A practical guide to canine aggression.
Wolves: Ancestors of the Dog
Disputes may be settled through ritual signaling or attacks that cause injury
Up and forward-Alert/Dominance
Down and back-Fear/Submission
Elevation of lips without retraction of the commissure-Dominant Aggressive Threat
Retraction of the Commissure-Submission
Retraction of the Commissure with exposure of the teeth-Defensive Threat
Lying down is the most submissive position, short of rolling over.
Mothers roll their puppies over to clean them. Rolling over continues into adulthood as a submissive signal.
As puppies are being weaned, older wolves regurgitate partially digested food for them. Puppies solicit regurgitation by licking the lips of the older wolf.
Licking remains in adults as a form of active submission.
Dogs which are not allowed to lick faces may lick hands instead.
Metacommunication is a form of communication in which information is provided that modifies the meaning of subsequent communication.
The playbow is a form of metacommunication. It means "what I do next is play."
Signals of Dominance
Ears erect and forward, Tail elevated, Makes/holds eye contact, Body leans forward, Piloerection Standing over/jumping on
Signals of Submission and/or Fear
Ears lowered and turned back
Rolls on back
Diagnosis and Treatment of Aggressive Behavior in Dogs
Human-Animal Bond vs. Public Safety
Attitude of the owner
Presence of vulnerable individuals in the household
Size of the Dog
Type of Aggression
Intensity of the Aggression
Special logistical issues for preventing bites
Treatment of any Aggression
Caution owners of unpredictability of any attempt to treat.
NO TREATMENT IS 100% EFFECTIVE
Any dog may bite, whether they have done so previously or not
Permission to Treat
Aggression Directed at Humans
Dominances vs. Fear
or presumed to be the cause of aggression when no diagnostic process has been conducted
Dominance aggression in dogs, directed toward humans is VERY RARE
"The aggregate of signs and symptoms associated with any morbid process, and constituting together the picture of the disease."
Steadman's concise medical dictionary
Dominance Aggression Syndrome
Persistent aggression (biting, snapping, growling), accompanied by multiple ritual dominance signals directed toward the owner.
Sudden, "Unprovoked Attack"
Signaling is important
Could be an instance of fear aggression
Owners often report "Growls spontaneously", e.g. without any perceived provocation, even walking by or touching
Again, look at signaling
The dog often blocks owner's movements while in the home.
Aggression is often exacerbated by physical punishment
Distinguish from fear aggression, which can also escalate when punishment is used.
Greets owners in species-typical dominance postures, with tail up, eye stare, and/or mounting.
Dominance motivated aggression is a problem of relationships. Aggression is most likely to be directed to family members.
Resists Submissive Postures
History of not learning the 'down' command in obedience class
Must use shaping to get dog to 'down'
Behaviors that may occur as part of DAS or as isolated behavior problems
Guards sleeping area
Food guarding in the absence of ritual dominance signals or aggression to people in any other situation is simply food guarding.
Many food guarders are quite submissive and non-aggressive in all other situations
Focus on changing dog's behavior towards people when food is present.
Behaviors that may occur as part of DAS or as normal or learned behaviors
Jumps in laps
'Demands' to be petted
'Demands' to be let out
Bite Prevention: Regardless of Diagnosis
Avoid all situations in which the dog behaves aggressively
Change how directly interact with dog
Change in family schedules may be necessary
Temporary avoidance of certain locations, e.g. the car, may be required
Diagnosis-Aggression coupled with signals of fear and submission
Retraction of commissure of lip
Most common diagnosis in dogs presented to UGA behavior service
Do not Punish!
Avoid situations that are likely to trigger defensive behavior
Dog is aggressive to non-family members that enter its territory
Do not allow the dog to run loose
Develop command control by owner
Sit-Stay and Down-Stay
Use positive reinforcement to produce strong motivation
Desensitize and counter-condition response to non-family members approaching and entering territory
The dog defends specific items, but otherwise does not exhibit aggression or ritual dominance signals.
If limited number or type of items defended, remove them.
Otherwise, desensitize and counter-condition
Do not deliberately initiate this unless you are prepared to train daily and assume responsibility for having an aggressive dog.
Desensitization and Counter-conditioning
Canis familiaris is a predator
Results in a number of fatalities each year, in addition to many injuries
Joggers, bicyclers, running children
History of predatory behavior
Prevent-Obey leash law, appropriately contain dogs
Desensitization and Counter-conditioning