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Aggression in Dogs

Aggression in Dogs

The Early Window Of Socialization

To understand canine dysfunctional aggression you need to understand factors in play when the dog was a puppy. Beginning at three weeks, when their eyes open, and lasting until fourteen weeks of age, puppies develop bonds and sensitivity to the people and animals in their life. If a puppy is not exposed to positive interaction with dogs during this period they may grow up without the skills they need to deal with other dogs. If they are not exposed to people in a positive way during this period they may never be comfortable with people. The middle of this learning window (8 weeks) is the best time to purchase a puppy.

Puppies brought to their new home at ten to twelve weeks of age may be more fearful and slower to bond with their new family. If the socialization process is delayed until the puppy is twelve weeks old or older the dog may never be relaxed or interactive with people or other dogs.

This is particularly true if the puppy has a natural shyness and fearfulness or if it is very aggressive by nature. If you do accept a puppy of this age be sure that you and your children handle it frequently and gently. Holding the puppy firmly and resisting the temptation to let go of it when it squirms to be released minimizes later aggression and dominant behavior.

A puppy’s teenage years begin when it is around 8-9 months old and ends when the pup is about 19-20 months old. Near the end of this period, there is a hormonal surge that causes dogs to become protective and territorial. Males begin to lift their leg to urinate and females enter their first heat period. This will be the time that a normal dog begins to bark at strangers and guard the family and your property. This is also the time that some dogs begin to show objectionable aggressive behavior.

Factors Influencing Aggression

Besides age at socialization, individual genetics and breed are major factors in determining aggression. Guard dogs such as Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Akitas were bred to be more aggressive than the hunting and companion breeds. Terriers were bred as ratters and still retain their urge to snap. Hormones at play in intact male dogs and in females nursing puppies both increase aggressive behavior. Excessive punishment, lack of exercise, teasing and chaining in the yard can all contribute to problem behavior.

Types Of Aggression

There are a number of types of aggression. The most common forms are fear, dominant and territorial aggression. Some dogs show fearful, possessive or intra-sexual (male to male and female to female) aggression while others have a predatory form of this trait. Most dogs have more than one type of aggression.

Dominance Aggression in dogs

The Problem:

Dominant aggressive dogs are overly protective of their possessions and status. This is a common form of aggression. These dogs tend to snarl and growl or snap when a family member approaches them near their food bowl. They attack other dogs as well as cats and farm yard animals. They often attempt to mount people’s legs. When petted, groomed or detained in any way they will growl and snap.

The first warning sign you may have a dog prone to dominant aggression is when, as a small puppy, it growls when you approach it at its food dish or toy. This is the earliest sign of dominance. As this type of dog personality grows it will attempt to take charge of the house and the decision making process. Dogs that have dominant type aggression are very confident in new situations. Dominant aggressive dogs have very distinctive body language. They stand with their heads erect and their ears bent forward. They carry their tails proudly and stare intently at strange people and pets. They stand still facing the new individual and emit a low steady growl while they curl their lips and expose their teeth. They demand to be the center of attention in all situations and must make the decision as to who does what and when. They are oblivious to commands from their owner and never heal or look to their owner for advice or reassurance. They often mark new areas. Most of these dogs are un-neutered males.

Dogs as part of the family see humans as members of their pack and attempt to establish their place in the social hierarchy by challenging more submissive family members, especially children. When dogs show dominant gestures such as growling while guarding their food dish and they aren’t scolded for this behavior, they inch up in dominance surpassing certain family members. Subtle signs of dominance often go unnoticed because we love them we explained these faults away until the dog finally bites a human who infringed on its alpha position. Owners often do not realize what occurred and think the dog bit for no reason. These dogs are often surrendered to animal shelters and are killed because their owners did not understand how aggressive behavior comes about.

