12 Ways Dog Aggression is Like Cancer

©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

Is your dog aggressive to people and/or other dogs? You’re not alone. It’s the most common serious behavior issue I see in dogs.

Dog owners react differently to their dog’s aggression. There are those who ignore it; some hope for a quick fix; others are fatalistic, and finally, there are those who are ready to tackle a problem that requires patience, realistic expectations and consistency.

While canine aggression is a behavioral issue versus a physical illness like cancer, its development, treatment and prognosis are similar in many ways:

  1. It’s a serious condition that needs to be treated immediately; time is not on your side. It normally gets worse without treatment.
  2. The success of treatment is not always predictable; sometimes there are dramatic improvements and in some cases, little change.
  3. It’s rarely completely remedied; some level of lifelong management of the dog’s agonistic behaviors will be required.
  4. There are those who present themselves as dog aggression specialists but offer ineffective ideas that can get in the way of legitimate treatment. Their techniques lurk on the Internet masquerading as authoritative advice. Even more disturbing, many of their concepts can make things worse. Credible treatment protocols require know-how and time; treatment protocols can be complex.
  5. There are six major types of dog aggression; some are more serious than others. Treatment will vary depending on the type of aggression.
  6. Medications (i.e., psychopharmaceuticals) don’t usually eliminate aggression, but can assist in the treatment.
  7. Changing a dog’s diet can help in the treatment of aggression.
  8. Its progression is faster in the young, but the prognosis is frequently better.
  9. It’s a leading cause of death. Untreated aggression or aggression that doesn’t respond to treatment is a leading cause of death by euthanasia in dogs.
  10. Early life experiences and genetics can play a major role in the development of aggression.
  11. Its occurrence can be sudden and seemingly come out of nowhere. In the majority of cases there are early telltale signs, but in other cases it appears quickly and without warning.
  12. Just like cancer, dog aggression is not a respecter of anything or anyone. It is found in all breeds regardless of whether someone adopted a puppy mill dog at a local rescue shelter or paid $5,000 to a well-known boutique breeder in Europe. Dogs that are highly trained in obedience can also be aggressive.

Whether your dog is showing early signs of aggression or is overtly exhibiting aggressive behavior, please consult with an experienced and certified dog behavior specialist, behavior consultant or animal behaviorist.