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Aggression (Part 2)

Aggression – Part II

Brief Notes and Thoughts

Some initial thoughts


  • It is estimated that every year, dogs bite 4.7 million people. (58 million dogs in the United States .)  Questionable?
  • 60 percent of the 4.7 million people bitten each year are children, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Approximately half of all children 12 and under have been bitten. It is stated that this is usually around the head, face and neck. This positions dog bites ahead of playground accidents, which ranks third by the American Medical Association. (The first most common cause is baseball and softball).
  • Over 500,000 people per year receive medical attention for dog bites.
  • On average there are about 10 dog bite fatalities per year.
  • Dog bites have reached epidemic proportions – medical comparison.
  • German shepherds and chow chows are most likely to be involved in biting than other breeds.
  • Male dogs are six times more likely to bite than females.
  • Sexually intact dogs are 2.6 times more likely to bite than neutered dogs.
  • Rottweiler and pitbull breeds account for 67 percent of deaths.
  • The 10 lethal breeds, accounting for four or more human deaths each over the last 20 years, are: pitbull-type (66), Rottweiler (39), German shepherd (17), husky-type (15), malamute (12), Doberman (9), chow chow (8), Saint Bernard (7), Great Dane (7) and Akita (4).
  • Twenty-five breeds have been involved in 238 dog bite fatalities over the past 20 years.
  • Approximately 82 percent of deaths involved unrestrained dogs either on (58%) or off (24%) the owners’ property

Points to consider

  • All dogs may bite – it’s what dogs do.
  • Proper training and management can largely prevent ? Dog bites.
  • Dog bite fatalities are relatively uncommon.
  • People are more dangerous than dogs.
  • Chronically irresponsible dog owners are to blame for many problems.
  • In general the owners rather than the dogs are the real problem.
  • Children should be taught never to play with or approach a strange dog, and should avoid direct eye contact. They should also never play with a dog without adult supervision. Responsible parents teach their children how to behave with dogs.
  • Certain breeds are potentially more dangerous.
  • Aggression is defined in the Universal English Dictionary as ‘an unprovoked attack upon, an invasion of rights’.
  • Aggression in dogs is defined as a threat of harmful behavior directed at a person. This includes snarling, growling, snapping, nipping, biting and lunging.
  • Remember that safety for yourself and people around you is the primary concern!
  • Very few dog attacks are unprovoked; this may be knowingly or unknowingly.

A private trainer qualified and experienced in handling behavioral problems could help the aggressive dog and its owner. Unfortunately, due to lack of formal training and registration for trainers, there is a great variation in their ability and training methods. Standardization of this profession would greatly assist the training of problem dogs as participation in a training program could then be made mandatory if an owner wishes to keep a dog declared dangerous.


How does a dog show aggression?

Just as with people the way a dog expresses its aggression depends on its confidence in its ability to handle the situation.

Fear biters often show signs of fear and aggression at the same time. Whether they attack depends upon which of the two conflicting emotions predominates. However when these dogs are placed in a position from which they cannot escape they will attack e.g. when being treated by the vet or groomer


Expression of aggression ranges from very confident, with erect stance and a high, deliberately wagging tail to very fearful, with a lowered body and tail. Most aggressive dogs, whether confident or fearful, have raised hackles and may growl or snarl.
Many factors influence behavior and the same dog may show very confident aggression in some situations (usually at home) while being much less confident and more fearful at other times

Arousal threshold

All dogs exhibit some aggression.  It is when this aggression is uncontrolled, and particularly if the tolerance threshold is low, that attacks are most likely to occur. Tolerance threshold can vary according to the situation. Mental and physical thresholds – for example a dog may be quite tolerant when touched around head and shoulders but not when touched on the feet, the groin or any place from the rib cage backwards.

Selection for temperament by breeders and an early socialization program is essential to create a good ‘tempered’ and balanced pup.



Misguided kindness on the part of a family member may allow the dog to adopt a position dominant to them.

Dominant behavior is partly inherited (having been selected for in some breeds) but is also partly learned (when the owner misinterprets dominant behavior in a pup as play and encourages or is unable to stop it). Therefore, training can modify dominant behavior. Although prevalent in many smaller breeds, such behavior constitutes a much greater risk in large breeds.

Dominance aggression becomes a problem when people do not understand their dog’s need to establish a clear dominance hierarchy.


Sometimes two dogs in the same household do not have a well-defined pecking order.


There are three main triggers to aggression related to dogs’ protective instincts.
First, protection of ‘property’. Dogs which are kept chained or locked up become much more territorial than dogs given more freedom, especially if constantly provoked. Therefore chaining as a means of control should be viewed with caution because chaining may increase aggression.

Dogs tend to be more comfortable with aggression on “their” territory
Second, protection of themselves and other members of their pack is inherent in all dogs.
Dogs are often brought up by women and therefore not socialized to men. Such a dog may then see a man as a threat and react with aggression (usually fear aggression) if he attempts to handle it. If this encounter takes place in the presence of the dog’s owner the dog will probably show more aggression (safety in numbers is even more relevant to dogs than people), particularly if the owner is stressed e.g. at the veterinary clinic. In such a situation, the departure of the owner often achieves a remarkable transformation in the dog’s demeanor, allowing it to be handled.

Third, females with a litter usually show protection of puppies. Although normally submissive, a lactating female may become much more assertive and it is wise to restrict access to the litter to the few people involved in their care. This maternal aggression usually reduces in intensity as the pups approach weaning.

Inter-male interaction

It is normal in all species for males to compete with each other to determine the animal most fit to father the next generation.

Most inter-male aggression, if the protagonists are left to sort it out without intervention, will be confined to threats, but if owners intervene to ‘break it up,’ one or both dogs may decide to attack. Owners may then be bitten (usually accidentally, but it still hurts!).


The dog’s predatory instinct has been blamed for attacks on cyclists, joggers and running children. It is certain that this prey chasing is exacerbated when the dog joins a pack and thrill killing of livestock is an inevitable result when dogs are allowed to roam in areas where such animals are kept.

This instinct to chase and attack may also account for apparently unprovoked attacks on babies. It is difficult for dogs to perceive them as people! Babies make unusual sounds, strange movements and smell different. As this behavior is instinctive it is virtually impossible to eliminate so provides yet another reason for confining dogs to their own property. Toddlers and infants increase the stimulus to this instinct from their fast movements and excited noises.
Predatory aggression is a very real problem. Most other forms of aggression are designed to intimidate; predatory aggression causes a dog to seriously maim or kill.

Cause unknown

When there is no known cause for an act of aggression by a dog, it is known as ‘idiopathic’. Little is known about this form of aggressive behavior except that it is possibly inherited, as it appears more in some breeds, or even strains within breeds.

Learned aggression

While the propensity for aggressive behavior is often inherited, there is no doubt that aggression can also be learned. If the dog shows aggression for one of the above reasons and obtains the desired result, it will do it again.

Pain-induced aggression

Caused by a person or animal that creates pain. It often occurs when a person attempts to touch a painful area or when injections are given.


Owners may think that a timid dog is harmless – nothing could be further from the truth! Dogs can react to any of the above triggers by aggression based on confidence or fear.

Redirected aggression

Occurs when a dog that is aggressively motivated redirects the aggression from the source to another person. For example, a dog that is barking at the door may redirect his aggression onto an owner that is pulling him back. Dominant dogs often redirect onto subordinates.
The big Question is “How many dominant labeled dogs are really not dominant?”
With no hierarchy, no behavior modeling, a dog can learn to obtain the results it thinks is correct through aggression.


A physical examination