Canine Aggression - Part 2
Prevention of Aggression
It is imperative to start trying to prevent aggressive behavior
before it begins, when a puppy is very young. Pups go through a
very critical socialization period between 8 and 16 weeks of age.
During this time all pups should be exposed to people and children
of all ages, exposed to other dogs, and taken away from their
homes to new environments.
It is a well known fact that the ideal time to adopt a puppy is
7 1/2 to 8 weeks of age. If a pup is being handled by a lot of
different people, of all ages, and exposed to other dogs, the age
of adoption is not quite as critical. Pups that are bottle fed,
away from their mothers, can develop inappropriate social behavior
toward other dogs. Pups raised in kennels past 3-4 months of age
and not exposed to new environments, people or other dogs, can
become very fearful when adopted or sold.
It is very important that dog owners adopt pups at the correct
age and begin early training and socialization. They must teach
the pup to defer to them for everything. They must discourage
rough aggressive play such as hand-fighting, and in many cases,
tug of war games. If played, the human must always win and the
game must stop if the pup becomes too aggressive. All dogs must be
taught early commands, especially sit and down. Then it must earn
everything it gets. It must sit before it eats, goes out the door,
plays, or receives attention, preferably from all members of the
household, especially children. No pup showing aggressive signs,
should be allowed on the furniture or in the bed, because this
elevates its place in the social order. Owners should be able to
hand feed and take favored objects away from pups. This 8 to 16
week age is extremely critical. If a pup has to earn its favors
from everyone, it soon learns it must depend on people for food,
shelter and play.
Treatment of K9 Aggression
Treating aggressive dogs is possible but clients must
understand there is rarely ever a cure, but the condition can
usually be controlled. At VHUP, client compliance was the single
best determinant of success. (Overall, 1997)
Clients must avoid situations or circumstances that are known
to precipitate the specific aggression. Any time the animal
executes an inappropriate behavioral response, it learns from that
response. It is critical that the dog not be allowed any
reinforcement. Reinforcement allows learning of inappropriate
behaviors. (Overall, 1997)
Owners must be able to monitor the early warning signs and
startle or correct the animal prior to the development of the
specific behavior. If the behavior has already started, it must be
interrupted within 30-60 seconds of the start of the behavior. (Voith
& Marder, 1988)
Sitting and staying are natural dog
behaviors that correspond to lower positions in the social hierarchy and
serve as a time out. It teaches the dog that the owner is the leader and
deserving of deferential behavior, and all cues must be taken from the
owner. This is very important because at
the crux of aggressive problems is the fact that these dogs are
are incapable of making appropriate, in-context distinctions. These dogs
exhibit inappropriate, out-of-context behavior.
Early intervention must be aimed at achieving excellent voice control
and teaching the dog to make better context distinctions by taking cues
from the owner. (Overall, 1997)
Dogs exhibiting dominance aggression challenge and threaten
their owners or other humans for control by staring, barking, or
growling when given commands. They lean on their owners, growling
or biting when disturbed while sleeping or stepped over, or
frequently have the “last word” when verbally corrected, and
when physically punished, become more aggressive. Absolutely no
physical punishment must be used. (Overall, 1997)
It is very important for all dogs to receive some sort of
obedience training. Early testing of pups may help with early
recognition of future behavioral problems. It must be emphasized
that most dogs with behavioral problems are not just misbehaving,
they are not normal, and to treat them as normal, but misbehaving
animals and expect normal responses to ever intensifying
corrections, is dangerous to the pet and the client alike. (Overall,
1997) It is never appropriate to recommend to an owner to hang
a dog from a choker collar to subdue aggression. (Myles, 1991)
Types of Aggression
There are many different classifications of aggression. I will
use the classifications Dr. Overall uses in her book. They are maternal,
play, fear, pain, territorial, protective, inter-dog, redirected, food-related,
possessive, predatory dominance and idiopathic aggression.
It is important to realize that some dogs can exhibit several
different types of aggression.
Dominance Aggression is the number one canine behavioral
problem. Dominance is not defined as aggression on the part of the
dominant” animal, but rather as the withdrawal of the “subordinate”.
(Gartlan, 1968; Rowell, 1972, 1974) The behavior of the lower
status individuals, not the higher ranking one, is what determines
the relative hierarchical rank. Truly dominant dogs will tolerate
lesser ranking dogs, as long as they defer to the dominant dog.
Through the use of body language, dogs are able to communicate and
avoid actual combat. A stare, a slightly raised lip, or
raised hackles, are usually enough to make a lower ranking dog back
down. Whenever two dogs feel they have equal status, a fight may occur.
Dominance aggression is an abnormal, inappropriate,
out-of-context aggression, that is manifested by dogs toward
people when the “resource” is access to control. It is likely that
dominance aggression, like most other diagnosis of aggression, are
manifestations of an underlying anxiety disorder.
When a dog is pathologically anxious about its relative role in
the social environment, the default rule is either to take control
or test the social environment to determine whether it can
challenge for control. When this behavior pattern is associated
with people, it is called dominance aggression. When it is
associated with dogs, it represents one manifestation of interdog
aggression.Dominance aggression is about the concept of control. The
dog is faced with a challenge about control in any punishment situation.
For a dog that already challenges a leadership role, the only choice is
to return any challenge in kind. (Overall, 1997) When dogs are anxious and uncertain about their role in
the social hierarchy, they will often make demands and respond
accordingly to the owners reactions. If the owner backs down, the
dogs aggressive tendencies are reinforced. Treatment requires that
the dog defers to the people.
Owners do not often recognize the “pushy” behavior
exhibited by dogs. The subtle growl when pushed off the couch, the
paws on the shoulders or talking back. The dog thinks the owner is
deferring to them. The following tables, Box 6-8 and 6-9, from Dr.
Overall’s book, lists human behaviors that may elicit aggressive
behavior and canine behaviors that are a part of dominance
Dr. Overall divides dominant aggressive dogs into two broad
groups. Those that have no doubt that they are in control and
those that are unsure of their social role and use their
aggressive behavior to define their social boundaries and roles.
A majority of the dominant aggressive dogs are males and
castration has limited effect toward treating these dogs. It is
still recommended, if for no other reason, than to keep them from
reproducing. Intact male dogs are more reactive and react more
quickly, react at a more intense level, and stay reactive longer. (Overall,
These dogs must be taught to defer to their owners for
everything and they must be asked to participate in any activity.
They must wait and perform some command before they are allowed to
eat, play, go through doors, be groomed or before receiving any
attention. They must earn everything they get. Eventually, through
much deference, most dogs will learn to become subordinate. Some
dogs will not, and for every dog there must be a stopping point.
For some dogs, euthanasia is the only solution.
The dog owning public has much to learn about dog behavior, as
do many veterinarians and dog trainers. Fortunately, animal
behavior courses are becoming very popular. Videos, such as Ian
Dunbar’s “Sirius Puppy Training”, should be required viewing
for everyone that gets a puppy, whether or not they have ever
trained a dog. People like Dr. Karen Overall, at VHUP, by teaching
veterinary students, their lectures to veterinarians, and their
books, are leading the way toward making dog ownership more
enjoyable and safer. People like myself must be the disciples that
disseminate this information to the dog owning public, so someday,
talks about canine aggression will be a thing of the past.