Aggressive Dog Behavior
Aggression in dogs is actually natural, since they have all descended from pack animals, where aggressive behavior was used to establish the pecking order of the pack. Almost all dogs will show some trends to aggressive behavior. As a dog owner, it is each of our responsibility to recognize and control aggression in our dogs.
The level of aggression a dog exhibits is directly related to the threat or individual situation the dog perceives. Normally, except in extremely threatening situations (as seen by the dog) low level aggressive behavior will be used first. Low level aggressiveness includes the following behaviors:
- Aggressive stance
- Jumping up on people or animals with the intent to intimidate
- Nipping at the heels or legs (Note that this type of behavior is normally done by certain breeds in the herding group and in this case may not be done with the intention to hurt. However, this can be scary if you are on the receiving end, so the dog must still learn that this is not acceptable behavior)
If low level aggressiveness does not achieve the desired affect, the dog may escalate to a higher level of aggression, including the following behaviors:
- Snarling, snapping or showing of teeth
- Jumping up and barking in an aggressive manner
Reasons for Aggressive Dog Behavior
Any dog can show aggressiveness under the right circumstances or perceptions. It is important that you as a dog owner understand these situations that may tend to provoke this behavior. Remember, what may seem an unprovoked sign of aggression to you can be perceived completely differently in the canine mind.
- Dominate Aggression (also referred to as pecking order aggression)
- Dogs, being pack animals, need to establish a hierarchy, or pecking order, within their family. This includes both humans and other animals. Once that hierarchy is established, a dog does not like to be challenged. If you inadvertently encourage your dog with thoughts that the dog is the highest in pecking order, you may be setting yourself up with problems in the future. It is also common that there are aggression problems with other dogs in the family as the pecking order is being determined.
- Fear Aggression
- Just like humans, when confronted with a situation causing a sense of fear or danger, a dog will typically use the "flight or fight" tactic. The different reactions to a situation has a lot to do with the dog's previous experience...if the dog has been abused in the past, even a seemingly calm situation may provoke the fear factor in that dog. Even a dog that would normally use the "flight" option will resort to aggression if cornered.
- Redirected Aggression
- Most of us have seen this type of aggression in dogs. The neighborhood kid enjoys throwing rocks at your dog or poking the dog with a stick... from the safety of the other side of the fence. Your dog cannot do anything about that kid, so it "transfers" that aggression to something it can reach, be that another animal inside the fence or even a human.
- Territorial Aggression
- Dogs will protect what they feel is their territory. While you may consider this as good for protecting your home, a dog's perception of what is their territory may expand much further than your yard.
- Guarding Aggression
- Dogs tend to guard their possessions and members of their "pack" or family from what they perceive as strangers. This includes their toys and food, as well as humans. Some dogs will even protect their possessions from familiar people or dogs.
Preventing Aggressive Behavior
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Prevention is the best way to avoid aggressive behavior. This involves early and frequent training for your dog, starting the moment you bring the pet home. This training must involve the following:
- Alpha Dog Training
- Dogs are pack animals, and as such, they need to know where they fit in the order of hierarchy for your family. Most dog owners inadvertently send the signal that the dog is higher in pecking order than they should be. They do this by perhaps doing the following:
- allowing the dog on furniture and beds
- feeding the dog scraps of food from the table
- allowing the dog to walk through doors ahead of the dog owner
- Obedience Training
- Obedience training will help establish your role as the Alpha. Training should start almost immediately upon bringing your dog home. Start with short sessions throughout the day, to keep your dog from getting bored with it. As a minimum, the following commands should be mastered: Sit, Stay, Off, and Drop it.
- Exposing your dog to as many other dogs and people as you can during the first few months is extremely important. By maximizing the exposure of your dog to many different situations, and a wide assortment of people/animals, you not only reduce the likelihood of fear aggression, your dog will become less likely to display territorial or dominate aggression.
Aggression among dogs is actually quite a common problem. If you have any reason to believe that your dog has an aggression problem then you must take action to control its behavior. You should make sure the dog is properly trained and if necessary see a behavioral specialist.
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