The Solution:

Passive, submissive family members often have insurmountable problems correcting aggressive dogs. Obedience training is very helpful with this form of aggression but you must be willing and able to dominate the pet. The first thing to do when trying to correct this problem is to change the pecking order of the pack – in this case the hierarchy within your family. Dogs are always happier not to have to be pack leaders. The dog needs to be at the bottom of the pack. You must become the pack leader. Husbands are often more assertive than their wives. Many dogs that I see in my practice obey the husband and not the wife. To gain control of your dog you need to dominate every aspect of the dog’s life. When you play tug of war with the pup or dog; do not let it end up with the ball or rope when you are finished. When you feed the dog do not let it eat until you allow it to. Do not let dominant-prone dogs sleep in your bed or in the bedroom. Reserve that space for your family. Do not feed these dogs from the table. Instead, crate them during meals and feed them last. Neutering a young male dog can significantly decrease aggression. Neutering them later in life is much less effective. If the dog has already begun to bite owners hiring a professional dog trainer is a good idea. You need to realize that not all dogs can be cured of aggression and a trained dog may revert to its previous bad habits.

General Rules For Preventing Aggression

Puppies: Aggression ceases to be a problem when the pup becomes the lowest ranking member of the family. Once a dog accepts this social status he is well on his way to becoming a welcome addition to the family.

The first step goes back to before you purchase or accept a pup. Be sure that the breed and the individual puppy you choose are the right for your family. Sit alone in a room with the entire litter and observe them for a while. The more dominant pups will soon take charge of play activities and seek out strangers in the room. The fearful pups will be the ones that sit alone in the corner looking downcast. If you want a well behaved pet, do not choose the most dominant or the most fearful puppy. Breeds such as German Shepherds, Akitas and Rottweilers are not good breeds for timid owners. They need a family in which all members are willing to exert their authority. Lap dogs are wonderful pets but they do not like rowdy children. If you choose a shy puppy you must be willing to spend extra time coaxing it’s courage in new situations. Realize that it may never become a confident dog.

All puppies need to be handled gently, firmly and frequently between the ages of six and eighteen weeks. They should be hand-fed by all members of the family and taught to accept food slowly without snapping or lunging. They should be reprimanded or denied affection for barking or jumping up on people. Aggression-prone dogs should not be rough housed with, wrestled with or engaged in tug of war. Instead of physically punishing them one should speak to with a sharp “No” when they break the rules and then deny them affection and interaction for ten minutes.

Puppies learn good behavior from other dogs. It is good to expose them to well trained, people-friendly, non-aggressive dogs as playmates. It is amazing how quickly good behavior rubs off on misbehaving pets.

Adult Dogs:

Once a dog has assumed a dominance aggressive temperament it can be very difficult and sometimes impossible to change his outlook. Through fear, he may allow one or two members of the family to dominate him but he may never be fully trustworthy around lower ranking members of the family and children. I personally think these dogs are unhappy in their roles and long to have more assertive owners.

Adult dogs should always receive rewards for good behavior and be denied rewards for bad behavior. Normal dogs love to be petted and have their heads patted. If you have a dog that is prone to aggression or bad behavior of any kind, always have your dog sit and heel before anything good happens to him. Dogs should be taught to sit calmly before a reward or any interaction. These may not seem like important things but they help define the rules that apply to all activities that you and your pet will share. They also teach the dog that you set the rules. You must be totally consistent in your praise AND criticisms. The dog will quickly learn that a given behavior will always illicit a positive or negative response from you. Never let him win a showdown or take charge. If you give an inch they will take a mile. Praising and loving a dog spontaneously out of the blue confuses the dog. It also elevates the dog’s social status and can lead to dominance aggression. It is much better to have him sit or fetch and then give him all the praise you want. Neutering a dog in adolescence also decreases the likelihood that dominance aggression will be a problem.

You can try to alter triggers in your home that lead to outbursts of dominance aggression. For instance, if a dog growls when you approach it on the sofa make the sofa off limits to the dog. If a specific adult family member is being dominated by the dog, have them become the sole provider and care giver. During this period have other family members ignore the dog. Dogs do not dominate people on whom they MUST rely on.

