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Different Types of Dog Aggression

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

All dogs have some sort of aggression in them. Just like we humans have. Not all aggression is the same however. Let's have a look at the different types out there.

Different types of dog aggression

Dog aggression. It's a much discussed topic on many forums and there are a lot of different viewpoints on it.

Currently I'm reading a really good book that puts it into clear and easy to understand perspectives which I'd like to share with you over the next series of posts. You may read something and recognize your own dog in it.

Dogs are among the most social of species. They would happy be around being they are bonded with 24 hours a day.

𝐖𝐡𝐞𝐧 𝐢𝐭 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐞𝐬 𝐭𝐨 𝐝𝐨𝐠𝐬 𝐰𝐡𝐨 𝐝𝐨𝐧'𝐭 𝐝𝐨 𝐰𝐞𝐥𝐥 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐝𝐨𝐠𝐬 and the types of dog aggression 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐬𝐨𝐦𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐨𝐧 𝐫𝐮𝐥𝐞 𝐨𝐮𝐭𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐚𝐜𝐜𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐭 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐛𝐮𝐥𝐤 𝐨𝐟 𝐜𝐚𝐬𝐞𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐬𝐞 𝐚𝐫𝐞:

  • Dogs that come on too strong. They appear hyper-motivated and have coarse social skills. When this type presents along with an impoverished play history they are referred to as 'Tarzan'.

  • Dogs that are sensitive to proximity of other dogs. They may present with frank fearfulness or more subtly, as asocial animals that get snappy if a dog gets too close or makes social connections.

  • Dog - Dog Resource Guarding

  • Harassment such as bullying or 'hazing' of other dogs

  • Play skills deficits - Dogs that play but lack some of the features of normal play, causing frequent tip-overs of their play into fighting.

  • Strong genetic pre-disposition to compulsively fight.

Two dogs and a big bal. One dog trying to go for the other one.

There are many dogs who lack the sufficiency of experience meeting, greeting and interacting with other dogs. These can present in 2 ways: tarzans or proximity sensitivity.

Think of a human who has been raised without being around other people until 18 years old. Imagine him at a cocktail party. Standing too close, walking right up to people, slapping them on the back, failing to read subtle cues, drinking other people's drinks. Soon someone is going to get really fed up with that and it'll lead to a fight.

The dog equivalent has huge interest in other dogs, but lacks social grace.

𝗛𝗼𝘄 𝗱𝗼𝗲𝘀 𝗮 𝗧𝗮𝗿𝘇𝗮𝗻, 𝗯𝗲𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗲 𝗮 𝗧𝗮𝗿𝘇𝗮𝗻?

A puppy is collected from his litter and because of disease risk isn't let out of the house until properly vaccinated which, depending on your vet, is 3, 4 or 5 months old.

The owner then starts walking Tarzan and encountering the occasional dog on leash.

the pup's intense excitement, sudden non responsiveness to the owner and pulling on leash will make you feel out of control.

The owner starts avoiding dogs, choking up on the lead and jerking the pup around.. attempting to discipline the dog in the precense of other dogs.

Now, the dogs motivation is increased! Partly through deprivation and partly through leash frustration: being rarely able to approach and investigate other dogs he sees.

When he DOES make contact: his excitement and inexperience cause him to make social no-no's. He's too much in another dogs face or fails to read their body language. Occasional scuffles result.

Owner is now even more alarmed and now this escalates to avoiding dogs all together and more control and punishments.

Tarzan's motivation to meet other dogs is now OFF the charts and the skills haven't improved. Now he's bigger and older too.. and here's the kicker: a growing association of other dogs with frustration, punishment and a tense owner.

This spiral continues until Tarzan is frankly aggressive to other dogs, even off leash. The combination of limited experience, hyper-motivation, few or no off leash opportunities, leash frustration and a conditioned response to seeing other dogs = punishment and tense owner are usually present.

A mastiff dog looking concerned giving whale eye

Not all dogs who lack experience around other dogs become Tarzan's though. Other dogs become socially shy.

This can present in a few different ways:

1. obvious fear and avoidance of other dogs.

