In the wild, dog aggression came in very handy: dogs needed aggression to hunt, to defend themselves from other creatures, and to defend resources such as food.
Selective breeding over the centuries has minimized and refined this trait significantly, but there’s just no getting around it: dogs are physically capable of inflicting serious harm (just look at those teeth!) because that’s how they’ve survived and evolved.
Mother Nature is pretty wily – it’s hard to counteract the power of instinct!
But that doesn’t mean that we, as dog lovers and owners, are entirely helpless when it comes to handling dog aggression.
If prevention hasn’t been possible (for whatever reason), there are still steps that we can take to recognize and deal with it efficiently.
Different Aggression Types
There are different types of dog aggression read more about Dominate Dog Aggression as well as other types of aggression. The two most common aggressive behaviors are:
Aggression towards strangers
Aggression towards family members
These two different types of dog biting aggression stem from very different causes, and require different types of treatment.
Aggression Towards Strangers
It’s pretty easy to tell when a dog’s nervy around strange people. He’s jumpy and on the alert: either he can’t sit still and is constantly fidgeting, leaping at the smallest sound, and pacing around barking and whining; or he’s veerrrry still indeed, sitting rock-steady in one place, staring hard at the object of his suspicions (a visitor, the mailman, someone approaching him on the street while he’s tied up outside a store.)
Why does it happen?
One major reason a dog doesn’t like strangers: he’s never had the chance to get used to them. Remember, your dog relies 100% on you to broaden his horizons for him: without being taken on lots of outings, how can he realistically be expected to relax in an unfamiliar situation? A dog who bites out of fear is not necessarily aggressive, read more about Fear Biting
What can I do about it?
The process of accustoming your dog to the world and all it contains is called socialization. This is an incredibly important aspect of your dog’s upbringing: in fact, it’s pretty hard to overemphasize just how important it is.
Socialize your dog from a young age (generally speaking, as soon as he’s had his vaccinations) to a wide variety of new experiences, new people, and new animals.
Socialization And Obedience Training
When you socialize your dog, you’re getting him to learn through experience that new sights and sounds are fun, not scary.
He has to learn that it’s OK for himself. And he needs to do it from puppyhood for the lesson to sink in.
The more types of people and animals he meets the more at ease, happy – and safe around strangers - he’ll be.
How can you socialize your dog so that he doesn’t develop a fear of strangers?
First of all, you should take him to puppy preschool. This is a generic term for a series of easy group-training classes for puppies.
In a puppy preschool class, about ten or so puppy owners get together with a qualified trainer and start teaching their puppies the basic obedience commands: sit, stay, and so on.
Even though the obedience work is very helpful and is a great way to start your puppy on the road to being a trustworthy adult dog, really the best part of puppy preschool is the play sessions.
This is a great place for them to learn good social skills: there’s a whole bunch of unfamiliar dogs there (which teaches them how to interact with strange dogs), a whole bunch of unfamiliar people (which teaches them that new faces are nothing to be afraid of), and the environment is safe and controlled.
Socialization doesn’t just stop with puppy preschool though. It’s an ongoing effort throughout the life of your puppy and dog: he needs to be taken to a whole bunch of new places and environments.
Remember don't overwhelm him: start off slow, and build up his tolerance gradually.
Aggression Towards Family Members
A common reason for dog aggression towards members of his own human family:
He’s trying to defend something he thinks of as his from a perceived threat (you).
This is known as resource guarding, and though it may sound strange, there’s actually a lot more going on here than your dog simply trying to keep his kibble to himself.
So what is resource guarding?
Resource guarding is pretty common among dogs. It refers to overly-possessive behavior of your dog: for instance, snarling at you if you approach him when he’s eating, or giving you “the eye” (a flinty-eyed, direct stare) if you reach your hand out to take a toy away from him.
All dogs can be possessive from time to time – it’s in their natures. Sometimes they’re possessive over things with no conceivable value.
More frequently, however, resource-guarding becomes an issue over items with a very real and understandable value: food and toys.
Why it happens.
It all boils down to the issue of dominance. Dogs are pack animals. This means they’re used to a very structured environment: in a dog-pack, each individual animal is ranked in a hierarchy of position and power in relation to every other animal.
Each animal is aware of the rank of every other animal, which means he knows specifically how to act in any given situation (whether to back down, whether to push the issue, whether to muscle in or not on somebody elses turf, etc etc).
To your dog, the family environment is no different to the dog-pack environment. Your dog has ranked each member of the family, and has his own perception of where he ranks in that environment.
If your dog perceives himself as higher up on the social totem-pole than other family members, he’s going to get cheeky. If he’s really got an overinflated sense of his own importance, look out "dog aggression".
Why?Because dominance and aggression are the exclusive rights of a superior-ranked animal.
Resource guarding is a classic example of dominant behavior. If it was made clear to your dog he is not, in fact, the leader of the family, he’d never try to prevent you from taking his food or toys – because a lower-ranking dog (him) will always go along with what the higher-ranking dogs (you and your family) say.
So what can I do about it?
The best treatment for dominant dog aggression is consistent, frequent obedience work. Just two fifteen-minute sessions a day will make it perfectly clear to your dog you’re the boss, and it pays to do what you say.
Rewarding him (with treats and lavish praise) for obeying, and isolate him (putting him in “time-out”, either outside the house or in a room by himself) for misbehaviour.
Train regularly: keep obedience sessions short and productive (no more than fifteen minutes – maybe two or three of these per day).
A Helpful Resource
For more information on handling dog aggression and dominant behaviors, as well as a great deal of detailed information on a host of other common dog behavior problems, check out Secrets To Dog Training.
It’s a complete owner’s guide to owning, rearing, and training your dog, and it deals with all aspects of dog ownership.
To get the inside word on preventing and dealing with problem behaviors like dog aggression and dominance in your dog, Secrets to Dog Training is well worth a look.