Dog Aggression: Exploring Different Types and Solutions

Mar 3, 2023 | Dog Behaviour

Dog aggression is one of the most common behaviour problems that pet owners face. It can lead to dangerous situations for both the dog and other animals or people, which is why it is one of the major reasons why a dog may be rehomed or even euthanized. In this article, we will take a closer look at dog aggression from an ethological perspective. We will evaluate the different factors that affect dog aggression by looking at breed differences, individual animals, and owner interactions. We will also explore why dogs use aggressive behaviour, the causes and development of this type of behaviour, and methods for effective behaviour modification.

Dog aggression, image depicting two dogs showing signs of aggression like raised hackles, bared teeth

What is Dog Aggression?

Defining aggression in dogs can be a challenging affair. In an attempt to select the most comprehensive definition, it is behaviour directed towards the elimination of an offender by injuring, inflicting pain, or giving a reliable warning of such impending consequences if it takes no evasive action. Aggression can range from reliable warnings of impending damaging behaviour, such as growling and snapping, to injurious behaviours such as biting (Abrantes, 2018).

The Benefits of Aggressive Behaviour

Aggression in dogs can be viewed in the context of the development of social communication. There is little benefit to dogs engaged in conflict to fight to the death.

Ritualised behaviour has developed so that dogs can communicate their intent, negating the requirement for actual physical conflict. Aggression then becomes an indicator of a dog’s intent.

This display of aggression facilitates the formation of social bonds among dogs and promotes their ability to survive and coexist in a state of relative harmony (Laidre and Johnstone, 2013).

Types of Dog Aggression

There are multiple types of aggression that dogs can display. All aggression should be assessed in the context of the range of circumstances that induce aggression.

Here are some of the main categories of aggression in dogs:

  1. Fear aggression – dogs can become aggressive when they feel threatened or scared by a particular situation or stimulus.
  2. Resource guarding – also known as resource guarding, this type of aggression occurs when a dog is protective of their food, toys, or other items they consider valuable.
  3. Maternal aggression – female dogs can become aggressive when they are protecting their young puppies.
  4. Territorial aggression – dogs can become aggressive when they feel their territory is being threatened, such as when strangers enter their home.
  5. Redirected aggression – this type of aggression occurs when a dog becomes aggressive towards an object or person it cannot reach, redirecting its aggression towards something or someone else.
  6. Consequential aggression – when a dog becomes aggressive due to the consequences of specific behaviour, such as being scolded or punished for misbehaving.
  7. Inter-male aggression – male dogs can become aggressive towards other male dogs,
  8. Predatory aggression – dogs can become aggressive when they are hunting or chasing prey.
  9. Sex-related aggression – dogs can become aggressive during mating, especially if they are competing with other dogs.
  10. Idiopathic aggression – sometimes, aggression in dogs can be difficult to categorise and may not have an obvious trigger.
  11. Dominance aggression – dogs can utilise aggressive strategies (usually through the form of ritualised aggression) when competing with members of their species when contesting a primary resource ( food, mates, locations etc.)
  12. Canine Cognitive Decline – older dogs may develop aggression due to age-related changes in their behaviour.

Understanding Aggressive Behaviour in Domestic Animals: Prevention and Treatment

Aggressive behaviour in domestic animals can be a result of several factors, including lack of socialisation and ineffective communication skills. In this part of the article, we will discuss the importance of socialisation, how aggressive behaviour can be learned, and methods for treating aggression in domestic animals.

The Importance of Socialisation

Animals are not born with innate social skills, and therefore, they must be developed. The lack of socialisation can result in an animal’s inability to interpret social cues, leading to aggressive behaviour. This highlights the importance of socialisation (Udell and Wynne, 2008).

Dog Aggression as a Learned Behaviour

Aggressive behaviour can be viewed as a learned behaviour. This is due to the positive outcomes that result from displays of aggression. If an animal uses aggression and it works, then it is more likely to use it again. This cycle repeats and becomes reinforced every time the aggressive behaviour is rewarded (Lindsay and Voith, 2013).

Prevention and Management of Dog Aggression

Prevention and management should be the primary focus when dealing with aggressive behaviour in animals. Until an animal has undergone behaviour modification, it should not be put in situations that increase the likelihood of aggression. Keeping the animal below its threshold at all times is crucial. If an animal has a significant bite history, it is recommended to consult a qualified behaviourist and a veterinary professional for a full medical check-up.

Establishing the Target of Dog Aggression

The first step in modifying aggressive behaviour is to establish the target of aggression. Ethologically evaluating the situation helps to determine the immediate and historical conditions that result in an aggressive response. Evaluating the animal’s reaction to the offending stimulus is also essential, including any signs of displacement or calming signals.

The Impact of Arousal on Dog Aggression

When an animal sees an offending stimulus, it causes an increase in arousal levels that rise until the threshold is reached in the limbic system. The cerebral cortex, which is responsible for higher brain function, is inhibited, compromising the animal’s learning capacity. In this highly aroused state, an animal’s response is purely emotional, and the animal is unlikely to respond to an owner’s requests (Lindsay and Voith, 2013).

Techniques for Modifying Dog Aggression

Before attempting to modify behaviour, a “safe distance” must be established to ensure low arousal levels that promote high learning levels. Tools such as harnesses, muzzles and multi clip training leads can help with control and safety. It is also crucial to adhere to loose leash protocols, as pressure from the leash can increase arousal levels, increasing thresholds. Aversive tools such as prong collars, choke collars, and shock collars should never be used.

