What is Aggression?
Aggression is defined as the threat of harm to another individual involving snarling, growling, snapping, biting, barking or lunging. There are a few different types of aggression such as leash, kennel/cage, other animal, gender, or human aggression. To learn more about these specific aggressions please visit this article.
The Start of Aggression
Aggression can start at many different ages in a dog’s life. Most commonly, reactivity starts at a young age. This is why training and socializing a dog in it’s puppy stages is very important. Starting to expose them to a variety of situations and people at a young age can help increase their confidence as they grow.
Aggression can begin as a dog matures and becomes less tolerant of other animals. Adult dogs are less receptive to bad social manners than puppies. A dog that is painful or has decreased vision and hearing can become more reactive as a defense mechanism also.
Another cause of aggression can be fear. Many dogs can act out in aggression as a symptom of fear. This can be seen at a vet’s office, an animal shelter, or any high stress/anxiety situation that your dog may be in. This is why it is important to socialize your dog at a young age to get them used to these situations and reduce the fear associated with strange things. Socializing plays a HUGE role in behavior in dogs!
For some dogs, aggression & reactivity can come from genetics. According to an article from Science News, researchers found that genes play a part in 60 to 70 percent of the behavioral habits among breeds. Often dogs that were originally bred to have a guarding or hunting role can show increased stranger reactivity and intolerance to places or items they are not familiar around. Genetics can play a huge role in the anticipated behavioral traits of a breed.
How to Prevent Aggression
There are many ways you can prevent aggression in dogs! Here are a couple ways to help:
Take your dog in public, to the dog park, doggy daycare, around people or stores that allow dogs. This can be great for your dog to get out there and practice being in different situations. Remember to watch behavior of all dogs involved and that neutral interactions can be as beneficial as positive ones.
Touch your dog!!! Touch their mouth, feet (this is a big one), ears, tail, back end, legs, etc. Getting your dog used to touching of these areas will help if they need medication in the future and to find any issues early.
Reward the good behavior in dogs. Whether it’s a small action such as greeting a stranger nicely or a big action like ignoring something on the ground, give them praise or reward them with a treat or toy. Positively reinforcing good behavior can play a huge role in counter conditioning reactive responses.
How to Manage Current Aggression
Some dogs already have aggression issues and it can be hard to break that habit. Some cases where that can happen is adopting a dog with no known history, not enough stimulation, or it’s possible they develop aggression despite working with them at a young age. A good start to helping current aggression can be working with them either on your own or with a trainer.
There are many types of dog trainers that can be found and sessions can be either individual or in groups. Find a trainer that will work with you to find a personalized solution for your dog. There are also specialized Veterinary Behaviorists that can help apply science-based behavioral training & medications.
If you think your dog could be showing signs of aggression they can be directed into the right path if you put in the time, money and effort.
Article written by: Joelle