Most people would like to avoid ending up with an aggressive dog at all costs but don’t understand that many of the things they do are driving their puppy in this direction.
My behaviour consults are filled with dogs displaying aggression driven by fear, anxiety, stress, predatory instinct, dominance and other elements that have occurred through poor education, bad experiences, poor genetics or simply no education.
Our rehabilitation kennels are always booked out and the most common behaviour problem we are asked to rehabilitate is aggression too.
So with all the information available to us through the web, local experts, international experts and well intended neighbours and friends, why are our dogs in such a terrible place?
Top 5 reasons that you could be making an aggressive dog
I am going to list the 5 most common reasons I see and give some explanation on how to avoid them.
Top five reasons that cause aggression in dogs: –
- Predatory instinct
- No impulse control
- Breed temperament traits
What causes each of these?
Dogs showing offensive and or defensive behaviour towards another person or animal can often be attributed to fear, this is a known fact and agreed amongst most dog professionals.
A high percentage of dogs can become fearful of people or dogs without any bad experiences.
They simply have not been effectively socialised in the first year of their life and do not know how to interact with dogs or people with any confidence. This is a good read if you want to know more (Socialisation, what is it exactly)
Certainly nervous dogs through genetics can become this way much easier than dogs that have natural confidence and stability, but know most dogs need experiences within their comfort zones and “just” outside their comfort zones to grow and become confident.
Many people will choose a breed without understanding what makes this dog what he or she is, for example a lot of people get a German Shepherd because they like the look, they like the intelligence the breed is known for or they want a dog with the ability to keep bad people away.
That’s fine but what makes German Shepherds display these attributes are various thresholds to different drives. This means that your German Shepherd may have a “low threshold to prey stimulus“.
In simple terms it means that when things move, a dog with a low threshold to prey drive may easily become stimulated and chase them.
As your dog grows through adolescence perhaps he or she pulls on the leash, see’s a dog running and is held back by a tight leash. This is a frustrating situation and frustration escalates prey drive into predatory aggression.
Look at our YouTube Channel to see how common this problem is. (here)
No impulse control
Good training teaches dogs, young and old that sometimes they will not be able to access everything they want when they want it.
Dogs that do not understand this will try to access things they find stimulating, when met with resistance they increase their energy, often through frustration to try and force access to the dog, person, food, attention etc.
Dogs in this mind set can easily displace into aggressive behaviours or produce aggressive behaviours in other dogs that are being pushed hard to respond.
Breed Temperament Traits
Breeds that in history have been used and bred for an activity, may very likely display similar traits towards dogs or people at inappropriate times.
I gave an example of Predatory aggression above, but herding breeds for example can be known to herd children, or other dogs. This interaction with dogs for example can cause fights and your herding breed can learn aggression through these interactions.
Breeds that have been used as guardians for livestock, breeds that have been used in dog fights, breeds that have been used to kill vermin, fetch birds etc all can have temperament traits that when not under good control, can easily be displayed when you dont want them to.
Dogs that have been attacked by another dog, can become overly defensive to protect themselves.
This is more likely when: –
- The dog was attacked when he or she was under the age of 18 months
- They were going through the developmental period of fear (see schedule here)
- They were a nervous dog by nature (genetics)
- They are a breed a with low threshold to defence drive
- They did not have effective socialisation values prior to the attack
The trauma can form a single event learned behaviour that motivates the dog to display fear aggression to prevent other dogs attacking them. Of course this is not effective or acceptable but dogs commonly choose this behaviour as a resolve.
I wanted to use this article to try and give some advice on how to prevent this from occurring to your next puppy, if your current dog does display aggression now, I would be best assessing your dog as an individual and developing a program to help move forward, if you need help send us an email.
Though if you have a puppy or are getting one, these tips should help.
In all cases, when a puppy arrives at your home, you should spend a little time assessing how your puppy interprets new things, such as other dogs, strangers, children, various surfaces from textural floors to slippery floors and finally noise.
If you look at this scale below, you can and should “score” your new puppy on his or her initial reaction when exposed to these things.
Ideally you would have a puppy that see’s people and dogs as an opportunity and is happy to interact and this is likely to happen with a puppy from a breeder who is breeding ideal temperaments, spending a lot of time with the litter and has been exposing them to many things from birth.
These puppies would score a 1, 2 or 3 in the positive side.
