Aggression in dogs.

This time I am going to talk about aggression in dogs. This is unfortunately a more common occurrence that we would all like to admit. There can be a number of reasons for the aggressive behaviour and it may also be directed in differing ways in differing circumstances.

For example a dog may be aggressive to small white fluffy dogs, or large black dogs, or men only, or as in a phone from someone today only old ladies.

What causes aggression in dogs?

If you listen to the ‘experts’ they will put forward all sorts of hypotheses as to the reasons why a dog aggresses and generally they all revolve around the dog being a creature that needs to constantly increase his stature in the pack hierarchy i.e. to constantly impose its dominance on others. These hypotheses may range from:-

  • Dogs seek a linear hierarchy and are always looking at ways to dominate anyone that they perceive a lower than them in the ‘pack’,
  • Dogs operate on a non-linear (circular or triangular) hierarchy but still try to dominate those in the pack they perceive as weaker than themselves,
  • A variable dominance relationship where at different times and over different resources the dogs will vary between dominant and subordinate,
  • A dominance relationship where either the male dog is dominant or the female dog is dominant,
  • A mixture of the above to explain a situation between dogs that doesn’t clearly fit in an otherwise defined ‘box’,

As discussed in an earlier blog these dominance theories have all been extrapolated form very early studies on captive wolf packs. This earlier research has since been discredited by a number of subsequent studies. (See Blog on Fear, reactivity and dominance in pet dogs)

One of the problems created by dominance or punishment based trainers is that they will say that as the dog is trying to assert its dominance, then to stop the behaviour, the owner or trainer simply needs to ‘show’ the dog that they are more dominant. Invariably this involves some level of punishment and (if the trainer wants to take a chance in getting their face chewed off) to ‘Alpha Roll’ the dog. This involves rolling the dog onto its back and standing over the dog in a threatening way to prove you are dominant to the dog. If you have a small dog you just may get away with it – good luck if you have a Rottweiler. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should any sane person ‘Alpha Roll’ a dog. Even if you are not bitten you are severely damaging the relationship between you and your dog.


What are the most common types of aggression?

There are several common reasons for dogs exhibiting dog-to-dog aggression:-

  • Resource guarding,
  • Dogs sensitive to the proximity of other dogs, i.e. a dog gets too close and the dog reacts by growling, barking, lunging or other aggressive displays,
  • Dogs that are overly boisterous to other dogs and probably have little or no dog social skills,
  • Dogs that may have a genetic disposition to fight, (some terriers for example),

These types of aggression can have a number of different causes, a dog from an abusive background with little food to eat may develop a resource guarding issue. A dog that has been attacked early on in its life may develop a proximity issue with other dogs.

One of the things that some people may try to do is to overly analyse why the aggression issue is there. The truth of the matter is – it doesn’t really matter. The dog has an aggression issue and it needs to be resolved.

The connection to the cause of the issue and the methods taken to modify the behaviour, in reality have little to do with each other. Behavioural issues are generally modified by a combination of classical and operant conditioning combined with sensible management of the environment.

Should you have a dog that exhibits aggression then rest assured it will not go away all by itself, neither will it go away if you use any negative training techniques such as punishment or dominance based training, you should contact a professional trainer that uses positive methods as soon as possible.

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