Dog Personality Types and Aggression

Almost any dog will bite if stressed severely enough, but dogs with some personality types are more likely to bite than others. Among the personality factors that increase the likelihood that a dog will bite are breed predisposition, aggressive defense reactions, assertiveness, and excitability (see chapter 4 for more about these personality factors).

Some breeds were developed to bite and behave aggressively as part of their job. These include the herding breeds, terriers, and guarding breeds. Other breeds have had aggressive tendencies purposely bred out of them. For instance, I rarely see biting problems in Golden Retrievers and Siberian Huskies; aggression would be detrimental to both of these breeds' work patterns. Knowing your breed's aggression potential can alert you to early signs of an aggression problem so that it can be better managed. Since Lhasa Apsos may seem like lapdogs and Dalmatians like spotted clowns, ignorance of the protective behavior bred into these breeds may lead owners to overlook problems until someone is bitten. Of course, these are generalizations, and there is much variation among individuals within a breed.

As noted in chapter 4, some dogs will respond to stress, especially when frightened or cornered, by biting, while others will remain passive. Such aggressive defense reactions can become worse as a dog learns that they do indeed provide a good defense. Whenever dealing with dogs of this personality type, avoid confrontations that may cause the dog to bite. You don't want to give him the opportunity to learn the effectiveness of biting.

A dog with aggressive defense reactions may respond to punishment by growling or biting. He may interpret some kinds of punishment as an attack against which he has to defend himself. If so, change the punishment, or eliminate it. Any punishment in which anger is an overriding emotion, or lasts more than a few seconds, not to mention punishment that takes the form more of a beating than a reprimand, is likely to be misunderstood by a dog.

The assertive dog may let you know he is annoyed by something with a growl or bite. This can be seen in a seven-week-old puppy. There is no need to panic. It doesn't mean you have a vicious dog. It does mean you have to control this tendency. Your dog has the right to express himself, but he does not have the right to escalate that expression into greater aggression. If you bother your dog by petting him when he is exhausted and trying to sleep, and he growls to let you know it, there is no need for punishment. But take note of such a reaction, and make sure he will let you handle him when you have to. If the assertive aggressiveness of an adolescent male dog with his increased levels of testosterone becomes a problem, he will benefit from neutering. The resultant reduction in sexual tension will help him relax.

A dog who is excitable, or highly reactive to stimulation, may or may not have a tendency to bite. They are two separate characteristics. A dog may be very difficult to provoke because he is not excitable, but when he finally is sufficiently provoked, he will respond by biting. This would be typical of some large, heavy-boned member of the guard breeds. On the other hand, a very excitable Labrador Retriever may never defend himself by biting, no matter how much he is provoked. However, an excitable dog with aggressive tendencies, such as a nervous German Shepherd who is quick to snap, can be dangerous if not carefully supervised.

While personality factors are inherited and hard to change, early recognition of aggressive tendencies and appropriate training can prevent aggression problems from developing.

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