Interdog and Interhuman Aggression


Aggression Against Humans and Other Dogs

Dog Behaviourist Stan Rawlinson Explains Interdog and interhuman AggressionAs a behavioural concept inter-dog aggression is separate and very different from aggression to humans.

When looking at aggression it is prudent to consult your Vet, simply to rule out medical causes, since there are over 50 medical reasons for aggression.

This is especially true if the aggression comes on suddenly and is out of character..

It is sometimes difficult for us mere humans to read the signals of dogs that are likely to or intend to attack us.

We are not equipped to read the body language or subtle signs of our canine friends.

Dogs for instance with drooping ears like the Weimaraner, or dogs with tails that curl over the back such as Akita’s and Chows.

These do not give the same signals of say a Collie or an Alsatian, the classic erect tail and ears pulled back cannot be seen in some breeds.

Which is also the case with hairy or Spitz type breeds. In these circumstances we do not see the obvious signs such as  raised hackles or erect tails..

The majority of attacks are to family members, neighbours or people the dog's owner knows.Because of the problems of overcrowding, more attacks are town or city based rather than rural or agricultural areas.

A sad fact of life is that often children are the victims.

The incidence of facial reconstructive surgery in young children is not as many would imagine caused by car or other accidents, it is predominantly dog bites.

The choice of dog also has a marked effect on whether dog aggression or bites may occur. The guarding breeds tend to guard, the herders tend to herd and the retrieving dogs predominantly retrieve. Therefore if a dog had been bred to guard we shouldnt be overly surprised it does just that.Dog aggression with a German Sheperd Pecking a spaniels Neck. Very common in Shepherds

It is very unusual for a dog to suddenly attack for no apparent reason ie out of the blue attacks,

These are almost unknown, except where medical causes are the trigger.

We have all met the person who’s dog attacks your dog or nips your ankles and the plaintive cry is; “Oh he has never done that before

I even had a lady owner locally who’s dog, a West Highland Terrorist, attacked my dogs on sight, who said exactly that.

Then the very next day it did it again and she uttered exactly the same words.Owners often go into denial over their dog’s behaviour.

They excuse the aggressive Terrier or the nipping Collie or the growling miniature breeds, because that they perceive this is acceptable behaviour for the breed.

This mindset normally means the dogs is not checked when it was first observed, allowing the trait to become stronger and eventually very difficult to eradicate. The longer you leave aggression the stronger the trait will become until finally it is extremely difficult to change this behaviour.

I have found that the majority of aggressions to be fear based though we often categorise them as Predatory, Sexual, Territorial, Protective, and Nervous/Fear Aggression. Having said all that it is rare indeed for the dog to have just one of the problems mentioned above, and the worse combination is Dominant and Nervous/Fear aggression linked together.

Please see my article Different Types Of Aggression

Dog aggression problems often have their roots in early games and contact with other dogs, especially dogs from the same household that regularly played games. Taking responsibility and controlling games should give the owner control over each dog and help both in the short and long term this type of unacceptable behaviour

Intact non-neutered males are more likely to exhibit dominance aggression than neutered males or spayed females. It is more likely that this is controlled by androgen since females who show aggression before puberty and who are spayed become more aggressive. Fear aggression and Protective aggression are the most common aggression cases i treat.

Inter-dog Aggression In The Home. Is generally social in context and can occur between dogs within the same house, and is rarely hormone driven, although it generally starts at social maturity (18 to 24 months). The dog is challenged by a stare or a bump or body block, and then each dog behaves in reaction to what the other dog did. If this is not treated early it will escalate until lt becomes all out war.

These dogs can end up hating each other, even though they may have been the best of friends or even siblings weeks before. I have seen almost military operations performed in some households, to make sure the dogs never have to meet.

When it has got to that stage, then unless you get someone in who understands how to work with these types of aggressive behaviours. (I have done many dozens of these cases) Then you will end up having to euthanise or try and re-home one of them. The key is early intervention. Se my article: Sibling or Interdog Rivalry

Strange Dogs Meeting. I they start to fight just because they have seen each other then it is generally caused by fear and are responding to protective aggression, (and the classic lead aggression in some cases). A characteristic of interdog aggression is that the aggressive intentions are rarely displayed to other animals. The dog may live amicably with cats, horses, and other animals or pets.

Protection Territoral and Fear Aggression are Often SimilarProtective Aggression can be stimulated by sudden movements. Someone in the room suddenly gets up. That  action can trigger the aggressive response.

