Dog aggression can have many causes, many of them medical. Dogs may also become aggressive due to something they fear or mistreatment. While many dog breeds have reputations for being particularly aggressive, aggressiveness usually occurs as a result of medical problems, fear or mistreatment.
Medical Causes of Aggression in Dogs
Aggressive behavior includes any threatening or harmful behavior directed at other living things, including other dogs, cats and humans. Aggressive behavior can include snarling, snapping, biting, growling and lunging. There are more than fifty medical conditions that can cause aggressive dog behavior. Some of them are:
- Hypothyroidism, a condition in which your dog’s thyroid isn’t functioning adequately or stops functioning altogether. This results in a deficiency of the thyroid hormone, which can cause major systemic problems and alter your dog’s behavior. Hypothyroidism is easily treatable with medication.
- Neurological problems, whether congenital or acquired, may be interfering with your dog’s judgment and behavior. Head trauma, brain tumors and epilepsy can all cause aggressive dog behavior.
- Behavioral seizures occur in the region of your dog’s brain that controls aggression. Your dog may have mood swings and display sudden aggressive behavior. Breeds prone to this disorder include Springer and Cocker spaniels, bull terriers, poodles and golden retrievers.
- Pain is also a major medical cause of aggression. When dogs are in pain, especially if the pain is chronic and severe, they may feel irritable and lash out.
Non-Medical Causes of Canine Aggression
If your vet has ruled out medical conditions that may be causing your dog’s aggression, it’s time to think of behavioral causes for the aggressive behavior. Some types of behavioral aggression include:
- Dominance-related aggression is one of the most common types of canine aggression. Aggressive acts are directed towards members of the household in an attempt to establish dominance.
- Territorial aggression is directed toward outsiders who approach the dog’s territory.
- Internal aggression involves territorial or dominance disputes between adult males.
- Predatory aggression is directed toward whatever your dog might think of as his prey.
- Fear-induced aggression occurs when a frightened dog feels cornered. This can occur when you approach a frightened dog. Mistreatment can inspire fear-induced aggression. Contact with active children can also cause this type of aggression.
- Maternal aggression occurs when a Female Dog feels her puppies are threatened.
- Redirected aggression occurs when a dog that is actively being aggressive redirects his aggression to another source, such as the owner who tries to restrain a barking dog.
Treating Aggression in Dogs
If the cause of your dog’s aggression is medical, treating the underlying medical condition should solve the behavior problem. If not, a veterinary behaviorist can help you diagnose and treat your dog’s aggressive behavior.
Your behaviorist will ask a lot of detailed questions about your dog’s aggressive behavior, the circumstances surrounding it, and your reactions to it. Keep a journal of your dog’s aggressive behavior; keeping track of the following:
- The cause of the aggression
- The frequency of the behavior
- To whom it’s directed
- The specific behaviors
- Your dog’s posturing at the time
Treatment may involve behavior modification techniques, drug therapy and surgery. You may also want to employ avoidance techniques, such as using a head halter or keeping your dog confined when company comes over.