The Faces of Aggression
What it is and Where it Comes From
Aggressive dogs bark and growl and snap and bite. Superficially, it
all seems the same. Their intent is to harm a person or another animal and they do it because they are afraid or in pain or
because they are just plain "mean". But the broad term aggression defines a multitude of biological factors and behaviors
that can often times be quite complex. If we can better understand aggression we can more easily recognize the early warning
signs and possibly avoid a serious if not life threatening situation.
We know that:
The domestic dog's
early ancestors needed to chase and kill prey for food and that they used aggression to survive in the wild.
are pack animals (like wolves), preferring to travel and hunt in groups rather than alone, the more aggressive the animal
the higher the social position in the pack and the more that dog gets to eat and mate and keep his or her position.
of one's territory including its space, food and potential mates, will sometimes require aggression to defend it. Long ago,
humans recognized the potential value of a dog's aggressive predispositions and shaped them - through selective breeding and
training - into useful working behavior for such tasks such as hunting, eradication of vermin, livestock herding and for protection
from our enemies.
Inappropriate aggression, while infrequently a result of a medical problem, is usually caused by
human mismanagement or, in some cases, little or no management at all. In most cases, the aggression that is deemed inappropriate
is perfectly appropriate for the dog in the absence of our teaching. The dog is simply acting naturally (as he would in the
wild) in order to survive.
Preventing Inappropriate Aggression
As with most things, an ounce of prevention
is worth a pound of cure. When selecting your canine companion:
Select a dog that matches your lifestyle. Small
dogs can get exercise running around an apartment while larger dogs need the outdoors.
Study the breed. What was it bred
for? Working and herding dogs are more likely to show aggression since they were bred to do so.
Select a breeder with
a good reputation for breeding for health and temperament. Local dog clubs, veterinarians and trainers are a good source.
If a breeder does not handle the pups at an early age or allows them to leave the litter before eight weeks of age, find another
breeder. These pups often develop behavior problems down the road.
Take your puppy to puppy classes for socialization
and conduct socialization exercises away from class also..
Begin basic obedience training at four months to promote communication,
respect and discipline.Categories of Aggression
Dominance Aggression Attempt to move higher in the social
hierarchy of the family (pack). Can be directed at family members including other dogs residing in the home.
Aggression Fear of an actual or perceived threat such as a person, animal or situation. The dog may "freeze", "flee" or
Territorial/Protective Aggression Perceived threat to the home or family or family member. Usually
Pain Aggression Response to sickness or injury. Aggression toward nearest human or animal.
Maternal Aggression Threat or perceived threat to a dam's pups. Aggression toward any human or animal too
close to the litter.
Predatory Aggression The predisposed behavior to chase and kill prey for food. Usually
triggered by fleeing from the dog with or without fearful vocalizations. Can be a smaller animal or a child.
Aggression Caused by seizure-like brain disorders. Directed toward anyone or anything.
Treating Aggression Problems
the first sign of an aggression problem, consult a qualified animal behaviorist or veterinarian behaviorist. Interview them
and check their references. Basically, the methods used to lessen or eliminate aggression are:
Pharmacological Intervention (use of behavior altering drugs)
Surgical Intervention (usually castration
of the male dog)
Avoiding Provocative Situations
desire to protect the home or den was probably one of the fundamental reasons why man and dog became such close companions.
Today, with crime on the rise, the dog is still valued as a protector of our home and family. Unfortunately, some dogs take
this role a bit too far. It is clearly the responsibility of the dog owner to keep the family dog under control. Obedience
training is an important part of this control. Teach your dog the "Quiet" command and the ""Stop" or "Out" command will teach
the dog that you, as the leader, are in control. When my dog hears a noise and barks, I often investigate. If I see nothing,
I say nothing unless the barking continues. Then I say "Quiet". If, however, there is someone outside, I praise my dog, "Good"
and then I say "Quiet". My dog seems proud that he has alerted me of the approaching stranger.
If your dog rushes
the door to bark at or bite your visitors, obedience training is needed as a foundation to control the problem. Your dog should
be put into a "Place" command or a "Down-Stay" until the visitor enters and is greeted as a friendly person by you, the leader.
The dog can then be released when the excitement is over, to smell the visitor and to say hello. Training for these situations
will teach the dog how to behave when visitors arrive. Teaching your dog to defend you against a criminal attack (personal
protection) is one thing. But only with proper obedience training will you make the decision as to who is a bad man and who
is not. And what happens when you are not around? Now your dog is in charge.
aggression between dogs usually has it's roots in early learning, i.e. the lack of early socialization with other dogs. Maintained
too long in isolation or not having the opportunity to meet enough other dogs and learn the social graces, dogs may become
nervous or excited, both of which can present aggressive behavior. When a dog becomes extremely excited, or loaded as agitation
trainers call it, he needs to bite. In some cases, if the owner is nearby trying to restrain the dog by holding his collar
or leash, even the owner can become a recipient of the dog's bite.
The standard method of treatment for this problem
can be corrected in a three step process.
As your dog walks toward another dog, at the moment
the aggression is displayed, correct the dog with a leash-check or other form of negative reinforcement at the exact moment
the dog displays aggression. Timing here is important because a correction after the aggression begins may cause further stimulation.
Say "Leave-It!" and continue walking.
As your dog walks
toward another dog and looks at him, correct as above (now we are correcting him for even thinking about it.)
As your dog walks toward another dog and looks away
from him, praise him and give a food treat.
Using positive and negative reinforcement can often times act to re-shape
this behavior. However, if your dog is older and extremely aggressive with other dogs, you should consult with a qualified
animal behaviorist before undertaking any behavior modification.