Dogs are known for being man’s best friend, but depending on the situation, a time may come where they may act in ways that humans consider inappropriate. Whether your dog shows his pearly whites the moment you approach his food bowl or he barks and lunges at the mail man, he has his own motivation to act in certain ways. Understanding the causes of dog aggression can help owners better understand what triggers certain behaviors, and most of all, how to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Understanding Dog Aggression
What appears to us as aggression may be just a way for a dog to maintain peace. A growl is a gift, explains dog trainer Pat Miller. Scolding a dog for growling will only create a dog who will no longer warn he is feeling uncomfortable and will go straight to a bite. A dog who is lunging and barking at other dogs, is often trying to tell other dogs to respect his desire for space:“Please don’t come any closer, I am not comfortable having you around.”
Many of these manifestations fall into what is called “ritualized aggression” a dog’s way to solve conflicts without doing major harm. Most dogs will give out many signs of stress before resorting to a bite. Dogs that seem to bite out of the blue can have been scolded for growling or their owners failed to recognize many of the subtle signs dogs give before biting. Yawning, lip licking, showing the whites of the eyes, turning the head away are pre-bite signs that signal “I am get uncomfortable.”
Types of Aggression
There are many causes for aggression and recognizing them is important to so avoid problems and seek out help. Most cases of aggression don’t get better if they are ignored; rather, they tend to get worst. Using punishment-based techniques is dangerous and potentially exacerbates the aggressive behavior. The following are some causes for dog aggression.
Medical Induced Aggression
In this case, the dog is trying to defend himself from something perceived as threatening. A dog that wasn’t socialized well may be fearful of certain people or certain types of dogs. While some dogs may shake and hide when fearful, some with bark, growl and lunge in hopes of sending the threatening person or dog away.
In this case, the aggression is manifested from a mother dog when she feels her litters of pups are in danger. This form of aggression fortunately is often short-lived, mostly manifesting in the first days of giving birth, when her pups are most vulnerable. During this time, it’s best to not cause mother undue stress.
In this case, the dog is defending what he perceives to be his territory. The dog may manifest territoriality towards people or other dogs. This behavior is mostly seen near the dog’s property, not necessarily within a fenced area. Some dogs may feel like they own the whole street or a distinct piece of land. This behavior is reinforced when the other dog or person leaves because of the threatening display.
While in territorial aggression the dog protects mostly what he perceives as his property, in possessive aggression the dog is protective of food, toys or a special person. The threatening display of stiffening, growling and snarling is often seen when another dog or person gets close to what the dog considers as a resource worth protecting. Some dogs may protect odd items such as a feather, a water bowl or an empty container,
This form of aggression is often seen when a dog is in pain. Veterinarians are familiar with this type of aggression, which is why they often recommend using muzzles. A dog may snap or bite when you are removing a thorn from a foot, disinfecting a wound or when you are trying to comb through a matted coat.
Certain dogs may not get along with other dogs of the same sex. In this case, the dog will get along just fine with dogs of the opposite sex, while they may get into horrendous fights with dogs of the same-sex. At times these fights are over reproductive rights, but can be seen even when in absence of potential mates.
In some cases, some medical conditions may cause aggressive behavior. Hypothyroidism, some types of seizures, neurological problems and side effects from medications, may cause a dog to develop behavioral changes that at times can include aggressive displays. Because of this, any time a dog is acting aggressive, it’s not a bad idea to have a thorough vet exam so to rule out pain or any medical conditions.
Predatory aggression is used to depict a dog’s drive to chase and kill animals perceived as prey. This form of aggression is a bit a subject of controversy. Some believe that it’s natural for a dog to want to stalk, chase and kill what is perceived as prey. Many terrier breeds were selectively bred to hunt rodents, so if they chase and kill a mouse or two, they’re ultimately just doing what they bred to do best.
This form of aggression is seen when a dog is in a highly aroused state and re-direct on a person or dog that apparently seems to have nothing to do with his arousal. For instance, a dog that sees another dog behind a fence may get so aroused he re-directs his arousal by biting the dog that he lives with just because he was next to him or more commonly, two dogs fighting end up biting the owner who gets in between them to separate them.
In some cases, dogs may get so frustrated, this frustration spills into aggression. This form of aggression is often seen in dogs who want to meet other dogs but the leash keeps them away and therefore they get highly frustrated and start lunging, barking and growling. This aggressive display though is only circumstantial; indeed, once off leash, these dogs just do fine. This form of aggression is often known as barrier frustration.
As seen, there are different motives that cause dogs to act aggressively. If your dog is aggressive, you should do your best to manage his environment so to reduce the chances for him to rehearse this behavior. At the same time, you’ll want to consult with a dog behavior professional that can show you the most appropriate approach to modify your dog’s behavior.