Always reward these pets when they show signs of submission. These signs include laying their ears back on their heads, rolling over, sitting, avoiding eye contact and approaching with their heads lowered. Once a dog is displaying some of these activities begin slowly counter conditioning the dog to submission. This is done by getting the dog to allow you to handle its paws, hold it in a sitting or laying position and holding it’s head still. Make the dog sit before it is allowed to fetch. Praise him and give him a food treat when he cooperates and gradually increase the length of his lessons.

Dogs that are severely dominant aggressive often stubbornly resist change to their status in the family. There are professional dog trainers who will attempt to modify your behavior toward the dog and the dog’s behavior toward you. But they are not always successful or they may only be moderately successful. Rather than martyr you and your family to a long term, tense and unhappy situation, I suggest that families in this situation find another home for their pet. It is amazing how much better a dog’s behavior can be in a new home.

Fear Biting Dogs

The Problem:

These dogs are very uncertain and tentative in their actions. They are sometimes called defensive – aggressive dogs. When faced with new situations with people or dogs they avoid direct eye contact and assume a low submissive stance. They stand with their ears flat against their heads and their tails tucked between their legs. They bend their head and neck toward any individual that seeks their attention while they lick their lips. They will often roll on their backs exposing their belly. Their expression is one of profound worry. They are very fearful about being touched and shy away from being petted, stroked or brushed. At any instant they may snap and bite in fear. They strike out silently like a snake, never locking their jaws on another person or pet. They will often urinate and defecate in fear.

The Solution:

Some fear biting dogs were genetically born shy. It is highly unusual for a shy puppy to be born from gregarious, confident parents. One needs to do everything possible to build up these dogs sense of confidence. Do this with verbal praise, petting and treats. Keep in mind that an over stressed dog will not take food. Enlist your friends in this activity. In order not to get bit, begin this process with a muzzled dog. If a shy dog comes to you of it’s own free will, generally speaking, it will not bite unless a sudden movement or loud sound is made. With the dog muzzled take him wherever you go to expose him to new people and situations. Begin slowly – no more than the dog park parking lot. Keep the leash short. Stay calm and feel confident, you must lead by example. Obedience training is very helpful as well. This will help build confidence and foster positive communication.

It has been mentioned by some that a small dose of Acepromazine tranquilizer is extremely helpful in starting these dogs in their education. You can give acepromazine at 0.38mg/pound. You can pick it up at your veterinarians and give it in a food treat thirty minutes before lessons. I would recommend you do this only if needed. Try it first without it and see how it goes.

Territorially Aggressive Dogs

The Problem:

Fiercely guarding their home is common characteristic of dogs. Dogs have an innate need dominate their own real estate. As puppies grow to dogs they begin to regard the yard, the home and the car as their personal property. Territorial aggression is what gets the mailman and the meter reader bitten.

Territorial aggression is a prized attribute in guard dog breeds such as German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Akitas. If you do not want an aggressive guard dog do not purchase these breeds. Some dogs readily learn to differentiate between welcome guests and intruders but others do not. They are very good at sensing your attitude toward strangers. If you are fearful, these dogs know it and will become protective.

The Solution:

To control a territorial dog you must first dominate the dog as the leader of the pack. In wolf packs an alpha-type individual leads the pack. Becoming the pack leader is the first step in making the dog obedient to you. You set the rules and you decide who is friend and who is foe. The dog should look at you for advice when a stranger approaches. Enlist some friends to help you by approaching the house when the dog is hungry and feeding it some treats as they approach if the dog stays calm. Let your friends or willing strangers tag along on short walks with you and the dog.

Predatory Aggression:

The Problem:

Australian shepherds, Healers, Border Collies and other herding dogs have an instinctive drive to chase, worry and nip. It takes a supreme effort on their part not to apply their herding talents to children of the family as well.

The Solution:

Obedience training by every member of the family – especially the children helps correct this problem. These dogs are well intentioned, but they have a very strong natural urge to boss and herd. This can be overcome if you make the dog aware that it is an un-welcomed behavior among human. A sharp reprimand and a “no” is usually sufficient. You have to occasionally remind them of the rules. Dogs will usually not express this behavior when they are on a short leash.



