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Different Types of Aggression
1. Nervous / Fear Aggression
This type of dog will usually display aggression towards dogs and bitches alike, never taking the time to find out, which is which before flying at them. The behaviour is usually worse if the dog is on the lead or cornered in a small space and also if close to the owner, who usually backs up the behaviour, although unwittingly. It starts with lots of growling and barking, before going onto snapping.
All dogs have a Flight, Freeze or Fight syndrome that they will put into action and see, which ones work! If we take a nervous dog on the lead that is afraid of other dogs, and we walk down the street until we meet someone coming towards us with their dog, we can see this syndromes exhibited. The dog may go into the "freeze" but the owner will not realise and therefore keep walking towards the dogs fear, the dog thinks freeze has not worked and so abandons it. The next the dog may try is "flight" but it cannot move away because it is on the end of the leash and still the other dog is approaching, so once again another behaviour that will not work. The last is "fight" and the dog will start growling, or going out to the end of the lead and acting as aggressively as possible.
This effect that behaviour has is usually the other person with their dog takes a big detour round and avoids getting to close and the owner of the dog that is acting aggressively tightens the lead and brings the dog in towards them and away from its fear, sometimes speaking or pacifying it as it does so. The dog thinks that works! This is now the only behaviour the dog will use.
This problem is often made better if someone the dog does not know very well takes it out, for it does not know that persons strengths and weakness and there is no protecting threat from other dogs. Its a good way of finding out if your dog suffers nervous aggression as the behaviour will either not be exhibited or will be a lot less aggressive.
2. Sexual aggression.
This is usually confined more to male dogs. They will often mount or attempt to mount people and usually other dogs as well and then will become increasingly aggressive if their victim tries to stop them. Castration and behaviour modification are the only things that can help with this problem, as the poor dog is oversexed and cannot help his feelings and actions. Mating him in the hope it will become better unfortunately tends to make it worse.
For this problem the dog has to see that the territory is owned by him/her and not the owner. The dog will have to be the dominant one in the partnership firstly and then territorial aggression follows. The owner of such dogs will often walk them in the same area/s and the dog will cock his leg (territorial marking) as many times as possible and very often in the same areas. This is a signal to other dogs walked in that area that he/she owns it.
If the dog now comes across another dog in this area, it will act aggressively, defending its territory. The smaller the territory the more aggression shown, so it can be worse in a car than in a large open field. Some dogs like this can be fine in the home, but not so good in the garden or yard. Others can be hard work in the home as well, especially if the owner has visitors or the postman is delivering mail. The only answer to this is to work on the dominant/territorial problem in a way in which a dog understands, through a behaviour modification programme.
3. Dominant Aggression
Most frequently seen in male dogs and once again the dog usually see's itself as high ranking than the owners. The initial approach to other dogs is often cautionary and contains many status signals, like tail carriage held high and quickly moving from side to side, standing on tip toe etc. If the other dog submits then all is usually fine, if not the fighting can be extremely noisy and in some cases quite severe. In both the last two examples, dominant and territorial aggression, I usually find the dog will pull quite badly on the lead. Dog can also display aggressive tendency towards members of the family this could lead to an attack. By working on a dominance reduction programme and teaching the dog to walk on a loose leash can virtually overcome the problem alone.
4. Chase or Predatory aggression
This one is usually worse when the dog is exercising off the lead rather than on it. It will chase another dog that can by quite some way away, ignoring any attempts by the owner to stop. This dog is usually quite well trained and responsive when other dogs are not around. The behaviour of the other dog being chased will determine the outcome. This dog will also be, quite often, badly behaviour in the car when its moving and it sees other dogs through the windows. This dog behaves exactly the same no matter who takes it out for walks.
Now having said all that it is rare indeed for the dog to have just one of the problems mentioned above, and the worse combination you can have is dominant and nervous aggression together. Dog aggression problems often have their roots in early games and contact with other dogs, especially if it lived with other dogs and regularly played games, initiating those games most times and mouthing round the head and neck region, this is practicing aggression! The owner usually finds it quite sweet to watch in the belief the dogs get along so well and they usually do, but this dog is also using the other to practice its techniques out. The owner can rarely if ever stop these games if they tried to do so, unless of course they physically pulled them apart. Controlling games that are played between dogs will usually give the owner control over each individual dog and help.
Learned aggression can normally be cured however hereditary aggression cannot, and can only be controlled and hopefully contained. Castration sometimes helps and should be considered in an overall dominance reduction program.
Stan Rawlinson ( Doglistener) is a full time Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Trainer who has owned and worked dogs for over 25 years, starting with Gundogs then moving on to the behavioural and obedience side of Pet Dogs. He now has a successful practice covering London, Surrey and Middlesex. Web Site at www.doglistener.co.uk email firstname.lastname@example.org