If you had a puppy that was very overstimulated by something (the 4 – 10 on the positive emotional scale), such as a dog and wanted to run and play at a high level of energy, you have some work to do. You would need to spend time around other dogs for example and only provide low level interactions such as scenting etc rather than play.
You may need to use rewards to draw some of that focus back to you away from the other dog (in this example).
If you had a puppy that was shy and did not want to interact, this dog may fall into the negative 1, 2 or 3. This dog needs reassurance and calm interaction, potentially with reward to become confident.
If you had a puppy that barked or panicked, this would be a 4 – 10 on the negative scale.
Many people may not be able to determine these values and this is where it is best to see an experienced professional to help you determine and establish values to things such as dogs, people, children, cats and or anything your dog is likely to encounter in his or her life.
Just “seeing how it goes” is what most people do and their dog engages these stimuli through raw instinct as there has been no education and this is one of the major reasons I have so many clients.
Once you have determined or adjusted the values, you need to test, maintain and reinforce this until your dog is 14 – 18 months of age.
Any deviation from these values should see you booking with an experienced professional at once, in fact it is highly recommended to come for a check up before your pup is 12 months of age even if you don’t think you have any problems.
Children go through Daycare, pre school, kindergarten, primary school and high school and at any time the teachers see behaviours that they would deem as concerning, they communicate this to parents and encourage further assessment. This does not happen enough with dogs.
You have a puppy that has some great prey drive, so channel this into a system that you can use to satisfy prey drive and perhaps use as a reward system to reinforce behaviours such as the recall or even more complex behaviours.
I would suggest most people start with a flirt pole which is a great fun toy that is easy for the puppy to see and play with. You can also use a Hollee Roller to engage with your pup and play retrieve games.
There is some people who (incorrectly) believe that playing tug will increase aggression and make a prey driven dog want to chase and capture other animals. The fact is that this is not at all true, in fact not satisfying a dogs prey drive will see this dog trying and satisfy it other ways.
Digging, chasing, barking, predatory aggression, fence fighting, barrier aggression and other frustration related behaviours are created this way.
Start the first week you get your puppy and find a nice balance on how much your puppy needs, an experienced professional of course is recommended for this as well.
No Impulse control
All creatures need to have some ability to regulate their emotions, otherwise they are going to be emotionally driven by things in their world. Impulse control helps people and dogs choose how they will respond to things rather than being driven by them.
Dogs nor people are born with impulse control, it is developed through experience and we need to help our dogs learn impulse control through various exercises. Children in schools are asked to remain at their desks for the lesson, this is teaching and reinforcing impulse control.
Dogs that learn place training are learning the same skill. This can translate into a dog that see’s something very exciting but can choose to remain calm and unstimulated by it.
Breed Temperament Traits
Do your research, find out what the breed was bred for and how this may or may not fit into your life.
Just because the one on TV is a good dog does not mean yours will be, Very disappointing I know. Just because you grew up with one, does not mean the next one will be the same.
If you have researched the breed carefully and you have decided to get one, but you are concerned with some of these potential traits, by taking a pro active approach to setting effective social values, teaching impulse control and channelling the dogs drives, you can very successfully ensure some of the more concerning traits do not affect your dog.
One of the most common causes of trauma is taking your pup to the dog park to socialise him or her. This comes from a lack of understanding, socialising is not to teach play, it is to teach about another being. So that may include some play, some low level interaction, some ignoring the other dog and being able to work with the handler etc.
If dogs see other dogs as a high energy (drive) reward, even if you don’t create trauma, you can certainly compromise your relationship, bond and obedience.
In many other cases, at some stage of your pups development, he or she may be attacked or frightened by another dog and this can be manifest into trauma around other dogs, this trauma can make the pup feel stressed and this can motivate aggression.
I do not do dog parks, no not all the dogs in every park are bad, but it does not take every dog, it can take just one.
So the risk outweighs any potential benefit.
People who have not invested the time into the above suggestions feel that letting their dog race around the dog park getting its enjoyment out of annoying, chasing, biting, fighting with, humping and or scaring your dog is a good afternoon of fun for their dog.
Raising a puppy is a journey, a great fun adventure with an incredible outcome if you get it right, if you get it wrong then it can be a heart breaking, anxiety producing set of events over many years.
If you are getting a puppy, choose well, train well and address any concerns very early.
Always happy to hear your comments.