Aggression is not an innate behavior for a dog; therefore it is a fixable behavior. One more of our favorite issues to work through with a dog because the amount of energy it takes to be aggressive is exhausting. Once rid of this problem they can now focus on a much happier life. First things first, we need to figure out “why” your dog is acting aggressively in order to solve the problem. Most aggressive behavior can be corrected, and there are several different forms of aggressive behavior (view chart below), however the owner must follow a specific course of action and instructions to correct such behavior. Some of these behaviors cannot be fixed, like predatory aggression (which is instinctual), but an owner can direct the dog as to when such behavior is appropriate or not.
Different Types of Aggression
The most common types of aggression we see on a regular basis are Predatory Aggression, Dog Aggression, Fear Aggression and Children Aggression (which is basically Fear Aggression). It is very easy for aggression to get misdiagnosed, or for labels to be placed on a dog like a “dog hater” or “my dog hates people on bikes.” Dogs don’t know how to “hate”, there is a different reason they are being aggressive. There are many reasons a dog might lash out such as a feeling of possessiveness, territorial, anxious or nervous, afraid, or a false sense of entitlement. The last one has to do with a dog that is allowed to act a certain way because his owner is not taking any control over the dog. Basically the dog is almost allowed to be mean, thus he believes he is the leader in the relationship. Only a handful of dogs are truly comfortable in this scenario – They are much happier being the follower.
|Fear||Reacts when backed into a corner, reacts when people do something unpredictable, does not like it when people move fast or loud, likes to sneak behind people to bite||Poor socialization, lack of socialization||Very common|
|Prey||Fixates on animals (usually small), becomes very still when fixating, may drool when fixating||Instincts, lack of mental stimulation||Common|
|Territorial||Possessive of areas where spends a lot of time||Instincts, long periods of time in one area, lack of mental stimulation||Common|
|Dog||Acts aggressively toward dogs that seem to pose zero threat||Poor socialization, lack of socialization||Very common|
|Children||Acts aggressively toward smaller individuals||Poor socialization, lack of socialization||Common|
|Human||Acts aggressively toward strangers||Poor socialization, lack of socialization||Common|
|Possessive||Reacts unpredictably toward certain people or dogs that approaches a specific owner||Improper sense of entitlement, lack of leadership, lack of mental stimulation||Common|
|Food or Toy||Dog becomes very still and stiff when someone or another dog approaches with certain objects||Instincts, history with food, lack of leadership||Less common|
|Maternal||Mother dog will become aggressive toward anyone or anything approaching her babies||Instincts||Very common|
|Pain||Dog may bite when faced with pain, dog may act aggressive as a result of bad thyroid or bladder infection||Medical issue||Very common|
|Punishment||Acts aggressively when expecting punishment||Improper punishment from human||Less common|
Common Dog Aggressive Behavior
Sadly, dog aggression occurs quite often in today’s society – a number of dogs may react in an attacking way when there has been no threat toward them. This dog may not be aggressive and very well could have no social skills, which is a much easier fix than a dog with aggressive tendencies. Since aggression is NOT something a dog “is born with” – something external has occurred to form this behavior. It could be any number of things like poor socialization or no socialization at all which could create a “negative association” attached because a few bad interactions. One example could be a puppy hurt by another dog at a young age (maybe 11 weeks old) and this is his fourth meeting with another dog after the attack. Because of the trauma to the dog (and the owner), the owner thought he was doing what was best for the puppy and isolated him from other dogs for fear it may occur again. This puppy goes through his life only being exposed to as few dogs as possible and there begins the fear that if “I meet another dog odds are he or she may attach me”, and as a defense mechanism the dog become dog aggressive. This aggressive behavior may not present itself until he is about a year and a half. What should you do after a bad experience such as this? Overcompensate for that one bad experience…introduce your puppy to as many nice dogs that you can possibly come in contact with to not allow any anxiety to develop toward other dogs.
Keep in mind that social skills need to be practiced on an ongoing basis throughout your dog’s life to keep them “fresh”. Think of it this way, basic social skills are created, and then you and your dog need to build on those basic skills to strengthen them. You may know of a dog that has always been very friendly with other dogs and “outgoing”, then all of the sudden the dog “hates” other dogs. You may find that this dog has not continued to work on his social skills therefore has become anxious or nervous around other dogs. Different dogs require different levels of social skills – some need to be socialized regularly and others may not. Effective social skills are a must when dealing with new dogs.
Most aggressive behavior is based on fear (think back to your elementary school “bully”). The dog doing the “initiating” is often acting this way out of fear or feeling uncomfortable. His first reaction is to attach, because that is what he knows, and it works. Again, we need to figure out “why” your dog is acting aggressively, and then we can begin to solve his problem. No dog should have to live like this – and we can help.