to situations that occur around your home. Encourage visitors to drop by so that the puppy can experience a wide variety of people. Visitors will all have unique sizes, sounds and scents that the puppy can become accustomed too. As the puppy matures these situations become familiar, the dog should remain more relaxed and sociable. Most dogs will alert the family when people come near the house. A socialised dog will raise the alarm and quickly calm down. Young dogs should be trained so that they calm down once you are aware of the visitor. Giving your dog a reward as soon as they settle down should reinforce the good behaviour.
Predatory aggression is when a dog hunts down prey. This type of aggression can be heightened when dogs run in packs.
Predatory aggression - What are the signs?
Significant indicators include stalking, chasing, attacking and possibly eating prey animals.
Predatory aggression – What do I do?
Predatory aggression can be very dangerous and must not be underestimated. When the dog is outdoors ensure it is placed in a secure pen or run. If you are with the dog use a lead and head collar so you remain in control. Exposing your pet to other people or animals should involve wearing a muzzle. A combination of wearing a head collar with desensitising and counter-conditioning programmes during excitable stimuli should reduce predatory aggression.
Pain induced aggression
Pain induced aggression is when a dog suffers pain as a result of handling or another form of contact.
Pain induced aggression – What do I do?
Snarling and biting may be triggered when a dog is handled so that pain is induced. Dogs will also express pain induced aggression if they believe that the area of concern is to be handled, creating fear and anxiety within the dog. Pain induced aggression can therefore be an excellent indicator when identifying any problem areas your pet may be suffering.
Once the pain / medical problem has been resolved your pet will be ready to be retrained.
Retraining your dog to become re-accustomed to handling what previously caused discomfort is best done using a lead, head collar and muzzle. Desensitisation and counter-conditioning techniques will help your dog forget that pain is associated with a particular handling technique. Over time your dog should accept and enjoy these situations, especially if the action is rewarded.
Maternal Agression - What are the signs?
Maternal aggression occurs when people or animals threaten a bitch’s puppies.The bitch will be very defensive over any areas that represent a nest for her puppies. She will exhibit a defensive stance blocking her puppies from the threat. Biting, snarling and body posturing may all contribute in scaring off the threat. Pseudopregnancy (false or phantom pregnancy) can mean that the bitch will demonstrate maternal aggression. This may take place around the time that the puppies were due to be born.
Maternal aggression – What do I do?
Once pups have been weaned and the dog spayed, the problem should cease. Before this can occur the aim is to train your dog to be able to leave her litter so that the pups can be handled. Using a head collar and lead the dog can be trained to “come”. Once the task is achieved then a reward needs to be given. The next step is to have your dog accept people approaching and handling her puppies. This may be achieved by applying desensitisation, counter-conditioning and reward rich techniques.
Learned aggression - What are the signs?
Learned aggression is when the owner of the pet has intentionally trained the dog to act aggressively on command or in a certain situation.Dogs that have been trained to be aggressive will carry out the act on a specific command, action or situation that has been created by its owner.
Learned aggression – What do I do?
Flooding the dog with aggression related stimuli is one way that the dog may learn that no matter how aggressive they are the stimulus remains and is not harmful to them. This technique does have the potential to harm your dog as they can become so worked up over the situation. By applying desensitising and counter-conditioning techniques the dog will learn that the stimulus is safe and associated with a reward.
Medical induced aggression
The development of medical conditions can cause aggressive behaviour that is not typical of any behavioural type. These may affect dogs of all ages at any time. More likely is that the medical condition along with behavioural factors will be causing the problems. A pdogs irritability level may increase with dental or arthritic pain. Cushings disease, rabies and tumours may all evoke an aggressive response.