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What is Dominance Aggression?

Some dogs may show dominant behaviors even as a young puppy, and other dogs may not show signs of dominance until they reach maturity. Aggression that is due to dominance can be a particularly difficult trait to extinguish and requires a great deal of time and consistency.

Dominant aggressive dogs may be particularly dangerous to small children as the nipping or snapping that is related to this condition is typically focused on the head and neck area.

Dominance aggression is a serious condition that requires dedication and patience to extinguish, and in some cases may require psychiatric medications to relieve.

Symptoms of Dominance Aggression in Dogs

Signs that your dog’s aggression or aggressive behavior is dominance related may include signs such as:

  • Aggressive behaviors in response to verbal corrections
  • Aggressive responses triggered by eye contact
  • Attempts to herd other pets or humans using nipping
  • Guarding behavior of toys or food
  • Inappropriate mounting 
  • Resistance to commands
  • Resistance to vacating sofas and beds 

Although dominance issues do occasionally occur in younger puppies, it most often develops as the animal reaches maturity, between eighteen months and three years of age, and is much more common in male dogs than female.

Types

Dogs may exhibit dominance behavior with other dogs, with humans, or both:

Dog/Dog Dominance Aggression

While in many cases dogs will show dominant behaviors to humans, there are other dogs who limit their aggressive behavior to other canines. This may occur with dogs outside of the home but frequently occurs between dogs in the home as well.

Dog/Human Dominance Aggression

Dogs may display dominance related aggression reactions to the humans in their pack as well. This may take the form of disobedience and the guarding of resources, but it can also include nipping and biting behaviors as well. Dominance aggression can be particularly dangerous for children if they are not suitably supervised as bites tend to center around the head and neck.

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Causes of Dominance Aggression in Dogs

Most dogs may display the odd dominance related behavior here and there, particularly while they are maturing, but in most cases, it doesn’t develop into an aggression problem. Several circumstances may increase the chances of dominance aggression developing.

  • Environmental

    - Dogs that are given too much leeway in the home may be somewhat more likely to develop this condition; owners that are overly protective of mildly aggressive behaviors towards new or more submissive dog may unintentionally intensify the violent behaviors

  • Genetic Predisposition

    - Dominance and aggression can be passed down through specific breeds or lines within those breeds

  • Medical Issues

    - Certain medical issues may trigger or exacerbate dominant and aggressive actions; issues related to the thyroid as well as imbalances in testosterone may intensify these traits

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Diagnosis of Dominance Aggression in Dogs

When dealing with a dog that is exhibiting aggressive behaviors your dog’s doctor will need to collect information for a complete behavioral history when you visit the clinic. Some of the information that is typically requested for a complete behavioral history includes the patient’s sex and age, and the age of onset, as well as anything else that may be known about the breed or genetic history of the canine. The veterinarian may also collect information about the circumstances surrounding any incidents of aggression as well as how your dog’s behavior changed once the episode ends. 

Any data regarding recent changes to the animal’s diet, environment, or medications as well as which corrective methods have been attempted will be needed. In order to rule out medical components to the behavior, a complete physical examination will typically be performed as well. This examination will also include standard diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis, and may include other tests such as tests to determine the animal’s testosterone and thyroid levels.

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Treatment of Dominance Aggression in Dogs

If the aggressive conduct has a medical basis, the medical condition this will be treated first, otherwise, the treatment for behavior issues will depend on both the severity of the behavior issue and the underlying trigger for the behavior. Aggression related dominance has the potential to be a dangerous situation and should be addressed by a veterinary professional. In cases of severe aggression, a safety muzzle may need to be employed to prevent any bites from occurring. Treatment for dogs who have shown aggression due to dominance should be a cooperative effort between a professional trainer or behaviorist and the owner of the animal. 

It is important to resist scolding or hitting your dog for dominance related behavior, as this may actually increase the chances that dominant behavior will become aggressive. Increased exercise and regular obedience training may also be effective in reducing aggressively dominant dogs, and some forms of training may be used as distractions, focusing the dog’s attention off of negative stimuli in a training technique known as a counter-conditioning treatment. Behavioral therapy and training are not always sufficient to reduce dominance related aggression, and anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications may also be required to calm your companion.

