Aggression is one of the most common complaints among pet parents. Although it is frightening, aggression is a very typical behavior in dogs. Keep in mind that there are many different types of aggression.
The Most Common Types of Aggressive Behavior
- Aggression over Possessions: Many dogs will become aggressive when another dog threatens their possessions, such as toys, food or companions. This is a very deeply rooted form of aggression that originates from a time when dogs had to protect their resources in order to survive. In domestic dogs, possessive aggression will often manifest when another dog attempts to play with your dog’s toy or sleep in her bed. Possessive aggression can also result when your dog watches her canine companion play with a strange dog or when another dog gets too close to you, her human pack mate.
- Aggression Borne from Fear: Naturally, many dogs become aggressive when they are afraid or feel threatened. In a wild setting, this was a survival tactic that allowed the dog to fight off attackers and defend pups. Some domestic dogs have been traumatized in the past or were badly abused or neglected. These dogs are often more prone to displaying fear aggression than other dogs. When a dog is acting aggressively out of fear, she will often attempt to retreat from the frightening stimulus before lashing out. Fear aggression is common in domestic dogs and presents a real threat for other dogs and humans alike.
- Aggression Over Territory: Possessive aggression and territorial aggression go hand in hand. The difference is that territorial aggression is much further reaching than possessive aggression. Dogs that become aggressive over territory will often react by barking or snarling at dogs or humans who attempt to enter the home or the yard and may lash out by snarling and even biting strange humans and animals.
In addition to these main types of aggression, dogs may also become antagonistic when they are afraid, angry, chasing prey, enacting mating behavior, sick or ill, or in social settings that overstimulate the dog.
Why Dogs Become Aggressive
Dogs become aggressive for a multitude of reasons and, if pet parents want to resolve their dog’s aggression, they need to understand what causes it.
Although aggression was important for survival in ancient history, domestic dogs have very few reasons to become aggressive. That said, if a dog is exhibiting aggressive behavior, it is likely that the dog was abused, neglected or severely traumatized at some point in her life. Dogs may also become aggressive as a result of poor or nonexistent socialization or bad training. Resolving aggression issues is a difficult process and should always be undertaken with the help of a veterinarian. Although some types of aggression are easier to resolve than others, most aggressive dogs can learn, through training, positive reinforcement and patience, to interact less aggressively with humans and other dogs.