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- Causes of canine aggression varies from fear, socialization issues, territoriality, prey drive, and more. However, experts say that canine aggression is more typically caused by a dog’s feeling of fear and anxiousness.
- Professional dog trainers or animal behaviorists can help train an aggressive dog.
- Signs of fear that often leads to aggression include tenseness manifested in a rigid posture, ears back or to the side, licking at lips, avoiding eye contact, and more.
I have encountered countless dog fights or pups attacking people and other animals. One thing I noticed is that one of the most common causes of canine aggression is due to fear instead of dominance. Why? Read my guide below to know more.
Determining Whether Canine Aggression is Caused by Fear or Dominance
Veterinary behavioral science and research has progressed rapidly in the past few years. While canine aggression was previously almost always attributed to a dog being dominant or attempting to be dominant, it is now realized that true cases of canine dominance aggression are rare. When it comes to canine aggression, there are typically two schools of thought: dominance aggression and fear aggression. However, in certain situations, they may both be hazardous. Instead, fear is now recognized as the most common cause of canine aggression and fear aggression is now known to be much more common than dominance aggression in dogs. If you have a golden retriever or German shepherd, pay close attention—these dog breeds are prone to aggression caused by fear or dominance.
Fearful dogs have also been found to become more aggressive with time, especially if they are trained using dominance-based methods. Unfortunately, many of the main-stream and popular television shows and books still promote punishment or physical manipulation (“alpha rolls”, rolling the dog onto its back, short-leashing, and other forms of physical intimidation). As a consequence, many pet owners are ignorant of the hazards inherent with these training tactics.
For dominant dogs, the problem is typically related to lack of leadership. These dogs need a strong pack leader who can assert authority in a calm but firm way. They tend to be more confident and pushy, then behave aggressively. Social aggression is also common when they meet new dogs and they try to settle hierarchy.
Dominant dogs might stare you down, growl when you take their food or toys, and try to mount you or other dogs. They also often display redirected aggression which happens when they lash out so something or someone closest when they don’t get what they want.
Recognizing Fear in an Aggressive Dog
The first step in being able to determine the cause of canine aggression is to be able to recognize the signs of fear in a dog. Signs of fear may be subtle and difficult to identify. They may also try to avoid the situation that is causing them to be afraid. These signs may include:
- tenseness, often manifested in a rigid posture
- ears back or to the side, instead of forward or erect
- licking at lips
- excessive blinking
- seeming to move slowly, as though in slow motion
- excessive vigilance
- cower away from eye contact
- show other submissive body language (body posture) cues
As the fear escalates, a fearful dog may begin to growl, snarl, lift its lips and display other aggressive behaviors such as excessive barking. This is one of the most common reasons for misdiagnosis in veterinarians. Dominance-based aggression is usually the result of a strong desire to be in charge. There are numerous warning signs that can help you detect fear in these dogs, with time and careful observation.
Proper Training Methods for Fearfully Aggressive Dogs
Dominance hierarchy is a social system that exists in many animal species, including dogs. In this system, each individual has a rank or status within the group. The higher an individual’s rank, the more privileges they have. For example, top-ranking individuals may have first access to food and mates.
In fearful dogs, using dominance-based training approaches. It is ineffective because they may actually exacerbate anxiety and terror, increasing the likelihood of aggression. Instead, factors which trigger fearful and aggressive behavior should be identified and avoided, if possible, during the early training stages.
Successfully training a fearful dog starts with teaching the dog an alternative desirable behavior to replace the inappropriate aggressive behavior. In many instances, efforts have been made previously to stop the dog from performing the undesirable behavior of acting aggressively but no attempt has been made to teach the dog what should be done instead. Before exposing a fearful dog to anything new, though, make sure it knows the good option response and can execute on command and without hesitation.
What do Family Members Need to Know in Order to Correct The Behavior of Dogs?
If a situation arises where avoidance of the fear trigger is impossible and the dog becomes fearful and aggressive. The proper response is to remove the dog from the situation as quickly and calmly as possible. Pet owners should not attempt to punish the dog for the misbehavior.
Once the dog has learned the desirable alternative behavior well, reintroduction to the fearful object, situation or environment should take place in a calm, controlled manner. Where possible, the reintroduction should be slow and gradual. Every effort should be made to reintroduce the dog to the scenario in a manner. That allows it to remain calm and comfortable, without causing anxious or aggressive behavior.
For instance, if the dog is frightened of strangers, the person should be asked to approach slowly and in a non-threatening manner. This may need to be accomplished in a step-wise fashion, with the stranger only approaching at a distance at first and gradually moving closer in a non-threatening manner.
Simultaneously, the dog owner may ask the dog to “sit” and “stay” while rewarding the dog with treats for performing these commands. At some point, when the dog is comfortable with the situation. The stranger can begin to offer treats to the dog as well, while still assuming a non-threatening manner and not approaching too closely or reaching out for the dog until the dog is calm and comfortable.
Training the Aggressive Dog
Once fear is recognized as the cause for aggression, the key to training a fearful dog is to progress in a slow, step-wise fashion, always attempting to avoid allowing the dog to become fearful enough to display aggressive behavior.
Pet owners must realize that this approach involves time and patience and is not a “quick fix”, but positive training techniques are more successful than dominance-based techniques which involve physical punishment or physical manipulation or intimidation of a dog. Moreover, positive reward-based training techniques are much safer for both the pet owner and the pet than punishment or other physical manipulation.
Dog Owners & Family Member Should Know
If you’re struggling with a dominant or aggressive dog, the first step is to understand the root of the problem. Is your dog acting out of fear or dominance? Once you know the answer, you can begin to take steps to address the issue and set rules.
Dominant Behavior : Gain Control Over The Situation
The good news is that, no matter what the cause of your dog’s aggression is, there are training steps you can take to help him overcome it. For example, using a basket muzzle or head halter can help to prevent your dog from biting or lunging at people or other animals. If you’re not sure what’s causing your dog’s aggression, or if you’re concerned about their behavior, it’s always best to consult with a professional trainer or behaviorist. With the right help, your dog can learn to overcome their aggression and live a happy and healthy life.
What is the main cause of aggression in dogs?
Although triggered by many things, canine aggression is believed to be mainly caused by fear and anxiety.
How do you stop aggression in dogs?
Dog aggression is best dealt with behavior modification by certified animal behaviorists of dog trainers. Dogs also respond well to positive reinforcements so rewards-based training is recommended.
Can aggressive dog be cured?
“Curing aggression” is not exactly an appropriate approach. Instead, canine aggression is managed and reduced with the help of trainers and animal behaviorists.
What is the most common aggression in dogs?
Most aggressions displayed by dogs are caused by fear and anxiety.