CANINE AGGRESSION
There are over sixteen types of canine aggression. If you break each one down into categories, there are over thirty-six possible types of canine aggression, depending on your source.
The positive news is that essential puppy socialization can prevent over 98% of aggression.
The forms of aggression that can’t be prevented without knowledge of the problem are pain-elicited aggression, medical aggression, and a few others.
One prevalent form of aggression is called resource guarding. Most animals exhibit this form of aggression because those who use it are more likely to survive than those who don’t.
Resource guarding (also known as “possessive aggression”) is when dogs exhibit behavior such as growling, lunging or biting over toys, food, beds, or even their owners that they believe belong to them. This behavior prevents other animals or humans from taking their perceived items away from them.
It is straightforward to prevent. Proper puppy socialization between three to twelve weeks will prevent resource guarding. Just as we teach our children to share, we must teach our puppies to share. There is minimal teaching needed. You and your friends and neighbors interact with your puppy. For example, give your puppy a toy. Take the toy away. Give the toy back to the puppy. Repeat this process with food bowls, beds, or any other item you wish. The puppy will learn that his owner (and others) giveth and taketh away. The puppy will realize that this is normal behavior and will be extremely unlikely to develop possessiveness as an adult.
If you have an older dog already exhibiting possessive aggression, you can use over a dozen techniques to eliminate the behavior. Many methods are based on teaching the dog that you give them something better than what they are guarding. For example, the first step in one technique is determining the dogs’ threshold. This means how close you can get to his food bowl while eating before he reacts. Stay beyond this threshold and every time you pass by his food bowl while he is eating, toss him a piece of chicken (or his favorite treat). He will be grateful for the chicken and will soon look forward to you walking by his food bowl because he is being rewarded every time you do. You gradually decrease the distance from the food bowl when you toss the chicken. Eventually, most dogs will let you get close enough to drop the chicken directly into the food bowl. This is just one step and an oversimplification of the entire process, but it demonstrates how you can desensitize a dog from being around their food bowl or any other item.
Aside from basic obedience training, fear-based aggression is the number one reason dog trainers are called for help. The owners often believe that their dogs hate and want to attack dogs, humans, or both. They believe this because fear-based aggressive dogs are very reactive, constantly pulling on the leash and barking, appearing to want to attack the stimulus they are reacting to. In actuality, the fear-based aggressive dog wants to avoid confrontation. When it comes to fight or flight, this type of dog will choose to flee. The barking and lunging are all for show. It is their way of saying, “I don’t know you,” I don’t trust you,” “Stay away,” Stay away,” Stay away.”
As with resource guarding, this behavior is easily prevented with proper puppy socialization. A puppy should be introduced to 100 different people, 100 different dogs in 100 different environments by 12 weeks. There is more latitude with the dogs, but the goal would be by at least 16 weeks of age. It is more challenging to introduce puppies to other dogs than to humans due to the health issues such as distemper and parvo, but these factors can be mitigated. Associations such as The American Association of Veterinary Behaviorists will tell you that the odds of a puppy contracting and dying of any puppy related illness is minuscule compared to the number of adult dogs euthanized each year due to behavioral problems that could have been prevented in puppyhood or corrected in adult dogs by any competent trainer or behaviorist.
As with resource guarding, one can use many techniques to reduce and even eliminate the fear an adult dog may have toward other dogs or humans. Most methods involve differential classical conditioning and progressive desensitization.
I am often asked, “why doesn’t my dog like other dogs? I often respond by asking the client, “have you liked every person you have ever met?” Just like with people, some dogs are more gregarious than others. This can be breed-specific. Some breeds are naturally more social than others. Some breeds are very loyal to their families and tend to be distrustful of strangers. Sometimes it can be age-related. Older dogs may have little interest in playing with a puppy. The older dog may be arthritic and in some pain, and the last thing they want is a 20lb puppy jumping on their back or hips.
So there can be many reasons for dog-to-dog aggression. Again, early socialization is often the critical factor. Dogs learn how to communicate with other dogs at an early age. If they are not given a chance to learn these skills, communication mishaps will occur.
The dog’s domestication has developed an animal that tends to be more loyal to its human family than unknown dogs.
Another factor in dog-to-dog aggression is an early life experience. If another dog attacked a dog, this could affect his behavior towards other dogs moving forward if you don’t take steps to address this behavior. If you have an older dog that shows dog-to-dog aggression, you can use many behavioral modification techniques to help your dog overcome its aggressiveness.
The last type of aggression that I will address is called redirection. Every dog owner or trainer should be aware of this serious threat. Redirection is when a dog bites the nearest person, dog, or thing near him when he cannot reach the stimulus causing his aggression. It is probably the second most common reason dog trainers get bit. The first is grabbing a dog you don’t know by the collar. Grabbing a dog by the collar is the number one subliminal bite stimuli. Why? Because when dogs are grabbed by their collar, it usually means they will be forced to do something they do not want to do. For example, we grab a dog by his collar to move him into his kennel, move him off the couch, leave the dog park, make him come when he doesn’t come when called, etc. This creates a conditioned response not to like having his collar grabbed. The dog typically will tolerate his owner grabbing his collar, but a stranger will likely be bitten.
When a dog redirects, he is usually in the red zone, which means he is so stressed and aroused he is not consciously aware that he is biting his owner or trainer. This is why keeping the aggressive dog below or near threshold while training is important.
Donald Dahlberg
1