Types of Aggression in Dogs
Dogs with behavior problems may be suffering from one of many types of agression - dominance, fear, territory, predatory, or displaced agression.
If dogs are to live with their humans peacefully, they must understand that their owner is at the top of the chain of command. To avoid aggressive behavior in dogs, the owner's leadership needs to be kind, consistent and positive at all times. There are behavior modification techniques that can be used for each category of aggression, but proper obedience training and an owner with a clear, quiet mind is key.
A dog who is dominant-aggressive may engage only certain people in his power struggle, or he may include everyone. Dogs do not practice democracy.
"Canine social structure is much simpler than human social structure," veterinarian and author Betsy Brevitz says, "One dog is in charge, followed by the second in command, third in command, fourth in command, and so on."
If you do not behave as a leader and make decisions for the dog, he will make them for you. He may growl when you try to remove him from the couch, snap at you while you attempt to pick up his bowl or bite if you try to get into his territory.
A fear-aggressive dog can be afraid of a specific group, such as men, children, women, anyone wearing a hat, or perhaps all strangers and other dogs. She will usually growl, snap, bite or hide with her tail between her legs if these menacing creatures try to come near her. At home, if someone knocks at the door, she may bark furiously and then run and hide under a bed. Fear aggression can begin as a reaction to stress caused by abuse, loud noises, a sudden change in someone's appearance or by connecting someone to an unpleasant memory just because they were there.
This category of aggression is also known as protective or maternal aggression. The dog feels the need to guard you, your home and yard, and even your car when it takes a drive with you. He can lunge at a vehicle as you attempt to walk past it. He may try to break down your fence in your yard in order to reach another dog walking by. He may shatter a window in your house while trying to get to the postal worker delivering your mail. He may also be growling at you while trying to protect its puppies. The dog with this type of aggression never rests.
Some dogs have a strong predatory drive. She might be prone to chasing squirrels in the yard or the neighbor's cat. She may not even allow a bird to land in your bird bath. Sometimes she may be OK with other animals in the home, but it is possible your pet cat will never get to relax with her. In some cases, she will attack and kill the cat without provocation. Dogs like this can be a danger to a new addition to the family, such as a new baby. A baby does not look, smell, move or make sounds like any human they have seen before. In fact, most any dog can be confused by human babies and can mistake them for something other than someone they should love and respect.
A dog who displays this type of aggression is often fearful, in pain, or perhaps may be playing too hard, causing his arousal to escalate. He may hear a loud noise that alarms him, and suddenly turn around and attack the dog sitting peacefully next to him. He may step on a sharp object, and after yelping in pain, bite you as you reach to check his paw. He may be playing tug of war with his best friend, and when accidentally releasing the toy, come after her with a vengeance.
Cesar's Way, Cesar Millan, 2006
Hound Health Handbook, Betsy Brevitz, D.V.M., 2004