What is Aggression?
Aggression in dogs can cover a wide variety of behaviors, and there is always an influence or motivation behind it. Aggression can be shown by barking, snarling, biting and more. This behavior usually starts with a warning signal from your dog and can culminate in a combative action. Once the motivating factor is removed, the aggressive action does not take place. When you make the decision to delve into the reasons for your pet’s aggressive behavior, start with a visit to the veterinarian in order to rule out a medical cause.Aggression in dogs can be defined as the visible expression of emotion, brought on when a canine feels the need to manage a situation. There are several reasons for aggression, and in order to treat the problem the cause must be known and understood. Non-neutered male dogs are more predisposed to aggression than are neutered male dogs, or female dogs. Consult with the veterinarian in order to diagnose the cause of this potentially serious problem.
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Symptoms of Aggression in Dogs
As a pet owner, it must be understood that your dog is showing aggression because he feels threatened. Dogs will start with an aggressive behavior that may seem submissive, but in reality it is the dog’s way of trying to reduce the threat before taking action.
- Licking of lips
- Crouching or rolling on back
- Tucking the tail
- Averting gaze
- Lowering ears
If the threat is not removed, your dog may continue with more advanced symptoms of feeling in danger. These are much more obvious, and occur because your pet feels the earlier signs of communication were not effective.
- Growling which progresses to a threatening bark
- Baring teeth
- Curling the lip
- Raising the hair on the neck
- Lunging towards the threatening animal, dog or person
- Nipping and eventually biting
It is not always easy to discern the telltale signs of aggression. Some pet owners feel that their pet is showing aggression in a situation without warning, when, in fact, they did not clearly see the early signs.
Causes of Aggression in Dogs
Causes for combative behavior may be as listed below:
- Medical condition such as adrenal dysfunction, cognitive dysfunction, thyroid abnormality or seizure disorder
- Dogs in the geriatric stage of life can feel insecure
- A diet that is unsuitable can bring on aggression
- Acute pain
- Some medications can have adverse personality effects
Depending on the situation, it's not rare for a dog to act in an unfriendly manner towards other dogs or human strangers. The good news, it is less common for canines to act hostile to other pets in the home, or to family members.
It is always best to try and evaluate the reasons why your dog might be acting in an aggressive manner. There are multiple types of aggression within dogs, one of which may be the case for your pet:
- Protective - may appear at one to three years of age in a male or female dog and becomes an issue when the dog feels he needs to protect a human, or animal friend or family member.
- Territorial - this happens when the canine feels the need to protect the home boundaries and can materialize as your dog grows into adolescence or adulthood.
- Fear - a dog may be afraid of a person, dog or animal and feel the only option is to attack.
- Social - a complex aggression (behavior used to remind others of pack order) that is more common in males than in females.
- Genetic - dogs in the past had roles such as hunting and fighting, and though they are rarely used for these purposes today, there may be a genetic predisposition (Note: one should never judge a dog by his breed).
- Pain - a dog that is in pain may act in an aggressive manner as an attempt to avoid further pain.
Other types such as learned, frustration or predatory aggression, among others, must be understood in order to be effectively treated.
Diagnosis of Aggression in Dogs
Taking your dog to the veterinarian, or if you've ruled out certain medical conditions, a qualified dog trainer, should be one of the first things you do if you have a dog that is exhibiting aggressive tendencies. This way a medical diagnosis can be ruled out. The veterinarian may take blood tests and perform a urinalysis to rule out an underlying illness that may account for the behavior. If a medical problem is discovered, then a therapeutic approach may take care of the aggression.
If the veterinarian is unable to find a medical reason for your pet’s demeanor, she may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist. If this is the chosen route, you may want to seriously consider the amount of time and money you can invest in the dog.
Treatment of Aggression in Dogs
A professional dog behavior counselor will ask you for all of the details and experiences you can describe in regards to your dog’s aggression. Each type of behavior, along with other factors will be investigated carefully in order to offer you and your dog a good treatment plan. Some factors that will be considered are:
- Can you avoid some of the instances that cause your dog to act aggressively?
- Is your dog unpredictable with his aggressive behavior?
- A large dog who is aggressive will be harder to control than a small dog
- Younger dogs are thought to be easier to retrain against aggression than older dogs
- How severe are the aggressive actions (snarling versus biting for example)?
- Does your dog enjoy rewards (may be used as a retraining tool)?
As your pet is being retrained by a professional using behavior modification techniques, it is recommended to avoid visitors, do not allow petting, and keep him on a leash at all times when outside. Do not punish him for his behavior; remove him from the situation instead. These measures will help to avert further incidents while your dog is being treated for aggression.
Recovery of Aggression in Dogs
It is known that the behavior of an aggressive dog can never be completely corrected. Some types of aggression can be reduced or eliminated, but the careful observance of your pet in situations around humans, other dogs and animals must always be a part of your pet ownership. The best solution to give your dog success in this area is not to expose him to situations that can trigger emotions that can bring on an aggressive act.
Aggression Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
we have a 5 year old Pittbull. He is wonderful with people but aggressive to unknown dogs. He is fine with my sisters Chihuahua dog and we did have another dalmation breed also but we had gotten him(Rocky) after Capone and Rocky was very dominiate over capone and very protective over my husband even with me. Rocky and capone got into a fight last year( it was the 2nd in 2 years and we do not know what the cause was. The first time they both ended up at the vets with major damage.) they recovered and we separated them for awhile and they seemed fine then a few months ago we came home to the same. We put Rocky down(we had to make a choice and almost put them both down but Rocky had actually nipped at 4-5 people where Capone had never.
My question is: did i make a mistake by not putting both down. This is all so heartbreaking. Capone will go after any dog he sees even on a walk.
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my dogs are very docile but i need them to get a little aggressive for security reasons for people who move in the yard as i have had some of our property stolen frequently how can the have possession aggressiveness to strangers ?
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I have a 3 year old yellow lab/german shepard mix. Recently, in the past month, she has started becoming aggressive with our other spayed female (8 year old jack-a-bea). When certain triggers occurs: knock on door, doorbell ringing, other dog barking--she will charge the other dog and dominate her (stand over her barking, growling, and biting). Her biting has broken the skin but not required vetrinary intervention. She does not go after other family members, just the other dog. I separate the dogs and after a minute she is calm and will go to the other dog licking her and engaging her in play. I have started to remove her to my room and closing the door for a time out. There is no resource guarding she does keep others from entering my room by barking at them. But has never growled at, bared her teeth, or snapped at any of the humans in the house. I feel her behavior is a stress reaction to the stimulus (which originated with my 10 and 7 year old wards who have anger/behavior issues from their early childhood). Her aggressive behavior always follows the triggers. So I need to go to a vet for blood work to rule out other medical issues?
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