By Ron Hines DVM PhD
There are a number of types of aggression. The most common forms are dominant and territorial aggression. Some dogs show fearful, possessive or intra-sexual (male to male and female to female) aggression while others have a predatory form of this trait. Some dogs have more than one type of aggression.
Dominant aggressive dogs are overly protective of their possessions and status. This is the most common form of aggression. These dogs tend to growl or snap when a family member approaches them near their food bowl. When petted, groomed or detained in any way they will growl and snap. They love to wander and escape and will ignore commands that they return or heel.
The first warning is when as a small puppy, it growls when you approach its food dish or toy. This is the earliest sign of dominance. As this type of dog grows it will attempt to take charge of the house and the decision making process. Dogs that have dominant type aggression are very confident in new situations. They have very distinctive body language. They stand with their heads erect and their ears bent forward. They carry their tails proudly and stare intently at strange people and pets. They stand still facing the new individual and emit a low steady growl while they curl their lips and expose their teeth. These dogs will mount other dogs until the second dog assumes a submissive posture. They demand to be the center of attention in all situations and must make the decision as to who does what and when.
Dogs as part of the family see humans as members of their pack and attempt to establish their place in the social hierarchy by challenging more submissive family members, especially children. When dogs show dominant gestures like growling while guarding their food dish, and they aren’t scolded for this behavior, they inch up in dominance. Subtle signs of dominance can go unnoticed. Because we love them we excused these faults away until the dog finally bites. Owners often do not realize what occurred and think the dog bit for no reason." These dogs are often surrendered to animal shelters and are killed because their owners did not understand how aggressive behavior comes about.
The first thing to do when trying to correct this problem is to change the peck order of the pack – in this case the hierarchy within your family. Dogs are always happier not to have to be pack leaders. The dog needs to be at the bottom of the pack. You must become the pack leader. Husbands are often more assertive than their wives that is why many dogs that I see in my practice obey the husband and not the wife. To gain control of your dog you need to dominate every aspect of the dog’s life. When you play tug of war with the pup or dog; do not let it end up with the ball or rope when you are finished. When you feed the dog do not let it eat until you command it to come. Do not let dominant-prone dogs sleep in your bed or in the bedroom. Purchase a muzzle. Put it on just after you feed dog and take it off and give treats. Do not feed these dogs from the table. Instead, crate them during meals and feed them last. Neutering a young male dog significantly decreases aggression. Neutering them later in life is much less effective. If the dog has already begun to bite owners hiring a professional dog trainer is a good idea. You need to realize that not all dogs can be cured of aggression and that a trained dog may revert to its previous bad habits once the train
The first step goes back to before you purchase or accept a pup. Be sure that the breed and the individual puppy you choose are the right for your family. Sit alone in a room with the entire litter and observe them for a while. The more dominant pups will soon take charge of play activities and seek out strangers in the room. The fearful pups will be the ones that sit by them. If you want a well-behaved pet, do not choose the most dominant or the most fearful puppy.
All puppies need to be handled gently but firmly. They should be hand-fed by all members of the family and taught to accept food slowly and daintily without snapping or lunging. They should be verbally scolded or affection denied when they jump up on people, chase running joggers and children, ride legs or growl for any reason. Aggression-prone dogs should not be rough housed with, wrestled with or engaged in tug of war. Instead of physically punishing them one should speak to with a sharp “No” when they break the rules and then deny them affection and interaction for ten minutes. When they begin to understand what you consider objectionable actions reward them with a food treat.
Puppies learn good behavior from other dogs. It is good to expose them to well train, people-friendly, non-aggressive dogs as playmates.