Dominance Aggression

When owners call and say that their dogs get a funny look in their eyes and then attack for no reason, I suspect dominance aggression. Dominance aggression is mainly directed at family members. These aggressive behaviors can be growling, snapping, or biting. This problem is not caused by owners, although what they do can make it better or worse. A dog is born with this problem. Ninety-five percent of the dogs with this are males. It can occur in any breed, from Shih Tzu to Golden Retriever to Rottweiler. Castration helps but does not solve the problem. Generally, the dog is fine as a puppy, but aggressive behaviors, starting with growling, begin around 12 to 18 months of age. Often the first biting episode occurs between 2 and 3 years old.

Although dominance aggression is the term that is popularly used for this problem, it is somewhat confusing. Dogs who have dominance aggression are not trying to dominate their owners; they just become very anxious about being dominated. It is an anxiety problem. These dogs react to owner behaviors that they consider dominating, and growl or bite to stop them.

Owners of dogs with this problem often report that their dogs bite for no reason. Actually, they just don't understand the triggers. These are common triggers for dominance aggressive dogs:

• Punishing the dog, either verbally or physically

• Touching the dog while he is lying down

• Attempting to control the dog by grabbing the collar

• Pushing the dog away, off your lap, or off the sofa or bed

• Reaching over the dog's head to pet him

• Trying to take away a bone or rawhide chew

An important sign that a dog has dominance aggression is that punishment makes it worse. Dogs increase their aggressive behavior as they are punished. Owners of these dogs either avoid punishing them or use objects such as newspapers so they can punish without being bitten.

This problem cannot be cured by training. Owners can only manage it and must face difficult decisions regarding the safety of family members, particularly if children are involved. Management involves avoiding things that trigger the dog, avoiding punishment and confrontations, and training the dog with positive reinforcement. Some behavioral specialists recommend drug treatment.

This is a horrible problem for owners to have. These dogs are often very intelligent and trainable, and are affectionate most of the time. They are happy to see their owners when they come home. Their owners love them. However, they can be very dangerous and cause injury to their owners.

Earlier in my career as a dog trainer, I tried to train these dogs. Working with these owners, I was able to make an improvement in the dog's behavior. However, when I checked with these owners after a year, nearly all of the dogs had bitten again. These incidents were always described as occurring without warning or provocation. In two cases, children were bitten badly enough to need several stitches. I learned through experience that training does not cure this problem; it only manages it and gives the owners a false sense of security. After careful evaluation to determine that this is indeed the type of aggression the dog has, I no longer attempt to train dogs with bad cases, and recommend euthanasia because of the dangers involved.

This behavior problem is one that causes an owner to get rid of his dog, whether by taking his dog to a shelter, giving him to a rescue group, or abandoning the dog. Be aware that this problem can show up in dogs that you may adopt. If a dog has had several homes, be suspicious.

Dog Owners Handbook

Dog Owners Handbook

There are over a hundred registered breeds of dogs. Recognizing the type of the dog is basically associated with its breed. A purebred animal belongs to a documented and acknowledged group of unmixed lineage. Before a breed of dog is recognized, it must be proven that mating two adult dogs of the sametype would have passed on their exact characteristics, both appearance and behavior, to their offspring.

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