What is Aggression?
Dogs are naturally very social animals. They’re also highly intelligent, emotional creatures who have complex personalities. But sometimes, even well-meaning dogs develop belief systems that detrimentally impacts the way they think, feel and that makes them act aggressively toward humans. If this happens, it may be necessary to become involved in helping your dog to change the way they perceive their world, how they make decisions, figure out who they are in relation to the family, resulting in behaving more appropriately.
What Causes Dog Aggression?
There are several factors as to why dogs may act aggressively:
Classification of Aggressive Behaviours
The two most common types of canine aggression are affective aggression and predatory aggression (Carlo Siracusa). Affective aggression is provoked by a threat stimulus with a goal to intimidate a potentially dangerous individual. Where predatory aggression looks more like stalking, may have no vocalization, and the goal is to hunt and kill prey.
Other Types of Aggressive Behaviours
Territorial Aggression When a dog is territorial, it means that they are aggressive when another human or animal approaches what they perceive as their “territory”. In some cases, the boundaries of their territory can change suddenly. Territory aggression can include protecting your backyard, to your front door, or even your couch. This form of aggression is the most common form of aggression in dogs, but it is also one of the most easily dealt with. A multi-pronged program delivers aggressive behaviour reform and shows you and your dog ways to shift the role of the dog from a protector to a calm relaxed family member.
Resource Guarding Aggression | Possessive Aggression Resource guarding is a pretty complex issue and a serious one too if not dealt with immediately. Canine aggression when guarding a person, place, food or thing; is a threatening behaviour with the purpose of keeping something away from another individual, such as a person or another animal. Dogs may guard food, toys, the place where they sleep, even you (possessive aggression). If your dog is guarding a particular item, it is often a good idea to get a professional to work with you and your dog to understand what is behind the resource guarding. Many times we see old-fashioned training methods used by the human caregiver that reinforces the dog's need to establish guarding behaviour, such as taking food away from the dog. This can be a tricky behaviour but it is important for human caregivers to take accountability because resource guarding aggression is a learned behaviour. No dog is born with a tendency to guard items.
Pain-Related Aggression | Irritable AggressionOne of the most overlooked forms of aggression in dogs is pain-related aggression. Rather than the dog expressing his/her pain directly, pain-related aggression is an indirect way of communicating that something is hurting or bothering them. Remember that dogs too can have a headache, stomach ache or another painful condition; they just can't tell us. In most cases, pain-related aggression will be triggered by stimuli like a person or animal that is unaware of the pain. Emotionally heightened events like visitors, other dogs, or loud noises combined with pain can cause irritability and aggression. People that have a dog who may be suffering from pain-elicited aggression should see a Vet for blood tests to validate if the aggression may be related to pain or other medical conditions.
Frustration Aggression | Redirected Aggression Many of our cases involve frustration-elicited aggression. Often it begins with mouthing and then turning into painful bruising to full-on puncture bites. Many people mistake frustration-aggression for 'rough play'; however, frustration aggression is a form of aggression where a dog cannot reach the target of its aggression or arousal and therefore changes its focus to another object, person, or animal with aggressive responses. It can be very painful and undermine a trusting relationship with a dog when it becomes unpredictable behaviour. Frustration-elicited aggression is cyclical in nature. Once the dog becomes frustrated it focuses on what it can reach, possibly you. As you work to avoid the painful mouthing, the dog feels the frustration of not being able to release his emotions and so the cycle worsens the aggression.
Social Aggression | Social Conflict Aggression A social conflict is a form of aggression typically directed toward a family member or animal which is motivated by internal conflict. In social psychology, conflict is an interpersonal relationship that is characterized by open displays of disagreement, hostility, and/or antagonism. In biology, conflict occurs in the context of relationships between species. Conflict aggression is a type of destructive behaviour: the destruction of social relationships and the damage of social bonds between dogs and their family unit. Developing a strong and trusting relationship between you and your dog is a key element in changing aggressive behaviours in canines.
Fear Aggression | Anxiety AggressionFear is a basic emotion that can be experienced in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger. A dog's response to fear can vary from mild signs of distress to complete panic. Fear-motivated aggression like this is a consequential behavioural problem that can lead to escalation of dog bites from Level 1 through Level 6 (Dunbar) or even health problems. Fear-motivated aggression may be the result of a dog's genetic makeup, it may have been caused by past behavioural problems or it may be caused by a combination of both. Fear-related aggression is often the result of a dog's perception of a threatening situation, rather than of any direct threat of physical harm or of being harmed.
Can an Aggressive Dog be Cured?
Aggressive dogs are not born; they are made. Yes, it is possible to cure an aggressive dog. Every case is unique, just like you are and just like your dog is, but aggression is curable. In most cases, it comes down to your commitment to helping your dog, your energy and your time as well. They can be supported to change the way they process information and respond to become less aggressive and even friendly. By applying an in-depth understanding of canine aggression and human-dog dynamics to understand how the dog interacts with different individuals, we uncover the root causes and key contributors. Further, examining of the dog's environment and activities help to gain ways to undo long-held fears or anxieties effectively. Aggressive behaviours can be changed.