Frequently the dog inhibits the behaviour in the absence of its owners or the person, child or dog it feels the need to protect (no owner to protect).

It can also be non reactive in strange places, (dog shows for instance), or anywhere there are lots of dogs or people.

In these circumstances, they cannot identify a specific threat, because they are flooded with potential threats. And the behaviour therefore does not occur.

Sometimes dogs protect people or animals they consider vulnerable. These dogs have never shown aggression until a puppy or a new baby is introduced into the household.

They may be fine indoors but then become very protective outdoors from strangers or other dogs or vice versa.

Male or Female dogs can display this type of aggression. It normall starts around about social and mental maturity that would depend on the breed but as ab average that would be between 1 and 3 years of age. The larger of the breeds the older it will be before this type of behaviour occurs. Puppies rarely show this trend.  

Dominance Aggression. Occurs overwhelmingly in males (90% of cases), first obvious at social maturity (18 to 24 months), worsens with punishment, and may run in family lines.

This type of aggression is the type which is looked for at the 8 week puppy test. If identified at that age, early intervention is required to save the dog; but not all dogs with dominant aggression can be identified at 8 weeks.

Most of us have dogs who to some extent display signs of territorial aggression: our dogs bark at someone at the door, protect the car, bark as people pass on the pavement. All social animals exhibit some protective aggression .

This behaviour is increased by fences; the dog is able to continuously "patrol" and protect. The behaviour can be made worse if the dog is enclosed in say an electric fence or chainedup.

It can also be made worse if "door greeting" abnormalities are tolerated: the owner greets someone at the door with the dog held back whilst straining on the collar.

For Dominance aggression, in contrast to Protective aggression, there is more growling, snarling, biting, and staring. Barking is considered a sign of protective aggression -- think about barking dogs as you pass a garden.

Dominance aggression is considered a concept of control, unlike possession of an object (food aggression) or challenge (will the dog get off the sofa or growl?). Dominance aggression is more common with men owners who like the concept of "big, tough dogs" and so some breeds might be more likely to be diagnosed.

BoerBoel In The Pub. This dog is called Kreuger

But the worst dominant aggressive dogs I have dealt with, have normally been Toy Poodles and Shih Tzus - their Behaviour is more likely to be seen as innocent and owner tolerant.

There are some 15 things people do to exacerbate dominance aggression -- as simple as staring at the dog or pushing on their rump, leaning over them, making a leash correction.

There are also some 20 or so signs that the dog intends to become dominant aggressive -- as innocent as standing on your feet, leaning against you, "talking back," standing in front of you in the doorway, jumping in your lap.

These signs are often tolerated in smaller dogs. I do not undertsand why? Though it may not do as much damage as say a Mastiff, that should not excuse from being aggressive.

Dogs with dominance aggression are categorised in behaviour as those who think they are Alpha's-- able to control people and get things their own way -- a bad, prognosis usually.

And then there are those dogs where all the signs were there and we allowed them to get away with it.

First, although other aggressive behaviour is not a predictor for dominance aggression, dominance aggression is about control, and the dog generally has other forms of aggression also.

Strangely enough a common trait is that dominant dogs can also be very sensitive, they can also have fearful and anxious behaviour.

That could almost class them as schizophrenic.

Second, When the dog has escalated through several signs of dominance aggression, standing on people, sitting in laps, and it's allowed by the owner.

Then the dog thinks it's in charge -- like when the teenager starts to talk back to test boundaries.

This class of dogs will alter its Behaviour to the individual.

The dog may not behave aggressively with an experienced trainer (the trainer is in charge), or when it's eating it may not bark at people passing by.

The dog can interrupt and inhibit the aggressive behaviour, but chooses its time when not to react.This actually is the easiest dog to work with since the dog is capable of taking cues from context and behaving appropriately.

However it would be extremely difficult to determine the exact genetics for this behaviour, since development of the behaviour depends not only on the genes but also the dog/owner situation.

If the dog was genetically predisposed but owned by a good trainer and discouraged at an early age from barking at say the door, it may not exhibit the trait ever again

On the other hand, a dog who may genetically be less predisposed but encouraged to exhibit the behaviour, it then can become a major problem.

This is a short video with me talking about aggression and how to prevent it.

Stan Rawlinson 2001




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This article was written by ©Stan Rawlinson (The Original Doglistener). A professional full time Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Trainer.

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