Aggression Defined: Behavior that is meant to intimidate or injure an animal of the same species or of a competing species but is not predatory.
All bark, no bite? Behavior is not static, it changes over time. There is no such thing as a dog that is "all bark, and no bite." Recognizing and treating early warning signs is the best way to prevent dogs from establishing a bite record.
Why do dogs become aggressive?
Reason #1: Learned Aggression The majority of aggression stems from stress, anxiety or fear. A poorly socialized dog will frequently become anxious or fearful around unfamiliar people or dogs that they perceive to be threatening. Dogs frequently learn that growling and barking is an effective way to make scary people or scary dogs "go away." If these warning signs are ignored the dog may attempt to communicate in a less subtle manner, by delivering a bite.
Reason #2: Genetic Predisposition to Aggression Some dogs are programmed to actively control their environment. Herding breeds will attempt to control a stressful environment by using their body and/or their teeth. Other dogs become aggressive because they are hard-wired to "guard" resources that they deem to be valuable (food, toys, socially significant space, people).
Reason #3: Combination of Learned Behavior and Genetics Owner directed aggression can result when dogs are trained with force. Some dogs are programmed to match force with force, and will not roll over and "submit" when a person addresses the dog in an aggressive manner. These dogs will bare their teeth or bite in anticipation of being verbally or physically reprimanded.
Reason #4: Pain Physical pain (chronic or acute) can bring out aggressive behavior in the most placid dogs. Consulting a veterinarian for a thorough physical exam is an important first step in treating aggressive behavior. Condition your dog to feel comfortable wearing a muzzle so that you can safely care for your dog if and when they are in a state of discomfort.
If you have questions or comments regarding aggression, leave a comment below. Following article will discuss how to modify aggressive behavior in dogs.
Written by Alyssa Lapinel, Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Owner and head trainer at Legends Dog Training, based in San Diego, California; specializing in behavior modification for fear, anxiety and aggression.
Attempting to "correct" aggression with aggression can make the problem worse.