Helpful Insight for Canine Aggression

Canine dog aggression is the most serious and dangerous behavior problem that dog owners may encounter. Since there are many different types of aggression, making a diagnosis and determining the prognosis does take a lot of time for safe and effective correction. Also, developing an appropriate treatment plan are usually best handled with a trained professional specializing in canine aggression such as canine behaviorist, veterinarian or behavior trainers who specialize in these areas of dog training. In some cases, medical conditions can contribute to aggression, therefore before a behavior consultation it is essential that your dog has a complete physical examination and any necessary blood tests to rule out organ dysfunction. In order to treat the problem effectively, it will first be necessary to determine the type of aggression your dog displays. It may be dominance-related, fear, possessive, protective and territorial, parental, play, redirected, pain induced, pathophysiological or learned. In many cases more than one specific form of aggression may be exhibited. Operant conditioning and “Marker” training is an excellent starting point to help rebuild a dog’s aggression disorder.

What is dominance aggression and how is it diagnosed?

One of the most common types of aggression seen by veterinary, behaviorists and behavior trainers is dominance-related aggression. Once a dog develops a position of leadership or control over a family member (or other dog), any challenge to that dog’s position may result in aggression. Dogs use facial expressions and body postures as signals to display dominance. These include standing tall, a high wagging tail, eye contact, or snarling. Operant conditioning and “Marker” training is an excellent starting point to help rebuild a dog’s aggression disorder.
Aggression towards family members in one or more of the following circumstances along with dominant signaling may suggest a dominance aggression problem:

  1. Around rest areas or resources such as food, toys and objects
  2. During episodes of restraint, discipline, punishment or control work
  3. When making direct eye contact, fast behavior jesters or unnatural behavior responses towards a dog
  4. During handling by the owner (lifting, petting, hugging, rolling over onto back or side)
  5. Around a particular family member who is fearful or intimidated by the dog

What is fear aggression and how is it diagnosed?

Fear aggression arises when a dog is exposed to people or other animals’ objects, noises that the dog is unfamiliar with or those that have been previously associated with an unpleasant or fearful experience. Although some dogs may retreat when fearful, those that are on their own territory and those that are prevented from retreating because they are cornered or restrained, are more likely to show aggression. If the person or animal retreats, acts overly fearful or the pet is harmed or further frightened in any way, the fear is likely to be further aggravated. Fear aggression toward family members might arise out of punishment, being challenged, or being forced or some other unpleasant experience associated with
any friend or family member. If a dog doesn’t have a healthy relationship to people or other pets a reactive fear-based aggression can occur.
Many cases of fear aggression are seen as combinations or complicating factors of other forms of aggression (dominance, maternal, possessive and genetic predisposed dysfunction). Fearful body postures in conjunction with aggression are diagnostic of fear aggression. Behavior therapy, behavior management and behavior reconditioning can be a helpful way of treating many of these conditions along with drug therapy, can be used to treat most cases of fear aggression. Operant conditioning and “Marker” training is an excellent starting point to help rebuild a dog’s aggression disorder.

What is play aggression and how is it diagnosed?

Play aggression is commonly seen in young dogs toward people or other pets in the family. Overly rambunctious play along with grabbing, nipping or biting of people or their clothing are some of the common signs of play aggression. Although it is a normal behavior, it can lead to injuries and, if handled incorrectly could lead to more serious forms of aggression as your dog matures, so it is import to start dog training as soon as your new dogs arrives in to his or her new home environment as early as 8 weeks old. Operant conditioning and “Marker” training is an excellent starting point to help rebuild a dog’s aggression disorder.

What is possessive aggression and how is it treated?

Possessive aggression may be directed to humans or other pets that approach the dog when it is in possession of something, someone or an area that is highly desirable. A favorite chew toy, food, or treat as can trigger aggression. While protecting possessions may be necessary if an animal is to survive and thrive in the wild, it is unacceptable when directed toward people or other pets in a household. What can be confusing for some owners is that it is not always food that brings out the most protective displays. Any highly desirable objects such as a tissue that has been stolen from a waste basket, a favored toy, human food, or a piece of rawhide are some of the items that dogs may aggressively protect. If a dog has taken an object and needs or wants to guard it, that is possessive aggression.

