Introduction: Dominant Vs. Aggressive Dog: How to Differentiate

Aggression is a common problem faced by many dog owners. It is commonly misunderstood to be based in dominance. In actuality, there are various reasons that dogs can react aggressively. Most commonly these acts are based in fear or anxiety.

Step 1: Types of Aggression

Common types of aggression • Fear aggression: Many commonplace human behaviors are threatening gestures to dogs, but their reactions are often times very subtle and easily missed by most people. Anything that can cause your dog to feel distressed or uneasy can illicit an aggressive reaction. Such things include: sustained eye contact, pressure over the top of the head, lifting the dog, bending over the top of a dog, certain force-based training techniques, or trying to take something of high value away from the dog. • Territorial aggression: Dogs can react aggressively when a person comes into an area that it regards as its home. There is often a basis of anxiety in dogs that have territorial aggression. • Possessive aggression: When aggression is directed toward a person that the dog views approaching something of high value (food, toys, family members). • Redirected aggression: When the dog is frustrated by the inability to reach an object or person that elicits its aggression and instead acts aggressively toward a person that is within reach. • Dominance aggression: True dominance aggression is very rare. Most often aggressive acts are based out of another type of motivation. Usually what is assumed to be dominance aggression is actually based out of fear or anxiety.

Step 2: Watch Their Posture (Submissive)

Posture of a dog can be very telling: if your dog is fearful or submissive/aggressive watch for these signs: Fearful or submissive postures • Avoiding eye contact • Lowered head and tail • Tense body posture • Ears to the side, back or down • Horizontal lip retraction • Licking lips • Yawning • Crouched body posture • Moving slowly or freezing • Submissive urination

Step 3: Watch Their Posture (Confident)

Signs of a dominant or alpha dog: Confident postures • Sustained eye contact • Ears erect and forward • Vertical lip retraction • Placing paws on you • Tail high or a low wag • Forward-leaning body posture

Step 4: Differentiate and Determine How to Handle the Situation

Determine what triggers the aggression What is your dog’s motivation and triggers? Being aware of your dog’s body posture and language will help you identify triggers so that you can accurately determine the basis of the aggression and help your dog overcome its aggressive behavior.