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The Truth About Aggressive Dogs

Aug 18, 2007
Training a puppy can result in a well-mannered pet. It can also mean the difference between life and death. Ten million dogs are euthanized each year because of bad behavior, it's the number-one reason pet owners put their dogs to sleep.

In addition, one million people, over half children under 12, are treated for dog bites each year. Aggressive behavior must be addressed immediately; the longer it continues, the harder it is to change.

Learn to recognize the early warning signs of aggression by reading your dog's body language. Aggressive threats can be made offensively or defensively. Aggressive dogs making offensive threats use body language that makes them appear larger and more intimidating.

* Tail up.

* Ears up.

* Stiff straight-legged stance.

* Hairs on back stand up.

* Lips retracted - 'smiling'.

* Move toward victim or lean on victim.

* Make direct eye contact.


Aggression is the most common behavioral problem in the country. The most common types of aggression involve dominance, fear and possession.

Territory, pain, food, play and protection are other types of aggression. Most dogs have two or more forms of aggression. The average number is four. The record is nine.

Learning to recognize early warning signs along with prompt behavioral intervention won't eliminate aggressive problems completely but usually diminishes them significantly.

Most cases of aggression can't be cured but can be controlled. Therapy is geared to gradually desensitize the dog to the specific situations that cause him to react aggressively. Specific treatment protocols depend on the individual case.

Dominance aggression is the most common type of aggression in dogs. It usually develops when dogs are socially mature between 18 and 24 months of age. These dogs challenge and threaten people to gain control by staring, barking or growling when they are given a command.

They might growl or bite if disturbed while sleeping and like to get the last word in when corrected verbally. Intervention involves teaching the dog to yield to the owner for everything he or she wants. For example, learning to sit and stay for all affection, food, play and grooming. The dog must learn to take all his 'cues' from the owner.

Food related aggression is relatively common and is often a precursor of dominance aggression. All pups seven weeks of age and older should be taught to sit and stay.

Use physical affection, verbal praise or food as the reward. Practice making your puppy sit and wait to be fed. When he's done eating, take his bowl away. At the first sign of any aggression use a firm 'No'. Remove your puppy from the area and remove the food. Your puppy must then earn his or her food back by sitting and staying.

Sitting and staying are natural behaviors that correspond to lower positions in a dog's social hierarchy. In this situation they act as a 'time out' and train the dog that the owner is the leader and deserves the deferential behavior. The pup must take all his cues as to the appropriateness of his behavior from the owner.


Aggressive behavior can result from medical or psychological disorders.

First, see your veterinarian. An abscess tooth, infected ear, or arthritic hip causes pain which makes dogs irritable. Hormonal and neurological problems also influence behavior. A thorough work-up including a physical exam and lab tests will rule out most medical causes responsible for aggression. You will then be referred to a veterinary behaviorist. They are best suited to deal with psychological disorders since mishandled aggression is potentially dangerous.


Before you buy a dog, there are a few things to keep in mind. Be responsible and don't buy on impulse. Be honest with yourself about the amount of time and work you're willing and able to put into a dog.

A dog is a 15- to 20-year emotional commitment. A little extra time and planning will help make this a positive, rewarding experience for both of you.

If you have children, choose the breed of dog carefully. Temperament is the most important consideration when it comes to kids. Try to match the personality of the dog with the personality and lifestyle of yourself and your family. Don't choose the most aggressive puppy or the most timid one in the litter. Look at the whole litter, see how they act, and take to your heart the puppy that takes you to his. Once you pick out your puppy, then it's time to begin socialization and training.

Obedience training and puppy kindergarten help people get to know their pets and teach both how to interact appropriately with each other. Dogs also learn how to interact properly with other dogs, which can be very important for dogs those isolated from other dogs. These classes also help owners recognize early signs of possible behavioral problems by teaching them about normal variations and responses in their dog's behavior during training.

Most dogs with behavioral problems are not just misbehaving. They are not normal. Expecting 'normal' responses by intensifying corrections in these cases is potentially dangerous for the pet and the owner. Behavioral Specialists are best qualified to work with these cases. Eighty-five percent of aggressive animals improve with appropriate treatment. An accurate diagnosis and client understanding of canine behavior are both critical factors necessary for treatment success.

Aggressive dogs making defensive threats assume fearful postures to protect themselves:

* Tail down.

* Ears down or back.

* Eyes dilated.

* Hairs on back may or may not stand up.

* Crouched position - lean away from threat.

* Stand still or move away from threat.

* Avoid eye contact.

Many dogs assume offensive and defensive body postures in a given situation.
About the Author
Copyright 2007 Dr. Carol Osborne

Get FREE pet advice from Dr. Carol at http://CarolonPets.com/

Visit Dr. Carol's Naturally Healthy Pets blog at http://CarolonPets.com/blog/

Buy PAAWS and VitaLife dog and cat vitamin supplements and other pet health products at http://DrCarol.com/
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