If you’re a dog owner, it is imperative that you are familiar with a potentially deadly canine condition known as Bloat or GDV. Minutes count with dogs suffering from an attack of Bloat/GDV, and immediate veterinary intervention is imperative.

Bloat is a top killer of dogs. Bloat can affect any dog of any size, though it is most common in large and giant breeds with deep chests. Dogs that suffer from anxiety seem more likely to bloat. A Purdue Study suggests that the risk of Bloat was increased by 257% in fearful dogs versus non-fearful dogs. It is estimated that 60,000 dogs in the United States are affected by Bloat each year, and 33% of them die as a result.

What Is Bloat?

Bloat is an acute medical condition characterized by a rapid accumulation of gas, food, liquid or a combination of these in the stomach. This accumulation causes the stomach to Bloat; however, when the filled stomach twists, it is referred to as torsion or volvulus. Both conditions can be life-threatening. If the stomach twists, the dog can go into shock within minutes.

Classic Symptoms of Bloat:

  • Restlessness
  • Distended Belly
  • Retching
  • Unproductive Vomiting
  • Apparent Distress
  • Excessive salivation/drooling
  • Dog’s stomach feels taught, like a drum
  • Dog repeatedly turning to flank/abdomen

 Risk Factors of Bloat:

  • Many theories are out there with no definitive conclusions as to causes
  • Most widely recognized cause – anatomical (deep-chested dogs)
  • Having a first-degree relative that has suffered a bloat episode
  • Extremely stressed or fearful dogs
  • Dogs that eat rapidly
  • Dogs that are fed only one large meal per day
  • Dry dog foods that contain high levels of fat

General Suggestions:

  • Do not exercise your dog 90 minutes before or after a meal
  • Feed a high-quality dog food
  • Feed your dog 2-3 smaller meals per day instead of 1 large meal
  • Do not get a dog with a first-degree relative that has bloated
  • Be aware of the early signs of Bloat
  • Know in advance where 24-hour emergency vet care is and know how to get there
  • If you notice symptoms of bloat during the night, don’t wait till morning to get veterinary help. Bloat is an emergency!

Talk to your veterinarian if you have any questions about Bloat/GDV.


Canine Sibling Rivalry

Canine Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry, or fighting amongst dogs inside the same household, usually stems from either normal competitiveness amongst dogs of similar age, sex and development, or adolescent dominance struggles, or both. Fights among siblings can sometimes seem severe with blood drawn, etc. However, when the animals are close in age and similar in temperament, (i.e. not willing to give in) these fights can go on and on making the owner’s nerves wear thin. If no serious damage is being done, interference can actually make the problem worse, especially if that interference favors one of the dogs involved. These struggles are best allowed to work themselves out. If the fighting is constant, use obedience to enforce time-outs:

  1. At the start of the fight use a startle to get the dogs attention and then under obedience take the combatants to separate places and enforce long stays, up to a half hour or more. This will teach the dogs that fighting results in long boring stays.
  2. When the dogs are calm, allow them to be released with the OK command. If another fight ensues, use the same strategy: startles followed by long stays.
  3. Above all, if a battle ensues, stay calm. Do not yell and get hysterical as that is not the sign of a leader.
  4. Do not assert dominance physically by rolling them over. Instead use obedience and long stays to assert your control. Physical dominance like the alpha-roll only makes the dog want to challenge you more, not less.

Competitiveness among siblings can make the dominance fights more frequent and more severe.  Dogs compete for scarce resources but also will compete for resources the other dog possesses (dominance related, called ritual displays of dominance – taking away possessions from another pack member). This means you can have 40 rawhide bones around and the brother wants the one the sister has. To take it away signifies higher pack position. This complicates life tremendously because it means anytime you play with them they will compete for toys.


