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What Causes Canine Aggression by PetWell

What Causes Canine Aggression?


Dogs can display all kinds of behaviour issues, from attention-seeking to excessive barking and everything in between. Most of these behaviours are relatively harmless, although annoying. There is one behaviour that we need to pay attention to though, and that is canine aggression. 

Aggression in dogs can be the most dangerous of all dog behaviour issues. For people, other animals, and the dog itself. Canine aggression is the leading factor in most dog bites and the leading factor in most dogs being re-homed and euthanised. 

As a result, the re-homing issue is exacerbated since most shelters will not take aggressive dogs due to the danger they pose to staff and other dogs.

Why do Dogs Show Aggression?

It’s important to keep in mind that dogs are descended from wild animals that were hunters. Despite now being domesticated, some dogs can still exhibit aggressive behaviour and elements of hunting behaviour.

Aggression is conceivable if that behaviour is present in their ancestry. Having said that, most dogs are friendly and non-aggressive, but there can be moments when they are.

Aggression in dogs can be caused by several factors, and you need to act accordingly. There are two solutions for an aggressive dog - medical intervention or training techniques.

Is your dog in pain?

If your dog is showing signs of aggression, you need to understand why. Be aware of the behaviour and don't ignore it. Are they in pain?

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For example, A dog can exhibit aggressive behaviours toward people and other animals due to health issues that cause them pain and discomfort. Such as hip dysplasia, arthritis, stomach pain or other physical ailments. Therefore, our first recommendation is to have a full medical examination by your vet. If there are no health issues evident, the next step is to talk to an animal behaviourist

Inappropriate aggression is a serious problem and should be dealt with immediately.

There are situations where canine aggression is necessary. Some working dogs such police dogs, drug sniffers, and trackers are trained to be aggressive as part of their job. This is appropriate aggression.

Aggression in dogs is serious and should only be dealt with in conjunction with a trained vet and canine behavioural expert

Other Reasons for Canine Aggression

Anxiety and fear-aggression

Canine aggression can be put on display due to anxiousness. When a dog is around new people, other dogs, or unfamiliar surroundings. It can be worse if the dog feels enclosed or close to its owner when on a lead.  

In fact, the owner may be encouraging the dog’s aggression without even realising it. For instance, the owner may become anxious or worried when another dog approaches because they fear their dog may react aggressively. Without realising it, the owner may tighten their grip on the leash which can release more adrenaline than the dog can tolerate.

These signals will be picked up by the dog. They may then begin to growl, snap, or lunge at the approaching of another dog. They can believe that attacking the approaching dog is their only option because they are unable to flee and are restrained by the leash.

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Lack of early socialisation

Sometimes they simply don’t know how to behave around other people or dogs. Aggression may present itself due to a lack of early socialisation. For example, younger puppies (under 16 weeks) may not always learn the proper behaviour when encountering another dog if they are not socialised with adult dogs and puppies. All dogs should be familiar with this intricate "meet and greet" behaviour pattern when they are meeting other dogs.

The best way for them to learn is by socialising with older dogs who can correct their behaviour and put them in submission. 

Frustration aggression

A dog may retaliate with aggression when they experience frustration due to:

  • a child pulling on its ears or tail causing them pain or discomfort
  • a toddler smothering their face with too many kisses
  • or other dogs continually nipping at them

Food aggression

This is instinctual behaviour relating back to the wild where food was hard to come by.  Thankfully, many domestic dogs don’t need to worry about food shortages in their home. Even so, when another dog edges in on a dog eating, they may very well experience aggression, this is very common.  However, food aggression toward the dog’s owner is not so common. They understand the hierarchical structure of the home. The owner is the alpha.  Typically, the runt of the litter will be more inclined to have food aggression. The fear of missing out is due to their siblings pushing them out of the feeding position from birth. 

Territorial aggression

Territorial aggression is arguably the most likely reason why dogs only exhibit aggression when in their own home/backyard. If the dog is enclosed in a confined area, such as a car or a small garden, territorial aggression may worsen.

In most instances, dogs will only show territorial aggression to other dogs, but because of their intimate bond with people. They can be aggressive to strangers who enter their territory.  

A dog can be pushy and vocal without being aggressive

Aggressive behaviours consist of but are not limited to:

  • Growling, snarling and barking loudly
  • Biting (different to gentle and playful nipping when dogs play)
  • Lunging forward or charging at people or other dogs
  • Showing teeth and growling at the same time
  • Tense posture, leaning forward with heckles up

Read more on Understanding Dog Body Language

Important: Never attempt to break up a fight between two dogs. Firstly, if the dog fails to recognise you, it might redirect the aggression to you, putting you in danger.  Secondly, your getting in the way can make the dog fight more viciously since it thinks it needs to defend both you and itself.

Read more about Understanding Common Dog Behavioural Issues

In Summary

Undoubtedly, there are many reasons why a dog shows aggression. As responsible dog owners, it's important to pay attention to these behaviours and act accordingly. With this in mind, it’s unfair to re-home the dog because we failed to understand the source of their aggression. Understanding why the aggression is there allows us to solve the problem and hopefully eliminate the aggression. Resulting in a happier dog. 

Disclaimer: The entire contents of this email and website are not to be taken as medical advice. The team at Pet Squad Pty Ltd trading as PetWell encourages you to make your own pet healthcare decisions based on your research and in partnership with a qualified pet healthcare professional.

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