Dog Aggression Behavior
"Dog aggression behavior is a natural canine behavior that exists in all dogs. It is usually provoked by a specific circumstance such as confusion regarding the status of a stranger. Any sign of aggressive dog behavior should be addressed to ensure that it doesn't lead to an unacceptable dog behavior problem."
There are many signs of aggressive dog behavior. Theses include:
- Baring teeth
- Lifting a lip
- Nipping (bitings without causing a break in your skin)
- Refusal to Allow a Human to Touch a Possession
such as a Dog Dish
In most cases, there is a clear and identifiable reason for aggressive behavior in a dog, although it can be difficult to understand and diagnose.
There are five primary types of dog aggression behavior. These are listed and described below.
- Dog Dominance Behavior
- Dog Fear Aggression
- Territorial Aggression
- Predatory Aggression
With Another Pet
Most forms of aggression can be helped by following a training program that involves behavioral modification. This means simply that you reinforce positive behaviors with rewards and remove any actions on your part that can be confusing.
Dog Dominance Behavior
Dogs are pack animals, and your dog views you as a
member of his pack. There is always a "pecking order" in the pack. If
your dog views you as a step below him in the pecking order, he may
respond to what he perceives as challenges to his position with what is
called dominant dog behavior. If he is bothered while sleeping or if he
is made to move off the bed or couch, he may perceive that as a threat
to his dominance. He may also perceive physical restraint, even in the
form of a hug, as threatening. Your dog may also be aggressive toward
other dogs in order to establish his dominance.
Dogs who display dominance aggression are generally very nice and friendly when they do not feel they are being challenged and they are often described as having a "Jekyll and Hyde" personality.
Tips for dealing with dog dominance behavior involve behavior modification:
- Make sure your dog is getting exercise. Do not play games that involve struggle such as tugging on a rope or racing to see who can grab a ball first.
- Consider something called a head collar when walking your dog or even what not walking him. It has been shown that these collars have a calming effect without being harmful to your dog. Consider brands such as the Gentle Leader Dog Training Collar and the Halti Training Head Collar.
- Get your dog into the habit of following your commands and the rewards associated with doing so. Work on commanding your dog, Have each member of the family do this individually. Reward your dog with a treat when they do what you ask.
- Ask your dog to do something before you reward for your dog. For example before you go for a walk or provide food, ask for obedience with a command such as sit.
- Keep some parts of the house off limit to your dog. For example, do not allow your dog to go up on a bed or couch. Teach that their are places that are not acceptable.
- Don't pet your dog when your dog asks. This is a form of control. Pet your dog when you want to.
- Ignore your dog when he is exhibiting a negative or dog aggression behavior. Do not reward his behavior by acting in the way your dog wants. Do not fight your dog, just walk away.
- If all this doesn't help, then their are some
medications made for dog aggression behavior that might help. Your
veterinarian can discuss anti-anxiety, anti-depressants and
Fear-Motivated Dog Aggression
This occurs when your dog perceives a threat of being harmed. There may not actually be a risk, but your dog perceives it that way. For instance, if you raise your arm suddenly, your dog might be afraid of being hit. He may bite you to protect himself. This type of aggression is particularly common in dogs who have been abused in the past.
The key to helping your dog is to identify what is causing the fear and then using behavioral modification techniques to help him get over this fear. A typical situation is that your dog is nice to you, but barks at any visitors. Some dogs are only fearful of certain types of people such as children.
To help with this kind of behavior you will need to follow the steps for behavior modification. Be sure not to yell at your dog for exhibiting the wrong behavior as this will enhance his anxiety. Specifically:
- Make sure you take your dog out for walks or exercise.
- Work with your dog on obedience commands at least 15 or 20- minutes each day such as sit or lay down. Reward behavior that meets your request including a pat on the chest or a food treat.
- Desensitize your dog to whatever is triggering the behavior. For example if your dog dislikes other adults, then have an adult that causes your dog to bark say hello to you and the dog from a distance. The next time have the adult come closer when saying hello. Continue this process until the adult volunteer is near you. Have this person give you a treat for the dog so that the dog sees that it came from the trigger person. With patience this should start to associate the person with a reward or positive behavior.
- You can also consider medications that might
calm the dog aggression behavior. You might also consider a natural
remedy that contains ingredients known to calm anxious dogs such as PetAlive
Protective, Possessive, and
Territorial Dog Behavior
These are all similar forms of dog aggression behavior. Being protective of your family or his space is a natural behavior of dogs. Protective aggression occurs when your dog perceives a threat towards you and becomes aggressive in order to protect you. Possessive aggressive dog behavior occurs when he feels the need to protect his food, toys, or other important things. Territorial aggression occurs when he feels the need to protect his territory. It's important to understand that he not only feel your house and yard is his territory, but other areas as well. If you walk your dog around the block and he urine marks the area, he may feel the whole block is his territory.