  1. Implement the No Free Lunch program with both dogs. No free affection for which the dogs can compete over. Use obedience to regiment their lives for a while to assert your position. Do not allow yourself to become a possession they can fight over.
  2. Remove all toys from common areas. No rawhides or real bones allowed for any reason.
  3. Use obedience for exercise and stimulation. Play with each dog separately. Put one in a sit stay or down stay and enforce it while you work with the other dog. This is best accomplished by back-tying the one to a post or fence to ensure he holds his position.
  4. Now switch the dogs and continue.
  5. Feed separately at first and then use lots of obedience when you re-attempt to feed them in the same room. Use stay before releasing them to eat. Do not allow them to go to each other’s bowls. If they try, reprimand and lead them back to theirs. Keep leashes attached if necessary.

This is a complex problem. In general, you must exercise the heck out of them. The more tired they are, the less they will fight. 20-40 minutes of aerobic exercise a day is recommended depending on the breed. Train them and then use the training to enforce your will. If you do have to break up a squabble, always support the presumed dominant dog. If you feel sorry for the underdog and intervene on his behalf, you are going against the social structure dogs understand. You must always support the dominant dog. There is no morality in what they do and supporting the pack order leads to clear understanding of who is in charge. Supporting the lower ranking dog will only increase the fighting and also increase it when you are not around. If one dog is clearly dominant, always feed and pay attention to him or her first.



The biggest complaint we hear from people is “My dog doesn’t come when he is called.”  Teaching your dog to respond to the “Come” command immediately and consistently is important not only for your dog’s safety but also allows you to give your dog more freedom.

The mistake we make: People often inadvertently train their dog to NOT come when called. Dogs are creatures of habit. If you often call your dog to come, having no way of enforcing it, and you repeat the command over and over, your dog has learned that “Come” means “Please come to me when I have nothing better to do.” When your dog finally does come, you are annoyed and angry and he gets yelled at. So now your dog learns that coming to you is not fun and he gets in trouble. We often use the “Come” command when we are going to do something the dog doesn’t like, such as end his playtime, leave for work, clip toenails, go to the vet, or put them in a crate. It is any wonder why our dogs don’t come when we call them?

Making your dog want to come to you: If your dog has been through our basic training program, he knows that “Come” means approach us and directly sit. However, as strange as this may seem, once you are out of his eyesight, he may not understand what you want him to do when you say “Come.” You can enforce and advance his understanding of this command with the following games. Start with a hungry dog and a quiet household. Cut up some especially good treats. Get some friends and family involved. Make these games short (five minutes or less) so your dog won’t get bored.  Leave him wanting more!

One-person game: Start with your dog on a leash.  Show him the treats, back up a few steps and say “Come.” When he comes, he should sit automatically. If necessary, give him the “Sit” command. Once he is sitting, praise and give him a treat. Repeat this a few times.  Now drop the leash and do a few more repetitions. If he is performing well without you holding the leash, start moving further away before saying “Come.”  Eventually, run from room to room playing this game. Your dog will learn to come to you when he can’t see you and will begin to look forward to hearing your command “Come!”  Once your dog has mastered this game inside, start practicing outside using a long line for safety.

Multi-person game: Play a round Robin game with your dog. Start with two people (both with a handful of treats) on opposite sides of the room. Person #1 calls the dog to come. When the dog comes and sits, the person praises and treats the dog. Then person #2 has a turn. Eventually, the two people move further and further away from one another, running from room to room. Again, your dog will love this game and will learn that “Come” means come to the person who has called him.

Using a long line: Use a 15-foot long leash or rope to work with your dog outside. At first, play the above games with him, and then try the “Come” command when he is distracted. If he doesn’t respond, give a tug and release on the long line and give the command again. If necessary, reel him in. Always praise and reward him for coming, even if you corrected him. Immediately release him with “OK” and let him go back to what he was doing. He will learn that coming when called doesn’t end playtime.

Eventually, we want our dogs to come to us with no food reward, no matter how distracted they are. Teaching them that “Come” means something good will pay off in an emergency situation. When you are training the “Come” command initially, and you need to do something your dog doesn’t like, don’t use the “Come” command, just go get him if possible.

