Aggression Questions

Q: My dog can be very kind and loving but sometimes he becomes aggressive to me, especially when I try to take something from him, move him, or make him do something he doesn't want to do.

A: This type of behavior is indicative of a dog with a dominant mindset, and one that doesn't understand his proper place in the pack. The dominantly inclined dog will attempt to rise to the highest level possible within the pack which, in this case, is your family or household. The dog must be shown that his place in the pecking order is on the bottom rung of the ladder. Dislodging the dominant dog from this elevated status can be a very tricky, and potentially a very dangerous job. Obedience training alone, although it helps, will not solve this issue. In fact, attempting serious obedience work with a very dominant dog can have the unintended consequences of exacerbating the dominance behavior by giving the dog more opportunity to challenge you. Furthermore, meeting aggression head on with more aggression -- as is sometimes advised -- can have disastrous consequences. A much more comprehensive and subtle approach will be needed to help modify this unfortunate behavior trait. The approach will depend on the particular dog in question, and the degree, or severity of the dominance. When dealing a dominant dog, and particularly one that directs his dominance and aggression towards members of his own pack, you and your family, it is always advisable to seek the help of a good professional, and preferably before someone is injured. Bear in mind too that this Alpha-type dominant behavior in dogs afflicts both male and females; a dominant Alpha-type female dog can be ever bit as tough and intimidating as a dominant male dog -- though, fortunately, this behavior is not as prevalent in the female of species.
 
Q: My dog is aggressive, can he be cured?

A: A very good question, and a very important one. The answer, however, is not so simple. All aggression can be modified, to what extent it can be modified depends on a number of factors; the type of aggression, the degree of severity of the aggression, and the age of the dog. If the aggression is fundamentally genetic in origin, such as dominance related aggression, then the best we can do is to modify, manage, and control the problem behavior. Bear in mind that genetic traits in the dog can never be eliminated; modified and controlled, yes, eradicated, no. If the aggression is fear based, and due to lack of socialization and exposure, then, depending on the age of the dog and the degree of under-socialization, great results can be achieved with a suitable behavior modification program. Similarly, if the aggression is due to abusive or other inappropriate handling, then results will vary with the individual dog.
 
Q: My dog is very loving with the family but is aggressive to strangers.

A: Dog aggression is a very involved and complicated subject and, as such, a quick response is difficult. However, if you can narrow down the exact cause of the aggression, it will help to understand it. For instance: Is the dog showing aggression only to strangers who come to your home, or is he aggressive to all strangers, regardless of where he is? If it's the former, then we may be dealing with territorial aggression (which, in my experience is usually a symptom of dominance aggression). If it's the latter, then we must consider the possibility that your dog may have had insufficient socialization, and hence apprehensive when around strangers. Depending on the temperament of the particular dog, this fear can cause timidity or aggression -- but regardless of how the dog responds, in this case, the underline cause is fear; fear of new or strange people.
Perhaps the aggression is specific to certain people, or certain locations or environments. For instance, is the dog frightened of, or aggressive to men? If so, is it all men, or just certain men? Is it children that cause the fear? All children, or children of a specific age group? If location is the factor that induces aggression, is it the vet's office, the kennel, the grooming parlor, the car? etc. If you can say, with some degree of certainty, that it is a particular type of person or situation, or combination of people and situations, that causes the aggression, then we must consider the possibility that the dog's response is due to previous negative associations. This can be especially true of the dog that has been rescued, or has had previous homes. With these dogs we simply do not know what they have experienced in the past. The best we can do is to have an educated guess. I must add here, that investigating and deducing that a dog is responding aggressively to certain people, the vet, men, children, etc. in no way suggests that intentional, inappropriate handling has been the cause of the dog's aggression or fear. Some dogs are extremely sensitive and, as such, can overact to perfectly normal handling, or typical everyday events. On the other hand, especially with the rescued or re-homed dog that responds aggressively in certain specific circumstances, previous inappropriate or abusive handling cannot be discounted.

Perhaps your dog becomes aggressive only when you are present. Maybe he has no issue with strangers when on his own, but reacts aggressively only when strangers approach you. If so, it is quite possible that your dog is possessive of you, he's guarding you, his property. This is indeed a dangerous situation to find yourself in. The dog that is possessive of, or guards his owner (without having been especially trained to do so in certain, and only certain, situations) is showing signs of dominance behavior. He is making decisions which are not his to make. He has decided that you belong to him, and not visa versa, as it should be.

Finally, if none of the above apply to your dog, then genetic factors may be at play. Occasionally, albeit very rarely, a dog may suffer from genetically induced fear or hostility.
Hopefully, the above explanations have helped you in understanding what is going on inside your dog's head. Understanding why your dog is aggressive is essential, for without this understanding we cannot apply a suitable behavior modification program. Indeed, lack of understanding, coupled with an inappropriate approach to dealing with the issue, can have extremely negative consequences.

Should you be in any doubt as to your dogs behavior, or decide to you need help in modifying that behavior, feel free to call me and I'll be happy to discuss the situation further with you. After all, understanding the causes of aggression is one thing, successfully modifying the behavior is quite another matter altogether.

Q: My dog is great with people but hates other dogs. What can I do about it?

Along with the 'big two' causes of dog- on-dog aggression come a host of other reasons, including: Sibling rivalry, possessiveness (of objects, or people), and those dogs that have been exposed to aggressive incidents during their early, formative period. Trauma can have a lasting effect on the young dog.

A: As with the above situation it needs to be determined what is the root cause of the aggression. As with aggression towards people, dog on dog aggression has many origins, and an evaluation of the dog is essential to understand the cause of the problem before attempting to remedy it.
By far and away the single leading cause of dog-on-dog aggression is lack of socialization to other dogs. Dogs that have not been adequately and properly socialized to their own kind from an early age will develop a fear of them. This fear will manifest itself in different ways, depending on the temperament or genetic make up of the dog. It can be displayed by excessive timidity and shyness, or it can result in offensive aggression.

Another leading cause of dog on dog aggression is dominance induced aggression. Some dogs are born leaders, and are prepared to challenge any threat, or perceived threat, to their assumed status. The truly Alpha dog, and one that is otherwise well socialized and adjusted, is usually tolerant of those other dogs that pose no threat to his leadership -- puppies, females, and easy going males. Serious conflict can arise when confronted by another dominantly inclined male. Occasionally a very dominant female can provoke a serious confrontation, though inter male friction and rivalry is far more likely.

with the above situation it needs to be determined what is the root cause of the aggression. As with aggression towards people, dog on dog aggression has many origins, and an evaluation of the dog is essential to understand the cause of the problem before attempting to remedy it.