A dog can be a man’s, woman’s or child’s best friend. Dogs bring love, laughter, and companionship into our lives, but the human-animal bond can be severely strained when a dog is aggressive. Dogs can be aggressive for many reasons. Some of the more common types of dog aggression include:
- Fear aggression – dogs may growl, snap or bite in an attempt to protect themselves from what looks to be a dangerous situation from their point of view.
- Dominance aggression – every pack needs a leader, and some dogs will use aggression in an attempt become the leader or maintain that status.
- Territorial aggression – dogs may act aggressively to defend their homes, yards, or cars from people or animals that they see as a threat.
- Food-related aggression – dogs may growl, snarl or attempt to bite when they worry that a person or another animal might take their food.
The only way to respond appropriately to a dog’s behavior is to understand its underlying cause. Your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist can help accurately diagnosis the type of aggression that your dog is suffering from and come up with a treatment plan to make it better. Therapy often includes behavioral modification techniques like desensitization or reinforcement and behavioral pet medications that help dogs to be more receptive to appropriate training techniques. Remember that any form of physical punishment will almost always makes behavioral problems worse rather than better, so no matter how frustrated you become, try not to lose your cool around your dog.
A veterinarian can also rule out medical causes for a dog’s aggression. Pain and conditions that adversely affect the brain (i.e. tumors or metabolic disorders) can make even the most well-behaved dog act aggressively.
It’s better to prevent aggression from developing in the first place, rather than trying to treat it once it has become an established behavior. Male dogs that are neutered before the onset of puberty (around 6 months or so) are less likely to become aggressive in comparison to intact male dogs. Puppies should be left with their mothers and littermates until they are at least eight weeks of age. During this time of intense socialization, puppies learn bite inhibition and other forms of good doggy manners.
Puppies should also be exposed to a wide variety of situations, people, animals, etc. when they are between two and four months of age. This is the time in their lives when positive experiences can have the greatest effect on their outlook on life.
Finally, the most important thing to remember when dealing with an aggressive dog is safety. Even with appropriate socialization and treatment, some dogs cannot be trusted to act appropriately. Protect people and other pets by avoiding situations that risk bringing about an aggressive response from your dog.