Dog aggression is a natural behavioral instinct in all dog breeds, including the small dog breeds . As descendants of wolves, dogs maintain their aggressive instincts even with behavior modification.
It has been said that there are no bad dogs. Maybe we just don’t understand their culture and language well enough to appreciate the complexities of their social interactions.
The best we can do as a pet owner, animal handler, or stranger approaching an aggressive dog is to understand the aggression and respond appropriately from the perspective of the dog.
We hope to help you understand dog aggression a little better; however, we do recommend further training through local programs, books or videos . If you have an aggressive dog, seek the advice of your veterinarian, dog trainer, or animal behaviorist.
Fear Dog Aggression
This type of aggression is also referred to as nervous aggression because the dog is reacting from stress. The aggression is triggered by a perceived threat of physical harm.
People who do not understand how dogs communicate will often trigger this type of aggression by doing otherwise innocent things such as walking straight toward a dog or giving her direct eye contact.
Sometimes, this type of aggression is punishment induced, meaning the dog feels threatened with physical punishment. An example of this might be an owner who raises a newspaper above his head while yelling at his dog.
Another common trigger for this type of aggression occurs when the dog feels trapped. Her perceived inability to escape may cause her to display fear induced dog aggression.
Territorial Dog Aggression
Territorial aggression is a defense response to protect her perceived territory. This is a natural instinct that provided for the safety of the pack. A dog may perceive her territory much differently than her owner. If she is taken on walks, she may even perceive the whole neighborhood as her territory!
When a dog is introduced to a new environment, she may display territorial aggression because she is unsure of her surroundings. She may lash out at anything moving toward her or looking at her.
A slight variation of defending territory is protecting the pack. Protective aggression may be displayed if she perceives a threat toward her family or pack members.
I have four small breed dogs. My most submissive dog is Sam. Sam may be submissive under most circumstances, but he protects me from anything he perceives as a threat to me. If one of the other dogs dares to growl at me, Sam jumps to my defense with protective aggression.
Another form of territorial dog aggression is possessive aggression. This is a common form of aggression displayed by most dogs at one time or another. Again, this type of aggression is natural survival instinct.
Possessive aggression is displayed when the dog perceives a threat that something of hers is in danger of being stolen away. Dog aggression may be used to protect food, toys, bones, people, and even just a scrap of wood found in the back yard. (Hey, Dude! Drop it. That is mine!)
Dominant Dog Aggression
This type of aggression, also known as competitive aggression, is brought on by a perceived challenge to social status where a higher-ranking dog defends his position of authority or as challenge from a lower-ranking dog to another’s social standing in the pack. If you have fighting dogs in your household, they may actually be struggling for power.
Like most animals that live in groups, a hierarchy of leadership is established to provide for the needs and safety of the pack. The leader of the pack is called the Alpha Dog. The Alpha wins and maintains her position of authority by winning challenges.
Predatory Dog Agression
Predatory or chase aggression is triggered when something is moving away from the dog. The natural hunt, chase, and attack instincts kick into action.
This is why it is very important never to run away from a dog even if you fear being bitten. A dog can generally run faster than you, and running away may trigger an aggressive response.
Redirected Dog Aggression
Redirected aggression means the dog actually feels aggressive toward one dog (or human) but takes it out on different one because of the inability to get to the first. Although it hardly seems fair, I can remember being a kid and taking out my frustration on my younger brother!
In my own family of dogs, I often see redirected aggression when I separate the two same-sex poodle mixed breeds from fighting. My normally quiet, submissive dog will sometimes turn his head and snarl at me after he’s been separated from a fight. He’s not mad at me, but I get the left over wrath.
Dog Aggression from Injury or Pain
A dog may never show signs of aggression until the day he is injured or otherwise in pain. The aggression is a protective mechanism for survival. A dog with an injury or experiencing pain should be treated with great respect and precautions should be taken to prevent bites.
We might also note that some dogs are sensitive around their joint areas and protective of their anal zone. This presents challenges to veterinary staff and groomers while handling these animals. If you have a puppy, ensure the puppy is handled and grows accustomed to the human touch on all parts of his body.
Sexual Dog Aggression
We often think of sexual aggression only in terms of the male dog defending his territory and the females in heat. While this is true, it is important to note that females also display sexual aggression that is brought on by hormonal cycles when she is in heat and when she is caring for a litter of puppies.
Spaying females and neutering males helps reduce the occurrence of aggression brought on by the reproductive instincts. Veterinarians usually recommend spaying (or neutering) your dog during her first year.
Aggressive dogs need your help to co-exist with humans and other dogs. Please visit your veterinarian to rule out medical causes and to set up a plan to help alleviate some of the triggers of aggression. A dog trainer or an animal behaviorist might also be worth consulting.