Some dogs are born with a greater tendency to become aggressive, but problems only occur in homes that wittingly or unwittingly encourage the development of a dog's aggressive potential. Early socializing to the human family, to strangers, to other animals, and to a whole range of experiences dramatically reduces the likelihood that a dog will reach its "aggression potential."
There is always a reason for aggressive behavior -- a reason that is obvious to the dog, but not always obvious to us. It is important to understand exactly why your dog shows aggression. Once it develops, aggressive behavior never disappears on its own: we have to contain it reduce it, then eliminate it. Do not hesitate to get professional help.
This type of aggression is the most common reason why dogs growl at or bite their owners. Avoid physical punishment -- it is provocative and may make matters worse. Use body posture, facial expression, and the tone of your voice to remind the dog that you are the leader of the pack. Reassert your authority over a pushy dog by attaching a leash to its collar. Use this to move your dog to temporary (one-minute) isolation from the family. Do not hold a grudge, but review your relationship with your dog to determine why it thought it could challenge you. Remember, little things send big signals to your dog -- you are the leader, so you eat first and you go through doorways first.
Dominance aggression between two dogs is more likely to occur when both are relatively equal -- same sex, age, and size. Your instinct to comfort the underdog only increases the problem. Remember that the higher-ranking dog eats first, is petted by you first, and goes out the door first. If aggression from the underdog is severe and this does not work, get your veterinarian's help. Neutering a dog lowers its rank and this often cures the problem. It may seem heartless to neuter the underdog, but this is usually enough to stop dominance fighting.
Aggression related to sexual urges can occur in both sexes. It may occur only twice a year in females, when they are hormonally active. All females that have ovulated go through a two-month hormonal pregnancy, and may become possessive over certain items such as shoes, soft toys, or socks. This is a form of maternal aggression.
More common is male-to-male aggression, which may occur all year round. This is more likely to occur in dogs that as puppies were allowed to play rough games without correction. Do not let your puppy bite other dogs hard, put its paws on the other dog's back, or mount and thrust on any part of another dog. Tolerant, older family dogs often let a puppy get away with these activities, and it will try the same with unknown dogs.
Aggression due to fear is the most common reason why dogs bite strangers. Fear biting is most likely in dogs that as puppies did not have the opportunity to meet lots of people. Submissive wetters can turn into fear biters. Watch your dog for signs of fear such as body posture, growling, or teeth baring, and eliminate problems before they develop to fear biting.
This is a primitive and very basic form of aggression and is potentially there within all dogs. Dogs chase moving things. Certain breeds (such as terriers, herders, and sight hounds and scent hounds in particular) are genetically primed for chasing, pouncing, and biting after the pounce. Early socializing, and channeling a puppy's desire to chase toys, are the best forms of prevention.
Your dog is most self-confident on its own territory -- in your home, yard, or car -- and might show signs of territorial aggression if it thinks of strangers as possible threats. Prevent (or overcome) this problem by introducing your puppy to delivery people and others who visit.
There is nothing wrong with your dog's alerting you when someone comes to your house, but it should not be compulsively, protective of your shared territory. Use the same principle in your car. A car is a delightfully small territory, easy to protect.
Food and toy aggression
Some dogs become possessive over food or toys. Teach your dog that being touched while eating is acceptable, non-threatening behavior and that hands near the food bowl will not take food away. When you feed the dog, kneel down beside it while it is eating and offer it something even more tasty, such as a piece of meat or a liver treat. Once the dog is used to this, hide the treat in your hand, put your hand in its food bowl, and as the dog noses your hand, open it up and give the treat, then let the dog finish its meal. It will quickly learn to enjoy your presence rather than feel threatened.
If a dog is ill, it is natural for the animal to be grumpy or aggressive. If something hurts, the dog's natural response to pain is to bite. Be careful when touching or moving your sick or injured dog. Certain medical conditions, such as an underactive thyroid gland, are also known to be associated with aggression.
Some people like to teach dogs to be aggressive. Learned aggression is hard to get rid of. If you want home protection, simply train your dog to bark fiercely and invest in a burglar alarm.
You may find yourself making up excuses for your dog's aggressive behavior, telling friends that "it's just a phase," or you may be telling yourself that you have nothing to be worried about because your dog is a Yorkie, not a Pit Bull, and its pushy behavior is "cute." Be honest, and answer the following questions.
Does your dog:
• growl at you, other people, or other animals?
• show its teeth to you or your family?
snap when you try to take a toy, bones, or food away?
• cringe and hide behind you when visitors approach?
• bark and run to the door when delivery people arrive?
• nip at your ankles when playing exuberantly?
• chase after moving objects?
• give you a glassy-eyed, hard stare that lasts for minutes?
It you answer "Yes" to any one of these questions, your dog has the potential to become aggressive. It might be a good idea to talk with your vet.
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