Dog aggression can be categorized in 5 different areas:
Through the process of explaining each different type of aggression, we will also talk about warning signs for you to look for with your new dog.
Your dog may show one or two signs of aggression early on, but the most significant time for your dog to show any behavioral signs is after 6 months. This is significant because it takes a dog about this long to learn you.
NUMBER 5 Dog Aggression: Physiological
Physiological Aggression is a medical issue, not behavioral. It has been called ‘Rage Syndrome’ in the past as well as other medical terms. This type of aggression is extremely rare. This aggressive action from a dog is totally understand predictable and can be totally out of character. You never know when the aggressive behavior will happen, why it happened, or to whom. A dog would show no remorse if punished, and there is no predictability to the level of aggression either.
There is no behavioral “fix” for this type of aggressive behavior. Make no mistake—most aggressive issues are behavioral and can be worked on. This one cannot.
When you have done everything you can to work on this aggression and yet your dog still does the behavior, you may be dealing with a physiological issue.
NUMBER 4 Dog Aggression: Reactive
Reactive Aggression is a behavioral that is much easier to recognize. Like physiological aggression, it is rare in the sense a dog will have to have many major traumas happening in its life. When a dog is in pain or in a frenetical behavior, this is the time to be very aware of how your dog is reacting to you.
In a pain situation, our human reaction is to sympathize and make the dog feel better. The pack reaction is to leave the weak behind or kill as a survival instinct. For this reason, a dogs survival instinct will kick in and can become very aggressive when approached. This is reactive. Your dog does not do this with any forethought or conscious decision making. Be aware.
With frenzied behavior, a dog is in it’s own mode of protection. In this situation no matter what you say or do, your dog will not pay attention to you. In this frenzied moment a dog is very likely to turn on its owner, another dog, or anything that gets in the way of the frenzy. Again, this is reactive. If you grab your dog, in this situation, expect him to bite you.
Typically in these situations, your dog is not showing signs of consistent or long-lasting aggression, but what you need to look for are extended periods where the trauma or catalyst for frenzy has long past and your dog still reacts the same way. The signs for future aggression comes only if your dog is in total recognition of the situation and still shows aggressive behavior. If this situation occurs, it is more likely because your dog has learned to behave this way through these traumatic situations.
NUMBER 3 Dog Aggression: Dominant
Dominant Aggression is a very rare form of behavioral aggression compared to the others we will talk about. In my 14 years of experience I have seen this type of aggressive behavior less than 3% of the time. In this case, a dog perceives that it can and should be the dominant of the pack. Typically you, as the dog’s family, are the pack. This means that your dog will show aggression at any moment she feels she can take that dominant role. This also means it is not a very good fit in most situations only because most of us, humans, are not really willing to fight for this role.
The size or breed of the dog does not matter. This is a pack mentality that could be derived from any number of situations. The dog:
- May have had to fight for its role from the beginning of its life
- May have tested for dominance early and found that it worked the majority of time
- Is just wired to be the pack leader.
I have seen this behavior confused with NUMBER 5 many times and yet it is very different. The confusion comes, mainly, because we try to put human characteristics to this behavior. When your dog is in a situation that she should have to make a choice as to whether or not she should take a role as a dominant, she will challenge.
NUMBER 2 Dog Aggression: Protective
Protective Aggression is a form of the NUMBER 1 type of aggression. With protective aggression, you have to recognize it for what it is and deal with it accordingly. It is also a huge pack behavior and, depending on where your dog feels he is in your pack, this will determine the level of aggression your dog takes. Most people want their dog to have this type of behavior, and they expect their dog to control it at all times, regardless of whether or not he has had training.
It is much easier to recognize this behavior in most dogs because typically it is about protecting something:
- A bone
- Other dogs
Your dog will protect these things, among many others. This aggression is usually seen as if it is out-of-the-blue. All of a sudden, your dog is being aggressive toward something she has and it seems she has not done this before.
There are warning signs and behaviors to look for. If your dog is one to bark at the window, fence, crate, car, etc. when other dogs or people go by, this is a form of protection. It is also a self-reinforced. In other words, as the dog outside the barrier passes and continues going on, your dog feels as if it did it’s job by chasing the other dog away.
Another warning sign would be if your dog avoids situations. For example, as a small child approaches a dog with food, the dog may drop the food, wander off, and continue to watch from a distance. As that child gets older, the dog may still do the same behavior with a low growl, or might even still stand over the object and let the child take it. If this dog does not have a consistent reminder of its place in the pack, it will soon defend that item aggressively.
NUMBER 1 Dog Aggression: Fear
Fear Aggression is the most common form of aggression in dogs. Fear aggression includes all other types of aggression except dominance aggression & psychological aggression. Territorial, protective, reactive, possessive, and any other name you can think of are all covered under fear aggression.
The reason I broke protective aggression out into its own type was because it has more to do with a dog learning to interact. Most of the other types of fear aggression stem from your dog’s personality. Dogs show two distinctive personality types: confident & fearful. The seems personalities are usually formed during the weaning process. It is very difficult to change a dog’s personality once it has been established.
I have heard this personality type called skittish, scared, and lacking in confidence, among other things and the one thing you can be assured of is if your dog has this type of personality, you will have to be very aware of how you handle the scary situations. As owners we have a tendency to sympathize and try to calm our dog. Then when the behavior becomes too much we can be overly assertive. Both off these reactions are only making the situation worse.
Warning signs from your dog are unnecessary, or overreacting, to new and different situations. She may run, she may bark, she may back away then lunge forward. When any of these warning signs happen you have to be very careful how you handle your reaction because most of the time you will be giving attention to the behavior and only reinforcing something much worse in the future.
For more specific practices, listen to our podcast, Discover Your Dog. Episode 074 The Freaked-Out, Insecure, Neurotic Dog.