The key to treating territorial behavior is to change your dog's perception of what needs to be protected. Steps you can take include:
Exercise with your dog for an hour.
- As mentioned for other forms of aggression, use commands to teach your dog obedience. Reward your dog with a treat and affection when he follows your command to sit or stay.
- Isolate your dog in a room of the house where he will not be distracted by things that trigger that unwanted behavior. Block any windows that provide access to outside intruders.
- If expecting company, and if that is the cause, use a new toy or a toy filled with treats such as a Kong Toy to distract your dog.
- Desensitize your dog to the thing that is causing the behavior through exposure to the object at a distance. Then bring the trigger closer and closer such as a car or another animal.
- Try to intervene after one bark with a treat. This will train your dog to limit the number of barks without having to eliminate or work on your dog's natural instinct.
- Try and avoid situations where you have to grab your dog by the collar or yank him or her away. This could be perceived as joining your dog in the behavior vs. preventing it. A better approach would be to move your dog from the room if you know that people are visiting and your dog will react.
- Prescription medications may help with this behavior or a natural remedy made for this purpose.
Dog Aggression Behavior Toward Owner
Complaints of aggressive behavior toward the dog owner is the most common behavioral problem brought to veterinarians. There can be several causes for your dog exhibiting this type of behavior:
- Medical cause: something is medically wrong with your dog that needs to be addressed.
- Dominant Attitude: a need to be the dominant or most important member of the family "pack".
- Fear: Your dog assumes an aggressive posture because of fear. The look and posture of your dog is a way to distinguish between a dog that feels the need to dominate vs. one that is acting in fear.
Predatory Dog Aggression Behavior
Some dogs have a strong predatory drive. They might perceive a cat or squirrel as being possible prey. To prepare your dog for another pet in the house consider doing the following:
- 1 hour of exercise a day.
- Buy a comfortable fitting head collar and try it on your dog.
- Practice having your dog follow your commands such as sit or stay. Reward positive behavior but do not punish for bad behavior.
- Separate your dog from any new animal in separate, but adjoining rooms. Use a gate such as a baby gate so the two animals can see each other but not go near each other. Another approach is to have one pet in a room and then take it out. Then bring in the next pet into the same room once the 1st pet has been removed, so that he can smell that the other pet was there. The idea is to familiarize each dog or cat with the other animal and then gradually allow them to be closer together. If both pets ignore each other then you can introduce them to each other in a safe way; such as having each on a leash at a safe distance.
- Although this isn't a comfortable decision, if
your dog continues to lunge at the new pet and show dog aggression
behavior, then your dog may need a muzzle whenever he is a potential
threat. Safety is always the first priority.
Dog Aggression Behavior and a New Baby
Babies can be confusing to dogs since they are different then the types of people they are used to. Your dog may not even consider your baby a person.
Introducing a baby starts before the baby actually comes home. Bring home a piece of the baby's clothing so your dog gets used to the scent. When you arrive home have one adult that is not holding the baby greet the dog first. Consider a head collar if your dog is acting aggressively.
Over time allow the dog to come closer to the baby when it is being held in your arms. Be sure that your dog is on a leash and only let him smell, not lick.
If your dog gets jealous provide a Toy by Kong which is a treat filled to keep him distracted and busy. Do not allow your baby and dog to be alone in the same room. Work with a dog behaviorist if their are any signs of aggression or if you are concerned.
Coping with Dog Aggression Behavior
* Visit your vet to rule out any medical problems
that might be causing your dog to behave aggressively.
* Get professional help as soon as you realize
your dog has a problem. Don't expect your dog to grow out of
it. Dog aggression behavior will not go away by itself, and will likely
get worse over time.
* Take safety precautions. Keep your dog confined
as necessary. Don't expose him to people if he is at risk of biting
them. Remember, you are liable for your dog's behavior.
* Avoid situations where your dog is more likely
to become aggressive.
* Have your dog neutered or spayed. He or she will
be less likely to be aggressive afterward.
* Don't punish your dog. It won't help, and will
likely make matters worse. It will likely cause your dog to become more
References for Dog Aggression Behavior:
A Behavioral View on Dog Aggression
Owner-Directed Aggression in Dogs
J. Fat, M. Amat, X. Manteca.
Unitat de Fisiologia Animal, Facultat de Veterinaria
Have A Dog Behavior Question or Story?
Do you have a question for our veterinarian about Dog behavior? If yes, we will answer it for free.
We will do our best to get back to you quickly (depends on how many questions we receive each day). If you do require an immediate response we suggest using this online dog veterinary service that is available now.