Understanding Aggression in Dogs


Did you know that dog behavior experts have identified several different types of canine aggression? Aggression can have a variety of underlying causes and can manifest itself in many different ways, from barking when the doorbell rings, to snapping when you take the food bowl away, to giving people a hard stare that lasts for minutes at a time. Here is a rundown of some of the most common types of aggression in dogs.


Predatory Aggression

A very primal form of aggression leftover from hunting days that all dogs potentially have. Dogs like to chase moving things, and some breeds such as terriers, herder, and hounds are especially likely to chase and pounce. How do you manage this instinct? Experts recommend early socialization and encouraging your dog to chase toys (rather than squirrels or the neighbor’s cat) as the best ways to curb predatory aggression.


Food and Toy Aggression

It is common for dogs to become possessive about their things, especially food and toys. Dogs will growl and show their teeth as a threat, and more rarely, bite. Trainers suggest that you accustom your dog to being touched while eating and playing with toys. If your dog snaps at your hand near the food bowl, try offering him his favorite type of treat with an open hand while he’s eating his regular food. Begin to hide the treat in your closed hand, let him investigate it, then open your hand and give the treat. Your dog will start to associate your hand near the bowl as pleasurable, rather than a threat.


Fearful Aggression

Dogs that are afraid of strangers or new things are likely to show signs of fear aggression. Fear aggression is the most common reason why dogs will bite strangers. Fear biting happens more frequently with dogs that did not interact with many people as puppies. Dogs that exhibit submissive wetting are also more likely to turn into fear biters. Look for signs of fear in your dog and work with a trainer to solve fear issues before they turn into fear biting behavior.


Dominance Aggression

A common form of aggression that dogs can exhibit towards their owners and other dogs. Is your dog showing signs of aggression with you? Experts recommend avoiding physical punishment and establishing yourself as dominant through verbal and body language cues. It’s important to evaluate your behavior to understand why your dog seeks to challenge you. Little things, like walking ahead of your dog and eating before your dog can make a big difference in letting him know who’s boss. Leash your dog and put him in time out when he does become pushy.

Dogs of similar size, sex, and age will show dominance aggression towards each other. Dominance and submissiveness is normal canine behavior, so be careful about coddling the submissive dog and punishing the dominant dog. The dog of higher rank will normally eat first, walk through doors first, and expect attention from you first. Watch for aggression from both the dominant dog and the submissive dog. Neutering is the most effective way to equalize status among dogs, and it also greatly reduces dominance fighting.



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  • Aaron Seminoff
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