Is there such a thing as THE aggressive dog?
Not really, because aggression is never a permanent condition (you wouldn’t survive that for long).
Aggression is a normal behavior…
Who of us has never gotten angry during a Facebook discussion, while driving or waiting in line?
Nevertheless, we are shocked when a dog growls at us when he lunges at another dog or barks loudly at the mailman.
The reason for this lies mainly in our desire to protect ourselves (whether it is our physical well-being or to keep the peace in the neighborhood).
So we want to avoid our dogs behaving aggressively.
But what does aggression actually look like?
Often I hear: “my dog barks, growls, lunges at other dogs. But he is not aggressive”.
Let’s start with the function of aggressive behavior. Why do our dogs do it in the first place (then it might become clear right away what it may look like)?
Aggressive behavior always serves to increase the distance to something or someone. This is also the reason why there can be no predatory aggression ( hunting is always meant to decrease the distance).
So the dog wants to keep something away from him with his actions.
He shows this by:
– Snapping (in the air or aimed)
– Pushing (with closed mouth against something)
– Putting the head on the back of another dog
So when we see a dog screaming on leash, it is usually aggressive behavior at that moment.
This does not mean that the dog is bad or incompatible or badly trained.
The main cause of aggressive behavior is fear.
So if a dog feels uncomfortable in a situation, he will express that. It is very subtle at first (slight calming signals) and becomes more and more obvious until it comes to an attack. The necessity to react like this is always given when other strategies do not work (e.g. running away) and the subtle signals are ignored or even punished.
That is why it is so important never to punish a dog for threatening behavior (growling for example). This would only lead to the dog forgetting to communicate and going over to attacking more and more quickly.
There are classic situations that often become dicey.
The dog sees another dog and when it is close enough, there is a huge commotion on the leash.
Most of the time, these dogs are completely normal and compatible when they are off-leash.
Frustration is often involved here.
As puppies, the dogs learn “whenever a dog shows up, I run up to him and there’s a huge party”. Then as soon as they become adolescents, suddenly they are no longer allowed to run up to everybody, and since they never learned that, every encounter becomes incredibly frustrating.
That’s why it’s so important that in puppy classes there’s just not always instant play, and even at day-to-day outside-time the puppy isn’t allowed to just run up to everybody (that’s not very considerate anyway, because not every other dog likes puppies).
But this is not the only cause.
Often the dogs have simply never experienced slouching towards other dogs in a straight line, confined by a leash. After all, a straight frontal approach is very rude among dogs.
Therefore, we can easily help by walking small curves.
And if our dogs are already at the point of loudly chasing away every other dog, it depends on the right distance.
After all, if the child has already fallen into the well, we can only get out of the situation as quickly and unharmed as possible.
The territory is nothing more than a resource, which is why these two topics are combined.
Many dogs defend something
– Chewing stuff
– Resting place
– Themselves (the most important resource)
– The home
– The caregiver
Some are more obvious about this than others and that is due to a combo of personality and learning history.
We are often startled when our dogs growl for the first time when we approach a chew toy. Sure, we want to feel safe in our home and often it also triggers an emotional roller coaster in us (“he doesn’t like me”, “why doesn’t he trust me”, “he’s ungrateful”,…).
But this behavior is normal as well.
How often is there the issue of ” only I drive my car” in relationships?
So, if we recognize resource guarding in our dog, first of all it has nothing to do with our bond or with ingratitude.
The dog is simply not 100% sure of his resource and wants to express that it is important to him.
That’s why we don’t take away his things all the time (something like that can trigger resource guarding) but first of all respect the boundary, in order to then work on it in a targeted way to move it.
So we explain to the dog with specific friendly training that we are no danger for his resource and he can relax.
How such a training looks exactly, depends of course on the type of resource, the dog and against whom the aggression is directed.
And sometimes we see overlaps of dog encounters and resources if the dog finds other dogs basically scary and the caregiver is an important resource for him.
As you can see, the topic is very multifaceted, and not all aggression is the same.
That’s why it always makes sense to consult a professional when training, who can help with the assessment and also create a customized plan.
In addition, we can also identify possible physical causes or at least have them ruled out.
After all, especially sudden changes in behavior or when aggression suddenly becomes more violent or more frequent, there is often a health problem behind it.
After all, we are also more irritable when we have a headache, aren’t we?
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