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Canine aggression: It's mainly about fear (Proceedings)


A practical guide to canine aggression.

Wolves: Ancestors of the Dog

Pack living



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


Upright/Leaning Forward-Alert/Dominance


Lying down is the most submissive position, short of rolling over.







Stare at-Dominance

Look away-Submission

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

Tail lowered

Body lowered

Averts eyes

Rolls on back

May urinate


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.


Any dog may bite, whether they have done so previously or not

Permission to Treat

Aggression Directed at Humans

Dominances vs. Fear





Dominance Aggression:

Current Issue


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.

Presenting Complaint

Sudden, "Unprovoked Attack"

Signaling is important

Could be an instance of fear aggression

Aggressive Threats

Owners often report "Growls spontaneously", e.g. without any perceived provocation, even walking by or touching

Again, look at signaling

Physical Obstruction

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'

Again, signaling

Behaviors that may occur as part of DAS or as isolated behavior problems

Mounts legs

Guards food

Guards sleeping area

Food Guarding

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

Food Guarding-Treatment

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

Fear Aggression

Diagnosis-Aggression coupled with signals of fear and submission


Ears back/down

Tail down

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




Territorial Aggression

Dog is aggressive to non-family members that enter its territory

Territorial Aggression-Treatment

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

Practice regularly

Territorial Aggression-Treatment

Desensitize and counter-condition response to non-family members approaching and entering territory


Possessive Aggression

The dog defends specific items, but otherwise does not exhibit aggression or ritual dominance signals.

Possessive Aggression

If limited number or type of items defended, remove them.

Otherwise, desensitize and counter-condition

Protective Aggression

Do not deliberately initiate this unless you are prepared to train daily and assume responsibility for having an aggressive dog.

Protective Aggression

Command Control

Desensitization and Counter-conditioning

Predatory Aggression

Canis familiaris is a predator

Results in a number of fatalities each year, in addition to many injuries

Joggers, bicyclers, running children

Risk factors

Loose dog

History of predatory behavior

Predatory Aggression-Treatment

Prevent-Obey leash law, appropriately contain dogs

Command control

Desensitization and Counter-conditioning

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