The biggest mistake almost all people make is using their dog’s name to reprimand or scold. Our dogs always hear, “Sumo! NO!” Then when we say, “Sumo, Come!” He won’t come because he associates his name with being reprimanded and punished. This is why we only use a dog's name to praise them, “Good boy Sumo!” or issue an enthusiastic, “Sumo, Come!” with plenty of praise as they are coming to us. Now, their name always represents praise and affection. When reprimanding, simply say, “No” and never yell their name angrily.

If you ever issue a “Come” command, and your dog doesn’t comply, you can’t reprimand him. If you do, the next time you issue the “Come” command, your dog will assume he is in trouble, just like the last time. If you want your dog to perform the “Come” command during distractions, which is when we really need this command to work, please consult one of our trainers to assist you in distraction-proofing your dog’s obedience. 

Bringing Home a New Puppy

Bringing Home a New Puppy

This article is not a step by step guide to house training. This is a practical, natural approach to introducing a dog into your home the right way to maintain your rank. Many people have delusions of grandeur when bringing home a new puppy. They think it will be all hugs and kisses and the dog will magically respond to all of our human thoughts and wishes as if their mother warned them that they would need to start thinking like a human and immediately understand our complex nature. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way and humans are experts at misinterpreting what our dogs are saying. It is a lot of work living with a puppy and I have seen many determined owners crack under the pressure. However, bringing home a new puppy is where it all begins and this is your golden opportunity to clearly establish rank for a fun and healthy life with your dog. This includes establishing our rank, their rank, what is acceptable behavior and what is not. A proper beginning can determine how submissive your dog is to you and your family. A proper beginning translates to the overall stability of your dog, plain and simple.

The first mistake owners make is giving too much affection without asking the puppy to earn it. In the canine world, earning does not always equate to a physical challenge, it can also mean a mental challenge. This is done by asking the puppy to patiently wait before rewarding them. This includes affection, food, toys, coming out of their kennel and being greeted by you or a guest. If done properly, your dog will learn that the key to getting what he wants is to be patient and polite. If you give in to your dog’s assertive attempts to get what they want, you will be nurturing the very state of mind that gets dogs re-homed and euthanized. This being an excited, dominant state of mind. This is where your dog is under the assumption that he is the boss and his rules are to be obeyed. When they aren’t, it results in barking, jumping, whining, growling and biting. In other words, a temper tantrum. When you ask a dog to calmly wait, you are asking them to accomplish the same state of mind they give their leader when he is eating. Patience in the presence of the most valuable resource there is…food. When your dog can sit and wait patiently for anything they really love, that is total respect and a stable mental state. Teaching your dog self-control is a big deal. Start them off early practicing this concept with your family.

Secondly, it is imperative that you represent an authoritative presence before representing the cool aunt. Just like in the military on your first day of boot camp, you won’t get any warm greetings or pats on the back. If your drill sergeant walked over to you concerned about your emotional state, would you respect him? Would you respect his orders if he became your best buddy and playmate? Is that being a good leader? No. That is why for three months, your drill sergeant represents authority and nothing else. However, at the end of boot camp, you get a salute and a hand shake. Now you can be buddies because you are clear about your rank and his. You have earned respect. Feeling sorry for a dog or constantly giving free affection is a low energy and not how a leader behaves. Your dog knows what true leadership feels like and looks like. He will manipulate you to no end.

Most dog owners tell me they just want their dog to be happy. Providing leadership and discipline is the greatest gift you can give any dog. The irony is that by being an effective leader you are unlocking your dog’s natural submissive state. This state of mind earns him the praise and affection that he craves. There is no limit to the amount of hugs and kisses, or any kind of reward, you can give to a calm dog. This is not about withholding rewards, it’s about controlling them. Start strict but fair and your dog will respect you and your rules. You will have a happy, well-balanced dog that is clear about his rank, and yours.


Born to Lead Dog Training
Dog Training in Raleigh NC
Ryan Douglas Head Trainer

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