What makes man’s best friend turn the other cheek and become hostile with their owners or other dogs? It’s a 21st century epidemic with more dogs finding their way to shelters because they became aggressive than for other reasons. Is it the dog's fault, or is it a world so busy a pooch might find it hard to keep up?
Hostile dogs cause havoc in neighborhoods and the local dog park. They are a serious concern, as someone could get bitten. First, you need to know why they are hostile, and then see what can be done to change the behavior.
You might have a sick dog who is lashing out or a pup that is venting their frustration over a change in the family dynamics. In a world of road rage and anger management classes, it’s no wonder our dogs are getting hostile.
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Signs a Dog is Aggressive
If your laid-back Labrador suddenly starts growling, snapping, and barring their teeth at the kids or cat - talk to your vet. Rabies, thyroid issues, brain anomalies, and pain can all cause sudden aggression
Fear aggression tops the list of reasons a pooch can bite, as its coming from a place of panic. When confronted with danger in the wild, an animal might choose to take flight. If that’s not an option, it will be forced to fight. Much of the hostility you see in dogs comes from fear of being threatened. It could be deep-rooted in an abusive past or lack of early socialization. Fearful pups will at first retreat, showing visible body actions including lip-licking, cowering, and shaking. When cornered, the frightened pup could go into attack-mode and bite.
If a puppy is not introduced to the sights and sounds of the world, it could become an anxious adult. Sudden noises or advances by friendly folk could see this dog lunge on its leash or jump up at the scary person. Breeders can walk the hall of shame as many have no interest in socializing a puppy. The advent of puppy mills has seen dogs born of stressed-out moms, leaving an imprint on her kids of fear and hostility.
The animal shelters see it all - pretty, designer dogs surrendered or picked up by the authorities because they couldn’t be trusted. Their pricey Schnoodle was a home wrecker and the constant barking caused problems with the neighbors.
The free-flow of dog breeding has no end in sight and as long as there is a buck to be made, unscrupulous people will keep puppy mills alive.
Some dogs that have not been neutered or spayed can exhibit aggressive tendencies. Their desire to mate is a factor and can see male dogs escaping from their enclosure when they sense a female in heat. According to Canine Journal, a rise in testosterone levels can cause males to become dominant and near impossible to train.
Dogfights can result in injury as a bully-boy type senses the submissive pooch in the park. The timid pup averts their eyes, trying to be invisible as the dominant dog tenses their jaw, prepping for a scrap.
Dogs with a high prey-drive can make great drug-sniffer dogs, but if that need is not satisfied, your English Foxhound or Chihuahua could chase anything that moves. These pups were bred to find foxes and rats so the family cat, joggers, cars, and bikes may be a target. Dogs with predatory aggression should not be allowed near babies.
Wolves guard their kill in the wild and their doggy offspring can be equally as protective about their food bowl. The reasons for resource guarding can be traced back to puppyhood where some junior dogs scoffed all the food. These bossy pups could grow up to be meaner with their food and toys. Owners could be used to a lot of spitting, drooling, and ears pinned back at dinner time.
Another cause of hostility in the home comes from a woofer wanting to claim one of the humans. Hyper-attachment is when your snarly Chihuahua takes ownership of his pet-dad. The kids and mom can’t get a look in as this midget mutt turns on the charm for dad but growls, lunges, and jumps up at anyone else.
ASPCA tells us that it’s not wise to get in the middle of two pooches fighting, as the hostile dog will redirect its attention to you. All fired up, they’ll be mad at the intervention and you might just get muzzle punched for your effort. These can hurt, as a revved-up pooch whacks you with their nose and mouth shut. Next, they could snap at the air or give you a nip to ward you off.
Leash aggression can ruin a good walk as your pooch yanks on the leash while lunging at every dog in sight. This reckless reactor has no interest in etiquette as they cut loose at canines walking by. Its not so bad if it’s a smaller pup like a Maltese or French Bulldog, but try hanging onto the lead when a Mastiff or German shepherd is calling the shots.
