"Aggression is not breed specific as this
picture of a Terrier shows" -Picture courtesy of Pet
AggressionWhat is Aggression?
Aggression can be roughly
defined as a dog's intent to do harm, for one reason or another, to
either a person, another dog, or any other animal. Aggression is
a serious problem, no matter how hard a dog's owner tries to downplay
the threat. There are primarily two different types of
aggression, and there is a different cure for each type.
Sometimes, aggression has been left to fester for so long that it is
incredibly difficult to break. Understanding the causes of the
aggression are essential in determining what is the best course of
action to remedy the behaviour. Often, a dog has a mix of more
than one type of aggression, which further complicates the issue.
It should be noted that aggression can occur in ANY breed and is more
commonly found in toys and small terriers than the so-called
"Aggressive breeds" like Pitbull-ish dogs, Rottweilers or German
Perhaps the most common
form of aggression, dominance aggression is a result of a dog thinking
they are in charge of the family and the household. This leads a
dog to believe that every item in the house is his, as well as thinking
that everyone or anything in the house is on *his* turf. This
results in possession aggression (the dog growling at the owner when
trying to take away a toy), food aggression (the dog growling when
someone comes near his food or tries to take it away), or territorial
aggression (the dog growls when someone comes near his property i.e.
What causes dominance aggression?
1. "Spoiling" the
dog. Spoiling a dog is virtually the same as spoiling a
child. Owners rarely discipline a dog, often let the dog do
whatever it wants, and if the dog does show any form of aggression i.e.
baring the teeth or growling, the owner will back away and do
nothing. This allows the dog to think that it is in charge and in
effect it is because the owner caters to the dog and will never stand
up to him.
Some dogs are simply born with the opinion that they are better than
everyone else. These dogs are more stubborn in training, and they
may also try to establish their dominance over any dogs they run
across. If left unchecked, this can lead to dog on dog
3. Lack of
food/water. Some dogs who haven't had the greatest life have had,
at one time or another, a difficult time finding food or adequate
water. These dogs can often become quite possessive of resources
and strongly defend their foodbowls and territory.
disorder or Hypoglycaemic. Sometimes a dog may develop a thyroid disorder that
leads to a hormonal imbalance which causes a dog to be "moody."
Blood sugar crashing can also lead to weird, seemingly unprovoked aggression. All other behavioural causes should be ruled out before looking to
medical problems as the cause.
1. Obedience training
(without treats). Obedience training is by far the best way to
establish oneself over a dog. This should be done without treats,
since training with treats teaches the dog a command but it doesn't
garner any respect from a dog. Treat training is based on bribing
the dog to do a particular behaviour. You may be buying the dog's
love, but you aren't gaining any respect.
2. Correcting the
aggression. The aggression must be corrected when it
happens. The corrections must be done consistently, so that
anytime a dog is aggressive it is shown that it is not behaving
properly. Dogs will understand better if there is no grey areas;
he is praised if he is good, and corrected if he is bad.
3. Change the daily
routine and micro-factors of the dog's life. There are several
things that must be done to ensure the aggression does not come
back. Every dog is different, so these solutions can vary
4. Exercise. A thoroughly exercised dog is not so tightly wound. Thus, he will be happier.
Fear aggression is a result
of a dog acting out of fear of an event or another dog. Fear
aggression is typically more difficult to break than dominance
aggression because of the complexities of the causes. Suffice to
say, one should approach fear aggression quite carefully, as dogs can
be quite unpredictable when acting out of fear.
What causes fear aggression?
socialization. If owners did not properly socialize their dog
when he was a pup, he may be shy or nervous around a whole slew of
things. That nervousness can lead to aggression.
breeding. Some dogs, regardless of breed, can be born with "weak
nerves" that make a dog more predisposed towards nervous
behaviour. When working with a dog who has these weak nerves,
progress can be made, however patience is a virtue. It can take a
long time for a dog who is fearful of everything to come around.
event. Sometimes a dog may be attacked when he is young and that
may leave a lasting impression on him. This is often the case
with pups who were attacked by other dogs. Intense socialization
is often needed to help this dog recover (see
Sometimes dogs are aggressive out of fear of humans. This occurs
most commonly in rescue dogs who have been saved from an abusive
home. Anything could trigger the fear, whether it be a particular
scent, noise, or even an article of clothing that someone wears.
Whatever the dog is fearful of, steady, progressive socialization is
the most important part of the cure.
Training. Obedience training helps build confidence in a dog as
well as a lasting respect and deep trust for the owner. This
helps a dog immensely in overcoming his fear.
Exercise always helps! Regular exercise depletes some of the
dog's nervous energy.
Medication is only recommended as a LAST RESORT. Medicating a dog
tends to create more problems than it cures. Please read the
article on behaviour problems for more information.
Miscellaneous Types of Aggression
Small Animal Aggression:
Some dogs have such a
heightened prey drive that they often cannot resist trying to kill
small animals, including small puppies. This needs to be worked
on immediately and dealt with in a similar manner as dominance
Sometimes dogs just
feel like chasing horses and cows. This is most common in herding
dogs like German Shepherds and Border Collies. This can be
corrected, but it needs to be dealt with very consistently, and quite
possibly with a remote shock collar. Both livestock and dog can
be hurt or killed by this type of aggression.
"A few weeks before this photo was taken, Rosie wanted to
kill them. Now she just watches them graze"