Treatment must first be directed at preventing possible injury. At first it may be best to confine your dog in a cage so that it cannot gain access to any items that it might pick up and protect. Dogs that protect their food can be given a less palatable diet in the correct bowl, and fed in a separate room away from family members so it doesn’t feel threaten. Dogs that protect their treats or toys should have them taken away, and only allowed access to them when alone in a covered training cage or confinement room away from people and other pets or when being taught how to handle them correctly. When you have been properly trained and are available to supervise their behavior using the correct leash the training collar such as a Gentle Leader or Halti head collar attached so that the dog can be controlled or be prevented potential danger. Always prevent, control or correct a dog from reacting in a negative way and never allow a dog to wander off. Immediately interrupted a dog if it attempts to exhibit unwanted behavior such as pick up inappropriate objects. Set-Ups exercises should be taught to help teach and shape positive behavior responses. Booby traps (including remote trainers, invisible fence, loud sound alarms or unpleasant tastes) can occasionally be used to teach your dog to stay away from selected objects, in addition to proper behavior training and management. Although prevention can help to ensure safety, if the problem is to be corrected, controlled or managed, dog owners/trainers must to be taught how to safely teach their dog’s how to relinquished all objects. Proper behavioral training and shaping techniques along with positive feedback and/or medication can be the answer for many guarding issues. The goal is to train a dog to choose to make the correct behavior response by avoiding discomfort and choosing comfort by receiving a favorable reward such as praise or food. However, this does not mean we would offer an more appealing object to get the object that’s being guarded, that would teach the wrong message by teaching a dog to misbehave to get something else. Giving up possessions should be comfortable for a dog if there is a true sense of love and respect towards the handler. Operant conditioning and “Marker” training is an excellent starting point to help rebuild a dog’s aggression disorder.

What is territorial aggression and how can it be treated?

Protective and possessive aggression may be exhibited toward people or other animals that approach the pet’s property or area (territorial aggression). Generally, people and other animals that are less familiar to the dog, or most unlike the members of the household are the most likely “targets” of territorial aggression. While most forms of territorial aggression are likely to occur on the property, on the leash or in a vehicle, some dogs may protect family members regardless of the location. Territorial aggression can be prevented or minimized with early social exposure and good control training at a young age. Young dogs should be taught how to behave and relax each time a new person or family member comes to the door. To reduce potential fear, excitement, hyper activity and anxiety toward visitors, you should develop a few consistent procedural routines how to properly introduce people and pets to dog’s who are prone to be territorial. This will help teach a dog that there is safety through procedure which will ensure more success, but always remember to pick appropriate times and places to help guide a dog through their training experience.
Most dogs will start to alert the family to strangers or noises near the home by obsessively barking as a way to communicate. However, when a dog has been properly trained, they can be trained to quickly settle down and relax with being controlled or commanded. For dogs exhibiting territorial aggression, you will need to gain enough control first to have your dog learn how to relaxed and calmed down. Generally, a lead and head collar will give the fastest and most effective control. Using a desensitization and counter-conditioning behavior modification technique, you can begin retraining with low levels of stimuli by creating short set-up exercises each day such as people arriving in a car, walking past the front of the house, or perhaps even a family member knocking on the door or ringing the bell. The idea is that each time someone arrives at the house or rings the bell, the dog will come to expect a favored routine to get the attention they are seeking which is rewarding to them. Sometimes food treats, toy, or play session can be a great way to help shape correct behavior conditioning. Once the dog can be controlled and receives pleasure in this environment, gradually more higher levels of distraction learning can be used. Sometimes, the initial barking can be disrupted so that the pet can be directed to perform the appropriate behavior task and get its reward. Operant conditioning and “Marker” training is an excellent starting point to help rebuild a dog’s aggression disorder.

What is predatory aggression and how can it be treated?

Predatory aggression is the natural response towards animals or people when dogs feel threaten, and also can be considered as a form of survival. If you see a dog chasing after an animal to scare them away, or observe aggression at a fence towards a person or animal, this is predatory aggression.
Predatory behaviors include stalking, chasing, attacking, and may occasionally be directed at people or other pets. Some dogs that have never shown predatory tendencies, may display the behavior when running or playing together with a group of dogs which is learned behavior. The best way to handle this type of aggression disorder to start a one-on-one behavioral training process which help recondition a dogs association towards so called predators that cause them to trigger. These predators may pose a threat to a variety of humans and animals based upon how they respond towards stimuli. Example: Whenever the dog is outdoors it should be confined to an escape proof pen or run, fence or controlled securely by the owners with a leash. A lead and head collar and preferable, but a muzzle, can be used to help to ensure safety when working on these types of training recondition programs. Operant conditioning and “Marker” training is an excellent starting point to help rebuild a dog’s aggression disorder.

What is pain-induced aggression and how can it be treated?

