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Understanding the Causes of Canine Aggression

Understanding Canine Aggression

What is Canine Aggression?

There are many reasons why a dog can become aggressive. Sometimes, the level of aggression a dog exhibits may have to do with its breed. 

To see the list of breeds, which have been deemed dangerous for their breed reputation, visit our “Common Dangerous Dog Breeds” page. In cases where a dog’s temperament issues stem from its genetic makeup, there is no real cure for aggressive behavior. 

When it comes to these dogs, instinct will always prevail. Other causes of aggression can include disease, injury, or discomfort.

Since all dogs have a tendency to be aggressive at some point in their life, you can take steps to curb that aggression. Working with a trainer and understanding signals from your dog can be very helpful. Aggression triggers can then be avoided and hopefully will not lead to a dog bite.

Aggression Caused by Medical Conditions

The following is a list of diseases or illnesses, which can cause aggression in dogs:

  • Hypothyroidism: A condition in which the thyroid gland produces less of the hormone than normal. It is the most common hormonal disorder in dogs and usually develops between the ages of 4 and 10.
  • Neurological Problems: Neurological issues can develop in dogs as a result of an injury or illness. Perception and judgment may be affected, causing aggression. Examples of neurological problems in dogs include:
  • Hydrocephalus – A disease resulting in excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the ventricular system (fluid-filled spaces) of the brain. This causes surrounding brain tissue to become thinned or compressed.
  • Encephalitis – Inflammation of the brain caused by either a bacterial or viral infection.
  • Head trauma – Either a blunt or penetrating injury to the head. The most common cause of head trauma to dogs is motor vehicle accidents. Swelling or bleeding of the brain will affect the dog’s proper functioning, leading to aggression.
  • Brain tumors – Tumors that form on the brain, caused by many known and unknown factors.
  • Epilepsy – Two types occur in dogs: Idiopathic Epilepsy, which is when there is no known cause, and it is assumed that the condition is inherited. Secondary Epilepsy is when a specific cause for the seizures can be determined. Dogs are most often aggressive in the post-seizure phase.

Behavioral Seizures

Partial seizures, which occur in the region of the brain that controls aggression (hypothalamus or limbic system), can result in sudden unprovoked aggression in your pet. The signs of this type of aggression are as follows:

  • A sudden mood change right before the occurrence of the seizure.
  • Sudden violent aggression for no reason.
  • Signs of autonomic discharge.
  • Aggressive posture continuously during the seizure and possibly lasting from as little as several minutes to hours or even days.

There are several breeds, which are known for this type of aggression including springer spaniels, cocker spaniels, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, golden retrievers, bull terriers, and poodles. Veterinarians can run a battery of tests to determine the exact medical cause for aggression in dogs.

Instinctive and Genetic Aggression

How Does Instinct and Genetics Affect Aggressive Behavior in Dogs?

Aggressive behavior in dogs is a serious problem. It can lead to injury and even death. There are many factors that can lead to aggression in dogs, but instinct and genetics are the two most important ones.

Instinct is an innate tendency to react aggressively when confronted with a threat or challenge. Genetics refers to the inherited traits from their parents that influence the dog’s behavior and temperament.

The instinct and genetics of a dog will dictate how aggressive they are, but there are other factors as well, such as socialization, training and early experiences with humans that also play a role in aggression levels in dogs.

Other types of aggression are behavioral and often due to instinct. They are as follows:

  • Dominance-related aggression: This is the most common type of aggression in dogs. The aggressiveness is directed towards one or several family members or other household pets. Dogs are pack animals and are related to humans as pack members.
  • Territorial aggression: This type of aggression is directed towards approaching animals or people who are outside of their pack (outside of the dog’s household). Dogs display this type of aggression in defense of their area (home, room, yard), owner, or pack member.
  • Inter-male Aggression: Aggression between adult male dogs involving territorial or dominance disputes.
  • Inter-female Aggression: Aggression between adult female dogs living in the same household.
  • Predatory aggression: Aggression that is directed towards anything that the dog considers to be its prey. This usually includes other species but sometimes can include any type of quick-moving stimuli such as a car or bicycle.
  • Pain-induced aggression: Aggression that is directed towards the person or item that has caused the animal pain. Examples include when a person attempts to touch a painful area or when shots are given.
  • Fear-induced aggression: Aggression, which is directed towards a person when trying to approach the fearful dog. This type of aggression is common in situations where the dog is cornered or cannot escape or when being severely punished by its owner. Unpredictable children can also cause this type of aggression.
  • Maternal aggression: Aggression that is directed towards any person or animal that approaches a mother dog with puppies.
  • Redirected aggression: This type of aggression occurs when a dog redirects its aggression from one source to another. A common example of this is a dog barking at the door but then redirects its aggression on its owner who is holding him/her back.