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Recovery of Dominance Aggression in Dogs

In some cases, aggression issues due to fear can become unmanageable with behavior modification and training methods alone. Severe aggression issues may require psychiatric medications to help curb the behaviors. Although there are a few psychiatric medications that are relatively fast-acting, most typically require several weeks before substantial improvement is seen, The most commonly used psychiatric medications for canines include: 

Benzodiazepine Derivatives

 

This category of drugs includes medications such as Valium and Xanax, which have a relatively quick response. Unfortunately, dogs often build up an immunity to the compounds used for these treatments making them less suitable for long term usage.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

Often used for generalized fears and obsessive-compulsive behaviors, this category of medication includes Fluoxetine, Prozac, and Sertraline. SSRIs are one of the most frequently prescribed types of psychiatric medication and Fluoxetine is one of the more successful treatment methods for aggression issues. 

Buspirone

This is a non-sedating anti-anxiety medication that is in its own class, but it has seen mixed results in cases of aggression. 

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Dominance Aggression Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Pitbull Mix

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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We have had Gracie (pitbull mix) for 2 years. She has gotten along quite well with my 15 year old lab and 7 year old pit/chow mix. A few months ago my labrador passed away. We adopted 2 mixed puppies shortly after. The puppies are now 5 months old (one male, one female). Gracie has gotten along great with both. They play fight a lot. Gracie even has marks on her face from letting the puppies play with her. About a week ago, she attacked our female puppy. They have been fine together for close to 3 months. She attacked the puppies face last week, and her leg today.

Aug. 11, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, So sorry to hear about your dog's fighting. She may be now trying to establish who is the leader of the pack. She may need to have some behavior training. Look for a dog trainer in your area who can work with all of your puppies so that these type of behaviors do not happen.

Aug. 13, 2020

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French Bulldog

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Three Months

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression

My Frenchie puppy is constantly barking and biting me. He jumps at my face to bite and really shows his dominance. I’m trying to keep my voice down but he won’t stop biting. I also put him in his crete when he does so but again he starts barking or crying. What should I do? Is it too late to teach him not to behave with aggression?

July 10, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, So sorry that you having behavioral issues with your dog. It is not too late to teach him to not act this way. There are many great tips on how to train your dog to not be aggressive that you can find on the internet. I always recommend finding a dog trainer in your area to help. It is best to stay calm when training him and teach him not to bite and attack you. Using positive reinforcement and giving him a treat when he does something that he should is best.

July 10, 2020

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Athena

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Pitbull mix

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3 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression
Lung

I adopted Athena from the animal shelter, for the most part her health is good. Athena has heart worms but just finished her treatment. I’ve had her for 4 weeks. Athena is very good with humans but shows aggressive behavior when other dogs are around. Most times when she see other dogs she tries to lung and once in a while bark. When I hold her back she will then start to jump on my and lick me but for the next 3 min looks for the other dog. She has been spayed. Shen she gets aggressive she does not get aggressive with me and does allow me to hold her down and rub her chest. Is this behavior correctable?

Sept. 12, 2018

Athena's Owner

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Peanut

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Chihuahua

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10 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Growls
Bites
Snaps
Raises Hair
Marks Territory
Charges
Barks

I have a Chihuahua, and he is very aggressive he has snapped and charged at me multiple times.Peanut has bite my grandfather and friends. I have children over quiet often and I also have a cat that he is aggressive to. He likes to use the restroom in the house and I try to stop him from doing it. I also try to prevent him from going into certain rooms through out the house but he still sneaks and gets in them and uses the restroom. I cant afford therapy for him or a trainer.

Aug. 27, 2018

Peanut's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Without training, you may not be able to change Peanut's behavior. If he isn't neutered, that may help, but at his age, I suspect that the things he does are behaviors now, and they may not change. You can keep him separate when you have children come over, confine him so that he doesn't urinate or defecate in your house, or have a trainer work with him. I hope that all goes well for him.

Aug. 27, 2018

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Rusty

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Labrador Retriever

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7 Years

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Limping
Possibly Age Related Hip Problem,
Very Loud Blocked Breathing
Front Paws Trauma And Swelling
Some Skin Lumps And Pressure Points

Hi, we have just adopted a (Vet's estimate) 7 year old Labrador found abandoned on a highway, hungry and thristy. No clue about his background. Day 1 went well and he was smothered by my family and my brother's family. He enjoyed all the attention. Took him to the Vet (for a bad limp, fatigue,..), Day 2 he seemed to being better. Day 1 he slept out on the couch we gave him. He hadn't barked at all. Day night he pounds on the bedroom door, scratches, barks non stop. I tried to put him out in the hall / near his couch but he wold follow into the room. When I tried closing the door, he pushed very suddenly through and lay on the floor refusing to move. I tried telling him in a firm voice, but he ignored. Then he started growling very aggressively when I approached. Got even worse when I reached for a muzzle. He is pretty strong, 40 kilos, and I didn't want to risk a bite. So we just let him be. Otherwise he has been very quiet and affectionate. Not sure what to make of this and what to do next. I do not want him to think he is now able to call the shots. Not sure if we have given him too much attention and petting :)