Pain-induced aggression is usually elicited by some form of handling or contact that elicits pain or discomfort or the threat of that occurring. However, even if your dog is not exhibiting pain, some medical conditions can make a pet more irritable and perhaps more prone to aggression as a way to tell another dog or person to stop. Poorly breed dogs or dogs that have been abused unnaturally can also exhibit unhealthy fear response and anxiety disorders which will compound many of these cases. Once a dog learns that aggression is successful at removing the stimulus, aggression may recur when similar situations arise in the future, whether or not the pain is still present. This becomes a new learned behavior which is a new form of behavior disfunction. The first treatment should be a complete physical examination and blood work from your veterinarian to help treatment the medical or painful condition. Next, you will need to identify the types of handling and situations that have led to aggression in the past. With desensitization and counter-conditioning behavioral techniques, your dog can slowly and gradually be conditioned to accept these situations. Once the dog learns that there is no more discomfort associated with the handling, but comfort and safety, the problem should be resolved or minimalized. A muzzle and lead and head collar, may be the safest way to begin the retraining in situations that could retrigger pain-induced aggression. Operant conditioning and “Marker” training is an excellent starting point to help rebuild a dog’s aggression disorder.

What is maternal aggression and how can it be treated?

Maternal aggression is directed toward people or other animals that approach a female with her puppies. When female dogs (bitches) have a false pregnancy (pseudopregnancy) they may also become aggressive and begin to protect nesting areas or stuffed toys at the time approximately equivalent to when the puppies would have been born. Once the puppies are weaned and the dog is spayed the problem generally no longer occurs. In the interim, the owners can be taught how to practice healthy training routines to help build trust and relationship which help bridge the gap. Operant conditioning and “Marker” training is an excellent starting point to help rebuild a dog’s aggression disorder.

What is redirected aggression and how can it be treated?

Aggression that is directed towards people, pets or objects such as a leash. Sometimes dogs learn these types of behaviors when they have too much control and power in their environment and are challenged or push beyond their limit. Sometimes these behavior problems develop out of frustration when dog’s are not getting what they want or feel challenged by a lessor. This also doesn’t mean that a person or dog did not initially evoke the aggression is classified as redirected aggression. This is likely to occur when the dog is aroused and a person or other pet intervenes or approaches. Dogs that are highly aroused must not be directly challenged especially if the dog does not respect the person or pet. In many cases marking and interrupting negative behavior using the proper training collars and leash can be used to safely train the dog that your in control which takes the responsibility away from the dog. situation. If the aggression and arousal does not immediately controlled, consider securing your dog in a safe quiet area like a training cage to prevent successful negative behavior. In other words, pick appropriate time to work on purposeful effective dog training. Since redirected aggression arises out of other forms of aggression, it is important to identify and treat the initial cause of aggression (e.g. fear, territorial, sibling rivalry, etc.), and to help prevent the problem from reoccurring over and over. This can be accomplished by avoiding exposure to the stimulus for the aggression or by training a dog to learn how to behave correctly by shaping new healthy behaviors. Operant conditioning and “Marker” training is an excellent starting point to help rebuild a dog’s aggression disorder.

What other causes of aggression may be encountered?

Aggression associated with medical disorders may arise at any age, may have a relatively sudden onset and may not fit any canine species typical behavior. Some medical conditions can, on their own, cause aggression, but in many cases a combination of behavioral factors and medical problems cause the pet to display aggression. It is well known that infections like rabies result in aggression, but other infections, hormonal imbalances like Cushing’s disease, tumors and a variety of genetic and metabolic factors can instigate, predispose or exacerbate aggressive behavior. Painful conditions such as dental disease, or arthritis, and medical conditions causing fever, fatigue or sensory loss are likely to increase a pet’s irritability. Operant conditioning and “Marker” training is an excellent starting point to help rebuild a dog’s aggression disorder.

In rare circumstances, aggression has no identifiable etiology and no particular stimuli that initiate the aggressive displays. There may be a genetic propensity to aggression in the lines of certain breeds, but many of the cases previously labelled as “idiopathic”, “rage” or “mental lapse aggression” have been disputed and in some cases subsequently reclassified. Only when there is no identifiable stimulus or cause for the behavior following extensive investigation including a thorough neurological assessment should the diagnosis of idiopathic aggression be considered. Operant conditioning and “Marker” training is an excellent starting point to help rebuild a dog’s aggression disorder.

What is learned aggression and how can it be treated?

Although learned aggression can refer to dogs that are intentionally trained to act aggressively on command (or in particular situations), learning is also an important component of most other types of aggression. Whenever a dog learns that aggression is successful at removing the stimulus, the behavior is further reinforced. Some forms of aggression are inadvertently rewarded by owners who, in an attempt to calm the pet and reduce aggression, actually encourage the behavior with patting or verbal reassurances. Pets that are threatened or punished for aggressive displays may become even more aggressive each time the situation recurs.

Treatment with flooding is intended to teach the pet that the stimulus is not associated with any harm and that aggression will not successfully remove the stimulus. However this technique carries significant risks and with the alternative approach of desensitization and counter-conditioning, the dog is not only taught that the stimulus is safe, but that it is associated with a reward. Operant conditioning and “Marker” training is an excellent starting point to help rebuild a dog’s aggression disorder.