Do You Have An Aggressive Dog?

©Scott Sheaffer, USA Dog Behavior

Dog aggression is a common and serious issue - and is on the rise. One of the possible reasons for this is that dogs, in general, have less interaction with other dogs and humans than they did in past decades (dog parks notwithstanding). I don’t want to oversimplify here, but too little socialization isn’t good for a dog.

You might be surprised to learn that the cause of a substantial amount of dog aggression is fear. If dogs are afraid of another dog or human, they will aggress in order to get the thing they fear to move away. In an anxious dog’s mind, distance equals security.

Have you ever noticed that your dog appears to be more aggressive toward other dogs and/or humans when on a leash? If your dog is fearful, there are essentially three options open to him when presented with something that makes him afraid. He can flee, freeze or fight. When on a leash, however, Max can only freeze or fight. Even if Max is not particularly predisposed to fighting, he may see no other alternative when he’s tethered to you. This phenomenon is called leash aggression (not to be confused with leash frustration) and is common.

There are countless numbers of dog aggression categories. Below I’ve provided a high-level overview of the most common.

Dog-Dog. This refers to dogs who are aggressive toward other dogs.

Dog-Human. In this case the dog is aggressive toward humans. Both dog- dog and dog-human can, and frequently do, coexist.

In-Home. This is the same as dog-dog aggression except the dogs who aren’t getting along live in the same household. Possibly the most difficult type of aggression to treat.

Contextual Aggression. This can be a subtype of those listed above. It simply means that the dog exhibits aggressive behaviors in certain contexts (e.g., when near men with beards).

If your dog is presenting with aggression directed at dogs and/or humans, please get professional help. Canine aggression tends to escalate over time without intervention. The progression can be slow and insidious; frequently, the owner doesn’t recognize it until there is a serious incident. There are many treatment protocols available, but they require patience on the part of the owner.

Safety is the most important issue when working with an aggressive dog – please seek the advice of a professional and carefully follow his or her instructions.