In order to assess and better evaluate aggression in dogs it is helpful to understand the underlying causes that stem aggressive behaviors in the first place. Not all aggression in dogs derives from simply being highly dominant and assertive. Rather, there may be quite complex psychological dynamics that may be taking place. Only by understanding such dynamics owners may be able to better acknowledge their dog's behaviors and instill an appropriate course of action under the guidance of a professional.
It is important to note, that aggressive dogs are dangerous dogs that need to be approached with the maximum caution. A dog behaviorist is highly recommended in such circumstances so that this professional can better assess and provide important advice on how to deal with such dogs. This article therefore, should be used only as a guidance and not as a substitute for professional canine behavior advice.
Types of Aggression in Dogs
This is by far the most common type of aggression. This type of dog is confident and is often brought to a dog behaviorist's attention for attacking the owner or the owner's family members. This type of aggression stems from the dog's need to exert control over the pack. Because in the dog's eyes its pack components appear to be lower in rank, it often resorts to aggression when his space is invaded, his food or possessions are touched or when he is disturbed or simply when he is approached and touched.
Generally, there are two types of dominant aggressive dogs: those that act aggressively because they see themselves as the alpha leaders without any shadow of doubt, and those that challenge their owner's authority in order to define their hierarchical status. In some way this latter behavior is similar to the testing and disruptive behaviors seen in human teen-agers.
Unlike dominant aggression, these dogs are not confident but rather fearful. Most fearful aggressive dogs will attempt to escape (avoidance) and will then generally growl and bite if they are cornered. However, in severe cases the dog may resort to its ultimate line of defense even without being cornered. The body posture of a fearful aggressive dog is quite different than that of a dominant dog.
This is the typical type of aggression often seen in guard dogs. The dog's main purpose is to protect its territory and will do what it takes to keep intruders away from the property. This is the most common type of aggression which causes postal workers to be bit each year.
Territorial aggressive dogs may often be on the defensive as when when walked on the leash. These dogs will bark, growl and lunge towards any animal of person approaching him and his owner.
It is not casual that most dominant aggressive dogs are intact males. The hormone testosterone acts as a behavior modulator. However, neutering the dog does not help in cases where the aggression is correlated to underlying dominance or other behavioral issues.
This type of aggression is related to the dog's prey drive. It is typically seen in dogs that chase and attack moving objects such as children running, joggers or cyclists. Often, it could be confused with territorial aggression however, more likely than not, a territorial dog will retreat once the intruder has surpassed the dog's territory, while a dog with prey drive will go on until it gets a hold of the escaping party.
Health Related Aggression
This form of aggression generally occurs when the dog is in pain. Often its occurrence may leave owners startled because it comes unexpected. Indeed, health related aggression shuold be suspected if a dog reacts aggressively to being touched in a certain area or if it does not want to be approached. This instance seems to be most likely if the dog has always been known as being docile and submissive.
Another factor to consider is that there are some health conditions that may cause aggressive behaviors. A well behaved dog that resorts to aggression out of the blue and without any explanation shuold be physically checked by a vet and a thyroid panel shuold be run. Hypothyroidism may cause aggressive behaviors in some dogs.
There are several other forms of aggression in dogs that are more circumstancial such as maternal aggression in dogs that have given birth or re-directed aggression in dogs that are separated by a well intending owner while fighting with another dog.
Aggression therefore in dogs may be quite complex. It really takes the professionalism of a dog behaviorist to step in and determine the real trigger of the aggressive behavior. Only once the underlying cause is determined, the rehabilitation process may be started and the appropriate course of action may be taken.