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Dog Behaviour Tips - Understanding Dog Aggression

Understanding Dog Aggression – Avoid Creating Aggression

The most common types of aggressive-reactive behaviour in dogs result from the dog being…

A – Insecure, nervous, tense, fear based reactivity;

B – Bullying, dominating reactivity.

When these psychological conditions noted above are not addressed and resolved a dog may become:

  • Fearful reactive-aggressive, or;
  • Defensive reactive-aggressive, or;
  • Offensive reactive-aggressive.

Some typical signs of these behaviors are:

  • Fearful reactive-aggressive – backing away, trembling, low growl, whale eyes.
  • Defensive reactive-aggressive – barking, bared teeth, growling,  fearful body posture (lowered head, tucked tail, ears back, whale eye) and may back away.
  • Offensive reactive-aggressive – barking, bared teeth, growling,  offensive body posture (direct eye contact, erect ears, high tail) while moving or charging forward.

This behaviour may be directed at animate objects such as dogs or other non-human animals, at humans and at inanimate objects as well.

As an example most aggression in dogs occurs due to lack of leadership in the dog’s life that in turn creates stress, insecurity and the need to be reactive.

In the absence of proper direction a dog may become anxious, insecure and fearful.

If dogs were pre-wired to be aggressive rather than social there would be very few dogs left standing. A dog in its natural state is a social being, a pack animal with the potential inherent to get along with others.  There are very few dogs born with ‘bad wiring’. When a dog goes bad it is almost always a human who is responsible for the bad behaviour.

When puppies are young they learn their social skills from the adult dogs in their dog family. Now, as long as the adult dogs’ natural social state has not been negatively disrupted by human influence the adult dogs will teach their young how to get along without being aggressive. If you are thinking – yeah but what about the ‘Alpha’ – dominate dog…you need to read this

Things go wrong when we humans

A– Separate the dog from its early socialization process by removing the puppy from its parents and then;

B– We fail to take up the leadership role to coach and mentor the dog in the acquisition and maintenance of social skills – providing rules and boundaries.
In this day and age of technology and our fast paced-life we have lost an awareness of all of the ways in which we communicate. We have lost patience. We attempt to direct our dogs – we assume we know what we are doing – but most often people do not. A dog learns aggressive-reactive behaviour because a human enables the behaviour in a dog. Either by failing to provide leadership or by actively abusing the dog. Usually when a human enables the aggression it has happened by accident – completely unintentionally.

Here are some typical ways that dogs develop aggressive reactive behaviour…

A– Dogs that lack proper coaching and mentoring can become insecure, anxious and fearful. When a dog is insecure he/she will either be overly submissive or overly defensive. We see these same behaviours in people as well. If you are insecure, anxious or fearful you are either going to recede into the background or overcompensate by being a bully – it is the same for dog. If your dog is nervous around humans or other dogs and you are nervous too – you tell your dog it is right to be worried. You enable the behaviour. If your dog has been attacked in the past by another dog and you are unable to let the past go, you enable your dog’s nervousness and aggression towards the other dog.

B– Dogs who receive the wrong type of affection at the wrong time can become aggressive-reactive. When you reward a dog for being in an excited state the dog learns that being excited is considered to be normal. When a little dog is insecure and starts to react (snarl, growl, snap, bark) at a bigger dog – if you pick the little dog up, you have just confirmed that the little dog has something to be reactive about.  You have not taught the dog how to properly cope with the situation. Your dog does not have the opportunity to be social or truly normal.

C– Dogs who are allowed to take-over their humans, their homes, their toys, the furniture etc. without any rules that they can understand – these dogs can become aggressive. The rule – they own and the human fears to intercede. The human has inadvertently taught the dog to be a bully.

D – A dog has been abused by humans – this can make the dog insecure and fearful – the dog will seek to protect itself. To stop this behaviour you must help the dog gain confidence, you must show the dog that there are other ways to navigate through life – just as you would do for a person.

So, aggression is normally induced by humanity. No dog wants to be bad. All dogs want to have the opportunity to receive fair instruction, coaching and mentoring to help them be social happy members of society – the same thing that a child wants. Children don’t want to be bad – but when they lack the proper guidance they have little choice.

When we do not take the opportunity to correct the dog in a respectful, grounded logical way without anger, fear or other emotions we create psychological damage in the dog. We miss an opportunity to change future outcomes – we make one more mistake in the dogs’ life – we set the dog up for future failure…just as we would be doing with a human.

The great thing about dogs is that they are easier to psychologically rehabilitate than humans are. Why, because dogs do not hold grudges. Because dogs live in the moment it is easier to change a dog’s ‘bad habits’ than it is a human’s. Humans carry grudges, dogs do not. Dogs are very forgiving and will, given the opportunity treat each day, each experience as a new beginning. It is only with difficulty that we are able to convince, permit and allow ourselves to do the same.

Patience, will, determination, persistence, respect and a little understanding of dog and human psychology are key. Coach and mentor the dog, train its human.

A dog is willing to give so much to their human – but what is the human willing to give to the dog?

To enable the best in your dog you must think beyond yourself,your momentary needs your emotions. I believe you must broaden your understanding of affection, leadership and partnership. You must understand how dogs communicate and how you can unintentionally communicate the wrong thing. You must understand how dogs assign respect. You must understand what leadership really is and is not. And you should understand that there are many ways to share affection with your dog. Only when your have truly understood these concepts will you be in a position to enable the best in your dog.

If you learn to look at every element of your relationship in a more dynamic and holistic fashion you can learn to combine what you want with what your dog requires.

To have a happy, well balanced canine companion the human needs to make sure that they fulfill the needs of their dog. This is where it so often all goes wrong. Many of us, with the best of intentions, do not realize (that just because we love our dog and ensure we provide it with lots of affection the best of food, treats, a comfy place to sleep, etc.) that we have not met our dog’s needs in a way that will best benefit the dog.

About Karen

Dogs are my life, my work, my passion… I am a Dog Whisperer, Dog Behaviorist and Holistic Canine Wellness Adviser with a wealth of real-time, real-life experience living and working with dogs. For two and a half decades I have worked with and shared my life with dogs. My own dog pack is comprised of eleven dogs, various breeds and ages. I provide a full range of services including Obedience Training for puppies and dogs; canine Behavior Modification; canine Psychological Rehabilitation, specializing in assisting dogs that are experiencing extreme states of insecurity, anxiety and aggressive-reactive behavior; Diet, Nutrition and Wellness Advice and Plans for canines and felines…natural wisdom for you and your companion animal.

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One comment

  1. This is such a timely post, because although I knew this, I was doing something badly with our female dog. She’s shy with other dogs and for a long time I would protect her and soothe her at the dog park. Well, the last time we went, I left her alone and she found her grove and was just fine. She was feeding off my stress. Eye opening! Thanks for this information.

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