Dominance Aggression in Dogs

Dominance Aggression in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost
23 Veterinary Answers

Prepare for unexpected vet bills

Dominance Aggression in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

Prepare for unexpected vet bills

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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 medications and advanced training to relieve.

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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 veterinarian 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 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 medications to help curb the behaviors. Although there are a few medications that are relatively fast-acting, most typically require several weeks before substantial improvement is seen, The most commonly used medications for aggression in 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. 

Most medications need to be given while the dog is undergoing training, and typically do not work on their own.  This condition requires commitment and consistency to overcome.  

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Dominance Aggression Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Pitbull Mix

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Has Symptoms

N/A

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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0 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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