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Addressing Aggressive Behaviour in Cockapoos and other breeds

When it comes to understanding and managing aggressive behaviour in dogs, it’s essential to consider a wide range of breeds, including popular ones like the cockapoo. Many pet owners wonder, “how to stop an aggressive cockapoo” when faced with aggressive tendencies in their beloved pets. While this article primarily focuses on ethological perspectives related to dog aggression, the principles discussed can be applied to various breeds, including the cockapoo.

We’ll delve into the factors affecting dog aggression, such as breed differences, individual traits, and owner interactions, providing insights into why dogs exhibit aggressive behaviour and effective methods for behaviour modification. So, whether you own an English Springer Spaniel or a cockapoo, the principles of addressing aggression remain applicable to ensure a harmonious relationship between you and your dog.

Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning for Dog Aggression

Desensitisation involves gradual exposure to the offending stimulus at a low level to prevent an adverse reaction. Counterconditioning pairs the offending stimulus with primary reinforcement, such as food, toys, or praise, conditioning a positive emotional response that eliminates fear or aversion, negating the reason for aggressive behaviour.

Aggressive behaviour in domestic animals can be prevented and modified by following the above techniques. It is essential to consult a qualified behaviourist and a veterinary professional before starting any behaviour modification program. Understanding the root cause of aggressive behaviour is the first step towards a successful behaviour modification program.

Resources from a World Renowned Dog Aggression Expert

If you are interested in learning more about dog aggression, check out our podcast with Michael Shikashio who is a certified dog behaviour consultant and the founder of, where he helps dog owners and trainers understand and manage aggressive behaviour in dogs.

With over 25 years of experience in animal welfare and behaviour, Michael has a wealth of knowledge and insights to share with us today. In this interview, we’ll be talking about common misconceptions about aggression in dogs, the latest research and techniques for preventing and managing aggressive behaviour, and much more.

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About Me

Jim Gillies, a Certified Dog Behaviourist and Trainer in Glasgow with over 10 years of experience, prioritises canine well-being through modern, science-backed methods. Handling 4000+ cases of 1-to-1 behaviour training, Jim is fully accredited, insured, and recognised for addressing various behavioural issues including aggression, separation anxiety, and more. Jim holds qualifications in level 5 (merit) Advance Diploma Canine Behaviour Management and level 6 Applied Animal Behaviour. Explore his insightful blog and podcast, sharing expert knowledge on dog training and behaviour. Certified by the IAABC, Jim’s expertise makes him a reliable choice for addressing your dog’s needs.

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Understanding Dog Aggression – FAQ

FAQ: Understanding Dog Aggression

1. What is dog aggression?

Dog aggression is behaviour directed towards the elimination of an opponent by inflicting pain, causing injury, or warning of such impending actions.

2. Why do dogs display aggressive behavior?

Dogs display aggression as a form of social communication to avoid actual physical conflict, signaling their intent, establishing social bonds, and surviving in a group setting.

3. How is aggression classified in dogs?

Aggression in dogs can be categorised into several types, such as fear aggression, possessive aggression, maternal aggression, territorial aggression, and many others.

4. Why is socialisation important for dogs?

Socialisation helps dogs interpret social cues correctly, reducing the chances of misinterpreting signals and becoming aggressive.

5. Can aggression in dogs be a learned behaviour?

Yes, aggression can become a learned behaviour if the aggressive actions produce positive outcomes for the dog and are subsequently reinforced.

6. How can dog aggression be prevented or managed?

The primary focus should be on prevention and management by keeping the dog below its threshold and consulting a qualified behaviourist and veterinarian.

7. How do you establish the target of a dog’s aggression?

Ethological evaluation can help determine the immediate and historical situations causing aggression and assessing the dog’s reactions.

8. What impact does arousal have on a dog’s aggression?

Increased arousal can inhibit higher brain functions, making the dog respond purely emotionally and making it less likely to obey its owner.

9. Are there specific techniques to modify aggressive behavior in dogs?

Techniques include maintaining a “safe distance” for low arousal, adhering to loose leash protocols, desensitisation, and counter-conditioning.

10. Can the principles discussed in the article be applied to any breed?

Yes, while the article discusses the ethological perspectives related to dog aggression, the principles can be applied to various breeds, including the cockapoo.

11. What is desensitization and counter-conditioning?

Desensitisation involves gradual exposure to a stimulus to avoid adverse reactions. Counter-conditioning pairs the stimulus with positive reinforcement, cultivating a positive response and reducing the reason for aggressive behaviour.

12. Why should one consult a behaviorist or veterinarian for aggressive behavior in dogs?

A qualified behaviourist and veterinarian can provide insights into the root cause of aggressive behaviour and guide a tailored behaviour modification program.

13. Where to surrender an aggressive dog uk?

If you need to surrender an aggressive dog in the UK, it’s essential to contact local animal welfare organizations or authorities for guidance on the proper procedure and safe handling of the dog. Dogs Trust and RSPCA are both good options.

14. Where to surrender an aggressive dog near me?

If you need to surrender an aggressive dog near your location, reach out to local animal shelters, rescue organizations, or authorities for assistance. They can provide guidance on the appropriate steps to take.

15. Does raw meat make dogs aggressive?

The relationship between raw meat and dog aggression is a complex topic. While there is debate, it’s essential to consult with a qualified veterinarian or canine nutritionist to make informed dietary choices for your dog’s behavior and overall health.

16. Are English Bulldogs aggressive dogs?

English Bulldogs are generally not considered aggressive dogs. However, individual behavior can vary, and it’s crucial to provide proper training, socialization, and care to ensure a well-behaved and non-aggressive Bulldog.

Learn more on this topic

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