- Tense jaw
- Ears back
- Back hair on edge
- Exposed teeth
- Attacking for no reason
- Chasing moving people or things
- Having a high prey-drive
- Hyper-attatchment to a family member
- Resource guarding
- Bullying other dogs
History of Hostile Dogs
The family-orientated wolf lives in a pack, an ideal set up for survival in the wild. Their canine children have adopted humans and co-exist in homes where they no longer have to hunt for food or guard against predators. Wolves had to turn on aggression when the pack was threatened, but are social creatures like their doggy infants.
They have learned, like humans, to minimize hostile actions as it's counterproductive to a peaceful life. Some folks have aggressive natures, as do dogs, but humans can get counseling, while the pup that takes a chunk out of an abusive guardian can wind up in a bad place.
In ancient times, dogs were used by the Romans on the battlefield to terrorize enemies and also as a barbaric form of entertainment in the infamous Colosseum. Dog fighting has been the sport of insidious souls for centuries and left a hangover with breeds like the Pitbull and Rottweiler, who in the modern age have a WARNING tag attached.
Dogs have been with us for 15-30,000 years (the debate goes on with the numbers) and look to us for guidance. Like children, they embrace the wisdom of their parents and learn how to be in the world. Kids don’t always get it right and neither do dogs - that have the cognitive ability of a toddler. They are emotive animals and can mess up, just like us.
The Science Behind Hostile Dogs
Animal behaviorists are adamant there are no bad dog breeds - just owners who haven’t done their homework. While the right choice of dog to match your lifestyle and living arrangements is a sensible approach, a new study featured on Eureka Alert, and carried out at the Arizona University, explores the hormones that could be making dogs hostile.
Researchers wanted to know why some dogs act like Cujo on the leash and recruited pooches with this issue for the experiment. Their emphasis was on the oxytocin hormone that makes moms love their baby and dogs adore us - plus vasopressin, a hormone known to increase aggression in people.
The dogs involved were held on a leash by their owners while a recording of a mutt barking was played behind a curtain. They were also presented with a yoga ball, a trash can, and a cardboard box.
Most of the dogs showed little interest in the objects and the woofers that acted aggressively toward the sound of the dog barking showed a surge in the vasopressin hormone. The researchers had previously tested assistance dogs and found high levels of oxytocin, which fits with the caregiver role these canines perform.
Up until this study, it was thought testosterone was the main player in dogs being aggressive, and these dogs were subsequently prescribed anti-depressant style drugs to lift serotonin levels. This enlightening experiment highlights the role of vasopressin and researchers believe the love lifting vibe of oxytocin could be used to help aggressive dogs.
Like humans, our dogs can have a life-changing event that affects their hormonal balance. This gives new hope to pooches being treated with compassion and also it shows how our genetics are converging. We can treat dogs for behavioral issues in a similar way to people.
Tips for Training Hostile Dogs
All forms of aggression in dogs can be addressed through training methods designed to modify behavior. One of the most common forms of hostility is fear aggression, which often has a trigger, and that can be people coming to your home.
Lack of socialization or a perilous past life can make pups fearful and aggressive. To change their view about strangers entering your realm, take a bag of treats outside and leave it for a friend coming to visit. With your pup on a leash, let the person enter and place the treat on the floor. This changes fear into something much nicer and tells the dog there is no need to fear this person, who comes bearing gifts.
There are trainers who think the way to make a dominant dog toe the line is to alpha roll or shock them with a collar. These kinds of punishments deny scientific studies that prove woofers have feelings and are possibly self-aware. Where is the dignity in making a dog feel pain as a way of controlling their aggression? There is always a reason for a behavior whether it’s hormonal, genetic, or human error.
The late Dr. Sophia Linn, an advocate for force-free training, told us wolves do not fight their way to the top and live in family units with their wolf-pups. When a person assumes the dominant and much-debated alpha role with a dog, they had better be strong enough to stay on top. Forcing dogs to live on their paws for a dictatorial human is not natural and will cause problems. Their ancestor wolves don’t live this way, so why are trainers assuming dogs need a Conan-style leader that will punish them if they disobey?
Safety Tips for Owners of Aggressive Dogs:
Seek the help of an experienced dog trainer or animal behaviorist.
Talk to the vet so you can rule out illness.
Keep aggressive dogs away from children and babies.
Muzzle a hostile pooch in public.
Keep aggressive dogs leashed on walks.
Find what triggers the aggression.
Read articles about dog owners with hostile dogs.
Share your story - It could help other dog owners.