If you have been reading my channel for long enough, you would know that I am a big advocate of fear-free, force-free and positive reinforcement methods. With these techniques, built into our unique program, we've helped many people get their dogs to thrive and become cooperative partners.
Will a Dog Outgrow Aggression?
Puppies, less than six months of age, learning to control their mouths or experiencing teething pain is not a pathway to aggression. Dogs between 6-months and 18-months, who are showing canine aggression, will likely need some gentle guidance from a professional, to guide you to guide your dog to develop healthy beliefs.
Should Aggressive Dogs Be Put Down?
Aggression in dogs is a major problem. In fact, it is so common that there are many misconceptions about aggression in dogs. Canine aggression is a form of fear or anxiety-based beliefs. Aggressive behaviours occur if a dog has been traumatized, whether from being frightened by another dog or a human. Aggressive behaviours must be dealt with immediately, but the solution includes patience, time, energy and professional support. Behavioural euthanasia is the last resort for dogs with aggression. We help people make an informed decision when considering hard choices and it is based on each individual case.
How Do I Calm an Aggressive Dog?
If your dog is aggressive, you may be hesitant to take him out in public for fear of others' safety. Your dog's safety is important, too, of course. If your dog is aggressive, it's important to know what to do to keep him safe and you safe. And you want to be able to enjoy your dog. A baseline of safety and control is essential to making you and your dog happy and cooperative partners outside. A plan is equally important if you are to enjoy your dog's company. Sadly, many people whose dogs are aggressive are often at a loss as to what to do. One problem is that they are not sure what is triggering the aggression. Sadly, many trainers are not well-versed in dog psychology, like we are here at PivotalChange.ca. This makes it difficult to gain traction in achieving solid calming techniques. In our program, we teach you how to plan and integrate calming cues before events occur. We teach you how to communicate effectively, meaning your dog understands and responds predictably. We work with you on your voice; an often overlooked training tool. You learn when and how to change your voice pitch and frequency, adjust your posture, and learn how to be a good partner to calm your dog.
Why Is My Dog Suddenly Aggressive Towards Me?
Sudden aggression usually requires you to look at consider a few paths: Is the dog sick or in pain? Is the dog reacting to a change in your life? Has the dog just been through an upsetting event? Has the dog just had surgery or on a new medication?
These answers may not be immediately intuitive to the underlying reason; however, we often find clues to the cause for sudden aggression lies in these answers.
Can Aggression Be Trained Out of a Dog?
Not without you being part of the solution. Accountability for owning a dog with aggression is the number one starting place for supporting your dog's recovery from aggressive outbursts. In our successful case experiences, it's rare not to see the human caregiver changing their mindset, approach, and habits to achieve a happy and healthy dog, even in the case of health-related aggression.
Do You Believe That a Dog is Dangerous Because of its Owners or Because of its Breed Nature?
A dog can be described as dangerous if unpredictably aggressive only after being assessed by a professional who can accurately read the dog's signals prior to an attack. Owners, or caregivers, can be contributors or the root cause of aggression. Breed, however, is rarely the reason for aggression. Genetics can be. Meaning if a breed is being bred for a genetic predisposition it can be related to the nature of the dog ... but not the breed itself.
Can Anxiety Medication Help with Dog Aggression?
It depends on why the dog is aggressive. In our extensive success in changing dog's aggressive behaviour, we've found that context is everything. Our program provides a Clinical Behaviour Vet Report to support Vets, if and when medication is required. If medication is required, please note there are 92 different types of psychoactive medications and it really does come down to your dog's individual case.
What Can I Do If My Dog Becomes Aggressive With Me and My Husband?
Call a professional immediately and manage your expectations. Most aggression cases are not solved quickly. They've taken time to develop and will take time to resolve. In the short-term, do not respond with aggression, nor hire a professional who is not positive reinforcement-based. It is inarguable and scientifically proven that aggressive training styles do not work and worsen a dog's aggressive behaviours. Gentle and compassionate methods should be your first question to a professional supporting you and your dog.
Can Vigorous Walks Daily Eliminate Aggression?
No, nor will exhausting the dog. Depending on the case, it could worsen the underlying emotions leading to aggression. That is not to say a well balanced exercise routine is not a critical part of a healthy life for any dog.
Will Neutering an Adult Dog Really Lower Their Aggression?
If you’ve asked this question you likely are already questioning this long-held belief. In 2018, a study came out that rocked the Veterinary world; however, don’t be surprised if your Vet is still using old research. Our cases still show many Vets recommending surgery to support lowering aggression. "...There was no significant relationship between aggressive behavior toward familiar people, strangers or other dogs, and (a) gonadectomy status or (b) the dog’s age at gonadectomy" (Farhoody, 2018)
There are many ways to deal with dog aggression and our program has a 98% success rate - better than others using fear and force-free and positive reinforcement. We hope you enjoyed our blog on the issue of dog aggression and that you were inspired by answers to check us out. If you would like to know more about dog aggression and some of the solutions we offer, we invite you to complete an assessment at PivotalChange.ca and set up a 30 min. phone consult with us. We hope you will get in touch and we look forward to hearing from you!
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'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.