Aug. 25, 2018

Rusty's Owner


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3320 Recommendations

It is important to have a firm hand when bring a dog into your home and you never know the history of these dogs beyond how they were found usually; you need to be more firm with Rusty as you don’t want to set a precedent for the behaviour and you need to be stronger willed than him even when you’re tired and want to sleep. Try to look through the two guides below and you can follow up with the link at the bottom of one of the guides with a certified dog trainer. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://wagwalking.com/training/sleep-on-his-bed https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-to-not-be-aggressive (it says German Shepherd but applicable for other breeds)

Aug. 25, 2018

Thank you Doc! This advice is helpful and I benefited from the article you shared. I appreciate your prompt and relevant response. Hoping I can make the needed changes soon :)

Aug. 28, 2018

Rusty's Owner

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shep

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its a mixture ok a lot of breeds

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7 Weeks

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression, Aggressive Lunging
Aggression, Aggressive Lunging, Bit

when I play with him and have the toy in front of him he will attack my arm or me in general. He wont stop chewing on shoes or feet, fingers, ankles, pants, clothes, anything he can bite and i know he is teething but i bought him the toys for when puppies are teething. Also ill let him out and he wont do anything so i bring him in and put him on my bed and he pees on it.

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Flex

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American Pit Bull Terrier

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9 Months

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression
Biting
Growling
Chasing

My 9 month old pit bull has been socialized since he was 8 weeks old. He has never had issues around any other dogs and loves the company of them. Lately we have noticed he has been showing dominance aggression towards male dogs his age. My dog is not fixed and none of the dogs he has had an encounter with have been fixed either. His body stiffens up as he stands over them and he has a deepened growl and bares his teeth. How can we curb this behavior??

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Optimus

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Great Dane

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1 Year

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Barking
Nipping
Pouncing
Rough Play

I believe my pup Optimus has this dominance aggression. He over the last month or so has gotten significantly more rough with me and he continues to “pick” on my son. We have had Optimus since he was 8 weeks old and he most of the time is well behaved for a puppy. He knows sit and lay down at least and he’s good on his leash and when out and about good with sitting when strangers pass by and even ignoring other dogs barking at us while out using the bathroom. However now whenever my husband is not home and I am laying in bed watching tv Optimus pounces on the ground barks continuously (even while being ignored) and even so if I ignore to long he start pounce on me and nips at me. He throws his paws around on me quite a few times he’s clocked me which with his size hurts considerably. I’ve tried ignoring the behavior, I’ve tried also bringing him to the ground and holding him until I think he’s calmed but as soon as I get up he jumps right back up again and he’s back at it. The only way to stop him is by shutting him out of the room for a while but even then he goes right back to it. And same with our son the minute my son comes out of his room the dog runs to nip and pounce on him knocking him to the ground and won’t stop until either my husband or I intervene. However the behavior the dog exhibits with me he does not do when my husband is home. What am I doing wrong? How can I stop him? I love my pup but this is becoming a real big problem. Please help!!!!!!

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Reggie

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French Bulldog

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3 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Fear And Dominance

Ronnie and Reggie 3 years old french bulldogs. Reggie is a bit temperamental, and started growling at our sons, they are only trying to Stoke or be friendly, ones 19 ones 7, he is fine with us and our daughter. We have had them for nearly 4 months and adopted them. Reggie was fine for the first few weeks, he does this to a couple of our friends too, however will take treats nicely. (reggie is the fairer one and smaller.) Any advise would be very grateful

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Tess

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German Shepherd

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10 Months

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Dominance

I have a 10 month old German shepherd Bitch, a 3 year old cocker Bitch and a 5 year old lurcher male. I had the German shepherd from 12 weeks so has grown up around the other two. Last week the cocker and gs were both around my legs. The cocker snapped at the gs which she has done before BUT this time the gs went back. Wasn’t nice to see. GS wouldn’t let go. Thankfully they were both unharmed but I am very shocked that the cocker wasn’t. Now I’m terrified In case it happens again. The spaniel craves attention and the GS is obviously still very puppified