Occasional aggression toward others in a group of social animals is normal, although most acts of aggression are unacceptable when we are talking about dogs becoming members of our household.  

Aggression tendencies are stronger in some breeds than others due to selective breeding by humans.  

Dogs can show aggression for many reasons.  Aggression can be directed at immediate family members, children or other people outside the family. 

Most of what people focus on when assessing a dog′s behavior, is the dog, and its background. But before any approach can be taken to modify the dog′s behavior, you must determine what function the dog′s behavior serves.

We start by looking at the behavior patterns exhibited by a specific dog in a specific circumstance, and look for possible behaviors which may contribute to that behavior within that environment. From that we determine the relationship between the environment, the owners and the target of the aggression.

Aggression can be motivated out of:

  • Fear Aggression

         o   Defense of self

  • Pain related Aggression

         o   Self-Protection from pain

  • Territorial Aggression

         o   Defense of territory

  • Protection Aggression

         o   Defense of others

  • Resource Guarding Aggression

        o   Defense of things, places, or persons the dog does not want to share

  • Dominance Aggression

        o   Defense of position

  • Dog Aggression

The distinction between dominance-related and fear-related aggression hinges on the signs of fear with regards to the dog′s body language. One is in defense of self, the other in defense of position. 

All aggressive behavior is caused by the need to establish control. With aggression displays it is for the purpose increasing the distance between them and the target. Acts of aggression are for the purpose of gaining control of territory, resources, protection of others, protection of position, or protection of self. 


Context For Acts Of Aggression

Fear-related aggression

  • Lack of proper socialization
  • Unpleasant experiences in the past
  • Learned behavior from the mother
  • Learned behavior from the owners
  • Use of aggression displays to keep people away

Pain-related aggression

  • Dogs that are in pain can act irritable and aggressive when handled.
  • Dogs with confident assertive owners may suppress aggressive tendencies toward owners, but may act aggressively toward others when handled. .
  • Irritability and aggression can continue even after the injury has been healed or when the pain is no longer present due to the dog becoming sensitized to being handled by previously learning that handling was painful.

Territorial aggression

  • Natural tendency to protect the territory of the pack
  • Act ferociously aggressive toward people when they are in or near its territory
  • The territory defended may be the home, car, and common places the dog walks or other locations the dog frequently visits
  • Can be fear-aggression and/ or both territorial and fear aggression
  • Can be breed specific
  • Lack of becoming accustomed to visitors
  • No supervision and training / lack of control by owner
  • Not to be confused with watchdog alert barking

Resource Guarding Aggression

  • Defense of things, places, or persons the dog does not want to share. e.g. food, toys, bed, etc...

Dominance Aggression / Dominance-Related Aggression / Status-Related Aggression

  • Dominance aggression is frequently directed at immediate family members and/or anyone from the dog′s perspective that represents a threat of control over them or their place in the social hierarchy.
  • These dogs are easy to identify by the amount of control they have over their owner, and the owners inability to control their dog. 
  • These dogs show an unwillingness to accept the owner′s authority, in at least some circumstances that are important to the dog.

Aggression toward young children

  • Dogs can show aggression tendencies toward children for many reasons.
  • Children are unpredictable; they move, sound and act differently than adults.   
  • Motivated by fear due to the lack of proper socialization as a young puppy.  
  • Unpleasant experience with children in the past.
  • Dog must compete with new baby for attention
  • Dogs that silently stalk a moving child may be showing predatory behavior in order to control the child

Dog Aggression − Toward Strange Dogs

Aggression tendencies are stronger in some breeds of dogs

  • Lack of proper socialization
  • Fearful of strange dogs
  • Previous unpleasant experience
  • Never developed proper social etiquette with other dogs
  • Unable to read another dog′s social signals communication
  • Territorial aggression at locations the dog frequently visits
  • Protection of owner, or resource
  • Unwilling to show submissive gestures

Idiopathic Aggression / Episodic / Dysfunctional Rage

  • No explanation for behavior / Unknown cause
  • Rare type of aggressive behavior
  • Unpredictable and unprovoked attacks on people the dog knows well
  • Typically infrequent and spaced a month or more apart
  • Possibly a neurotransmitter disorder
  • Often confused with severe forms of dominance-related aggression

Successfully changing a dog's behavior depends upon accurately identifying the reason for the behavior. If there is a unexplained sudden change in behavior it is time to see your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues. When behavior is out of character for a dog, I personally would pursue the following course of action with my veterinarian as my starting point for identifying any underlying medical problems such as any pain issues. Next I would get a full blood panel to include a complete thyroid test.   I would also do a NutriScan test to rule out any food intolerance's that could be contributing to the behavior.

Conflict and aggression is often confused with dominance. Conflict is not necessarily dominance based. People as well as other creatures have conflicts as a normal part of life. Everyone has disagreements… including your dog. People often classify dogs with training or behavior problems as being dominant or having dominant tendencies, when in fact most dogs referred to as dominant often are either confused, fearful, lack etiquette, or simply lack proper training. When dealing with any behavior problem the first place to start is to remove the opportunity for the dog to continue the behavior. It all starts with management not confrontation. Attempting to use physical force on the dog can be seen as a confrontation and the dog may accept your challenge.

Many dogs are out of control when they see another dog. They will whine, bark, lunge, etc… even when the dog is at a great distance. Dogs can act this way out of frustration, fear, excitement, and yes sometimes out of aggression. Most of these dogs can learn to be in the presence of other dogs without acting out. For some of these dogs the behavior can be greatly improved but they may always need to be supervised and managed in every situation.  

If you are having challenges with any form of aggression, please consult a professional for assistance.