2. Pro active lunging, barking and snapping displays that stop once the other dog is far enough away.

3. Asocial dogs seemingly disinterested in other dogs until the other dog gets too close or makes a social move. THEN threat signals such as growling, snarling, snapping or outright fighting happen. (''He's fine as long as other dogs don't get in her face'').

𝙃𝙤𝙬 𝙙𝙞𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙚 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙚?

They have some common elements with Tarzan histories, especially the no playing... but the problem develops more silently.

In the beginning your dog might seem like a model dog when around other dogs. No pulling on leash or becoming agitated.

This is where you find where the dog is forced to socialise and 'sudden' aggression occurs, catching you completely off guard.

The dog may be presented as 'Fine with many or must dogs, but aggressive with some' or 'unpredictable'.

However; what may have escaped the owner is that the dog was never fine with any dogs.. but rather just barely holding it together.

Over time pro active lunging may start occuring too as the dog learned that displays works to avoid dogs coming any closer to him.

If a dog has had limited relationships with other dogs, no play history and is intolerant of nearly all dogs that get too close we can assume it's likely a proximity sensitive dog.

Don't confuse this with dogs who are getting a bit older. It's normal they get less playful, less tolerant and more selective about who they want to be around with, just like adults like or dislike certain people, dogs have the same.

If your dog has a history of lots of play and good relationships and now your dog, in adulthood, has started to play less and be more selective and behave aggressively during interactions with certain dogs who come on too strong it's probably not shyness.

Best action there is to normalise this behaviour to the owner, so you don't start punishing the dog, which could over a long term, result in actual deterioration of social skills (because punishment will get associated with dogs at some stage).

Two bull terriers playing intensely

For some dogs, roughness and harassment during play of non consenting dogs is reinforcing. They engage in it at full tilt, with escalating frequency and almost always direct it at designated target dogs. This can be enormously distressing for target dogs, as well as for humans witnessing it.

This particularly happens at dog parks. Be mindful.. a dog relentlessly chasing another dog is not 'cute'.

Two dogs playing a bit too wildly

Sometimes when 2 dogs are playing, the play becomes too intense and tips over into a fight (again, what you see a lot in dog parks).

One of the reasons for this can be a lack of (or complete absence) of role reversals. There has to be a give and take. One dog bites the other and then other way around. One dog chases, then the other dog chases.

When this doesn't happen one dog starts repeating the same thing relentlessly and often with increasing intensity. The other dog's attempts to move on to something else or get his playmate to dial it down a notch are ignored. Irritation, self defense or fighting can ensue.

Certain dogs are prone to tipping over, but unlike bullies, a dog with play skill deficit does not target a specific dog and often play starts off normally but then deteriorated. .

In contrast to a Tarzan type, a dog with play skill deficit does not improve with carefully organised off leash socialization. Meet & Greets may be normal, the problem happens as play heats up.

One dog resources guarding a bone from a puppy

Many well socialized and friendly dogs will threaten or bite if approached while eating or while in possession of a highly prized object such as a bone, pig's ear, their owner, a stick, a stolen piece of laundry etc.

Some dogs may guard sleeping locations such as their bed or get growly if you want to move them off the sofa. This can be directed at humans, dogs or both.

Dog to dog resource guarding is very common and can crop up in multi-dog households where the dogs are deeply bonded to each other, between dogs who are well acquainted and between perfect strangers. Little dogs can guard from big dogs and young dogs can guard from old dogs.

In a natural environment, this would be a highly valued trait. Sharing isn't a good advantage in the wild. Think of documentaries with lions and wolves and the aggression you see around a feed.

Whilst resource guarding is a big issue, the first step in preventing in house dog fights is ensuring both dogs have a safe, quiet and private space to eat their food or high value treat.

A dog growling and baring his teeth

Hate to break it to you, but it's not always ''all about how they are raised''.

Just as dogs can be selectively bred for exaggerated stalking (for herding) or pointing (for hunting), dogs can be bred for increased aggressiveness to other dogs.

Soure: Fight - Jean Donaldson

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