Can Canine Aggression Be Cured?

It’s dangerous to think that you can cure canine aggression on your own unless you are highly qualified to evaluate and train aggressive dogs.

A plan with your vet along with modification behavior is the best bet to reel in bad behavior.  Rewarding good behavior can help reinforce the dog’s actions, especially with lots of praise, affection and treats.

Remember, aggression is a behavior problem so it needs a consistent multi-pronged approach – typically training, therapy and possibly medication.

Dogs that have been abused are especially vulnerable to aggression. They’ve been betrayed by humans and many have suffered horrendous abuse.  It will take a lot of patience to help abused dogs with aggression issues.

TheOnlineDogTrainer has a information on calming your dog and has been highly successful.

How Can You Treat a Dog with Aggression Issues?

There are many reasons why dogs might behave aggressively. Some of the most common reasons include territoriality, fear, and pain. Aggressive dogs can be a serious threat to humans and other animals alike. In order to deal with this issue, it is important to understand the dog’s behavior and what might have caused it.

Aggression can also be caused by anxiety or frustration. Aggressive behaviors in dogs are not normal and you should consult your veterinarian if you think your dog may have aggression issues.

Your vet will be able to identify the cause of the aggression and prescribe medication to help manage it.

In people, aggression is a form of behavior that involves an intent to harm another person. In animals, aggression is most often used as a means of self-defense.

Some aggressive behaviors are

  • swatting at or biting an intruder
  • growling and baring teeth at another animal
  • defending their territory from another animal

Aggressive behaviors in dogs can be caused by a number of things such as pain, fear, territorial issues, or anxiety. Some dog behaviours may include growling and baring teeth at an intruder.

Communication is vital in order for dogs to live harmoniously with each other and their humans. In the wild, dogs communicate with one another through body language and sound, but when raised as a pet they have no need for this in day-to-day life.

However, they still use it in certain situations such as competition or during playtime. For example, by nudging another dog that may be playing too roughly or by putting their head down.

Canine Ladder of Aggression

The Ladder of Aggression is a behavior modification technique for dogs that is based on the principles of operant conditioning.

It was developed by Dr. Sophia Yin to help prevent and reduce aggressive behavior in dogs. The Ladder of Aggression is a list of behaviors and consequences, which are ranked from least to most intense, with the least intense behaviors listed at the top and the most intense behaviors listed at the bottom.

If your dog displays an undesirable behavior, you can use this ladder to decide which consequence will be most effective in reducing or eliminating this behavior.

The Ladder of Aggression for dogs was created by  by combining the principles of operant conditioning and learning theory.

The creator wanted to provide a tool that owners and caregivers could use to prevent or reduce aggressive behavior in dogs, with clear guidelines for what may be most effective at different intensities of punishment.

The ladder is divided into five levels, each more intense than the one before it: Level 1: Ignore Level 2: Down Level 3: Correct and so on.

Canine ladder of aggression

How to Evaluate Your Dog’s Level of Aggression?

The Ladder of Aggression is a simple and efficient way to evaluate your dog’s level of aggression. It is not a test, it is an evaluation.

1. Does your dog growl?

2. Does your dog bark at you?

3. Does your dog snap at you?

4. Does your dog bite you?

5. Stiffens up at people?

6. Ears back, stalking you or others?

7. Evadiance – turns head away?

8. Repeatedly yawning at you or others? 

Legally Speaking: If you are bitten by a dog

If you have been injured in a dog attack, please contact an experienced dog bite attorney. We are passionate in our pursuit of justice and fair compensation for severely and catastrophically injured clients. We have handled many dog attack cases for both children and adults.

Since California is very clear on dog bites, chances are you have a case. It is rare that a person is not held liable for dog bite cases in California, whether it took place on or off their own premises. Dog bite compensation varies depending on how severe the injuries are. Many dog bite victims end up with permanent scars. To learn more call us for a free legal consultation at (800) 561-4887.

Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, LLP

1301 Dove St. STE 120, Newport Beach, CA 92660

(800) 561-4887

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