You and your dog have a special bond. He’s always got your back and he’s always looking out for you. So when he growls at a friend or shows his teeth, you are likely to just assume he’s being protective. The idea that your dog may have aggression issues might not even cross your mind. But the truth is, if your dog is behaving in this manner you need to recognize that your dog is showing aggression and you need to deal with it before it becomes a real problem.
I remember many years ago having a Yorkshire terrier and I actually thought that when he snarled and growled at my friends if they got close to me, was actually cute. Then when my friend’s pitbull made the same sounds and faces when with other dogs, I thought he was aggressive. Boy did I not understand back then, but that was decades ago and I’m much more dog smart these days. I was wrong in both cases.
Personality, genetics, home environment, socialization, obedience training, and even the current situation your dog is in, can cause aggressive behavior. Don’t buy into breed specific aggression. The fact of the matter is my friend’s dog, the pitbull, was only playing – there was nothing aggressive with his behavior. On the other hand, my Yorkshire terrier’s behavior was actually aggressive, as I would find out years later, after he bit a friend.
Diagnosing dog aggression isn’t always easy. Food and toy aggression can be extremely dangerous, especially where there are children who may accidentaly trigger that aggression. Some of the most common signs of dominant behavior are
- a dog that will block the path of a person or dog
- a dog that puts his head on another dog’s back
- a dog that pushes himself between you and another person (for instance when you are hugging someone)
If you are seeing dominant behavior, you should start to work on training these behaviors out. Oh, by the way intact males have a much higher likelihood of being dominant.
When it comes to fear aggression, this is harder to predict and there are different signs to observe. A defensive aggressive dog’s body language is harder to predict. A dog that is defensive will actually display body language that’s submissive. Watch out for
- pulled back ears
- avoiding eye contact
- lowered head and body
- a tail that’s tucked between the legs
A defensive aggressive dog does not like touch and will bit out of fear. You will need the help of a trained professional to solve this issue.
Dog aggression towards people generally involves lunging, posturing, direct eye contact, prickled ears, raised hackles, and teeth exposure. Don’t confuse a play bow and barking and growling when the body language is relaxed – this is not aggressive behavior.
Learn the signs of aggression. If you are unsure if your dog’s behavior is aggressive, ask for the help of a trained professional. It can’t hurt to find out what’s going on – that way you will know and can train appropriately or get the help of a trained professional. Dog aggression should never be left unaddressed because the outcome can become devastating for your dog and for a person or other dog as well.