Dog aggression and children don't mix

You should step in between a child and an aggressive dog and remove the child away immediately.

Aggression is the most common behavior problem reported in dogs.

According to veterinary behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman [1], forty-two percent of dog owners report their dogs as having behavior problems of some sort.  About three times as many dogs are destroyed because they have behavior problems as die from cancer.[1]  Dog aggression is the most common behavior problem of them all.

Yet there is a prevailing attitude that there are not bad dogs, only bad owners. This attitude is often unhelpful to most owners and misguided.  People avoid talking to an expert about dog aggression because they feel they might be told they are to blame.

While it is possible to make a dog aggression situation worse [2], any dog may become aggressive and bite if it is anxious or afraid, frustrated or in pain. In addition dogs often have the instinct to protect their territory. There would have been an evolutionary basis for this, as any intruder would reduce access to food and potential mates.

There can be a genetic component that makes some dogs more predisposed to react aggressively than others. Poor socialization, or socialization that resulted in a negative experience can cause a dog to become aggressive later. Bad experiences at any time can cause dog aggression. Dogs are likely just as vulnerable to mood disorders as people are as well.  Yet most dog aggression can be improved – the majority of dogs can improve to the extent that their owners would be willing to keep them.  And yet many dog owners also avoid consulting an expert because they are afraid they will be told to put their dogs down.

Unfortunately, without treatment dog aggression does not improve. This can become a real problem if your dog bites someone has they can sue you years after the incidence. You can also lose your home owners insurance if your dog bites someone. In some areas, authorities can euthanize your dog on the spot after a biting incident.  Dog aggression can affect your life in subtler ways too, causing more stress and conflict for you and your family.  Isolating your dog can affect the well-being of your dog.

Unfortunately, due to the resurgence of “dominance theory” made popular by media dog owners are at risk for being mislead into thinking certain techniques work to improve aggression. See The World’s Worse Training Advice for dog owners and 5 Treatment Methods to Avoid. Even more concerning, dog owners are more at risk to getting bitten themselves trying to do some of these methods. Threatening, or intimidating any dog can be dangerous, much less a dog who has shown aggression in the past.

The desire for a fast fix has the tendency to overshadow the distaste people have around intimidating or bullying a dog into submission.  People find themselves wanting to do anything to fix the problem.  Treating dog aggression the right way can be challenging. At the same time, those who can commit to the effort often find they become better dog owners overall and learn about themselves in the process. It can be incredibly satisfying knowing that you are improving the life of the dog you committed yourself to caring about for the life of the dog.

If you have an aggressive dog, what can you do right now before learning about anything else? Prevent and manage the aggression so that your dog no longer has the chance to behave aggressively.  Management and prevention won’t improve dog aggression but at least you are not putting anyone else into harm’s way.

Learn more about Treating Dog Aggression

Will my dog outgrow the aggression?

Puppies may go through a biting phase that they will often outgrow.  Unfortunately in most cases, true dog aggression often escalates as the dog ages. While it may be natural to make excuses, all dogs are capable of causing serious harm. The sooner you get help with your dog’s aggression the easier it will be to help your dog live a more harmonious life with you.  Keep in mind that the behavior modification methods used to treat dog aggression are often just as beneficial for normal dogs as well.

If you are not sure whether your dog is actually aggressive or whether or not it’s a problem, check out the quiz at the bottom of the article: Is My Dog Aggressive?

You might be interested in

Can dog aggression be cured?

Keep a dog from biting

Causes of dog aggression


[1]The Dog Who Loved Too Much, Tales, Treatments, and the Psychology of Dogs, Dr. Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, MRCVS, Bantom Books, 1996

[2] Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, Karen L. Overall, M.A., V.M.D., Ph.D. Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behavior, Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Pennsylvania, Mosby, Inc. 1997

Photo credit Mr. Dtb