Dogs are known to engage in many forms of aggression, I will be discussing protective aggression today. Even though this type of aggression is not classified as being predatory, it has some similarity to the behaviour exhibited by some wolves or coyotes when they have just brought down prey. This type of anger is triggered by the arousal of fear or anxiety and has been observed in any animal from house pets, like dogs, cats and small animals like hamsters and mice to large mammals such as cows and buffalo.
Protective aggression occurs when an animal suffers a threat either from an unfamiliar person approaching its territory or from its owner initiating touch that the pet views as a form of attack. It can occur when a dog is unsure of the intentions of a human approaching its territory, or when it senses that its owner is planning to attack. In either case the dog will aggressively respond. If not mistaken for an attack by another animal, the dog may simply choose to flee from the perceived threat.
The first documented use of protective aggression as a topic of research was in 1939. This was known as the Frustration–aggression hypothesis. This research was done by John Dollard, Neal Miller, Leonard Doob, Orval Mowrer, and Robert Sears.
In order for protective aggression to be exhibited first and foremost, a threat must have occurred in order to trigger an unexpected emotional response. The dog must also be able to still recognize that the threat is still present. The last requirement for protective aggression to be displayed is for the dog is a way of expressing this aggression, whether it be through vocalizations, physical action, or both.
Anatomical studies have shown that there are specific parts of the brain involved in the expression and display of aggressive behaviour in dogs. For example, the pre-frontal cortex plays a major role in identifying threats as well as in distinguishing between dangers that are real and those that are perceived. This part of the brain can also put differences between when an attack should occur and when it should not. The pre-frontal cortex is activated by the limbic and paralimbic parts of the brain, which trigger the release of hormones that interact with this part of the brain to produce an aggressive response, this regulates emotions such as anger, fear, sadness and stress. The emotional state triggered by these hormones then is expressed through a change in behaviour.
Causes of Protective Aggression
It has been determined that there are environmental factors that can influence a dog’s likelihood for displaying protective aggression or other forms of aggression. One such factor is early experience during socialization periods. Puppies can develop various forms of aggression if they do not have enough exposure to positive interactions with humans between about three and fourteen weeks old. If a puppy has limited or no experience with people, different forms of aggression may be developed during this time.
It has also been observed that dogs living in smaller households with less human contact are more likely to exhibit aggression than dogs living in larger homes. In addition, it is believed that the smaller the dog, the more prone it is to exhibit this type of behaviour. This can be seen on a biological level because since there are more humans in large households, it is seen as more advantageous for small dogs to not display aggressive behaviour whereas larger breeds have a better chance of successfully guarding their territory from other animals and people.
Another factor that increases the likelihood for a dog to develop protective aggression is fear or anxiety. It is thought that when dogs feel threatened, they react by displaying aggression because it is their only way of protecting themselves. This can result in not only more aggression being displayed but a build-up of stress and anxiety within the dog that can lead to a variety of medical problems if left untreated.
Signs of Protective Aggression
Dogs are able to develop protective aggression from an early age. At birth, puppies are very impressionable and depend heavily on learning proper behaviours. As a puppy grows, it will learn many things including how to interact with people and different animals when it comes time to interact with other animals in a defensive situation or when it encounters something new or unfamiliar. It will not develop proper skills on its own, so if a puppy is under constant stress and/or has limited interaction with humans, this can negatively affect the dog’s ability to develop “normal” behaviour. In addition, it is thought that the more aggressive and violent an animal is in general, the more likely it will be to display protective aggression.
Dogs may express signs of arousal during their response to a threat or stranger. These signs include vocalizations such as growls, whines, or other sounds as well as behaviours like humping and sniffing. It is not uncommon for a dog to display other forms of aggression during this phase or even after they retreat from the perceived threat.
Type of Protection Aggression
Protective aggression varies significantly depending on the breed of dog, and the relationship between the dog and its owner or any humans and animals in general. Not all dogs respond to threats with aggressive behaviour. Dogs that exhibit this type of behaviour are expressing a deep fear born from anxiety caused by a perceived threat. Protective aggression has a different purpose than other types of aggressive behaviours displayed by dogs. For example, dogs sometime show dominant aggression when their young are threatened or display territorial aggression when they feel as though their territory has been invaded.
Unprovoked aggression in dogs is best characterized as a complex problem that is rooted in aggression for self-protection and/or fear. The anxiety levels of the dog play a role in what a dog will and will not do when it feels threatened. It is important to note, however, having a dog that can exhibit protective aggression does not mean that the animal will always feel compelled to use aggressive behaviour if threatened. They still must be able to recognize the threat before exhibiting this form of behaviour.
At times, a dog may seem calm, one who is still fully aware and in control of its environment, even if it does not express any form of arousal. It will use a combination of body signals and vocalizations such as growling or humping to communicate its feelings to the aggressor without having to actually meet aggression with aggression.
Dogs also have ways of communicating with one another by using body language and vocalization that can range from submissive behaviour all the way up to an all-out attack. Dogs that are still young or inexperienced in different environments will rely on body language and vocalization to convey their feelings and intentions. On the other hand, adult dogs with more experience will display more control over their bodily signals and over what they say to one another.
When a dog exhibits protective aggression, this is a form of behaviour that is not initiated by any one person or animal, but rather by the dog itself. This behaviour is usually observed during times when the dog feels threatened but does not have an aggressive attitude towards any individual. It demonstrates warning signs that can be measured by evaluating levels of arousal such as trembling or panting before a potential threat occurs and growling or barking right before the act of aggression takes place.
In addition, the dog will show signs of intense aggression such as growling, biting and spraying or spraying urine in order to ward off the aggressor. This is a form of protective behaviour that can be seen during an abundance of situations that include boredom, separation anxiety and a host of other motivating factors. Some dogs may also exhibit this behaviour after being hit or hurt in some fashion.
This form of behaviour is usually learned at a very young age. Dogs that have been bred for or rescued from certain situations will often exhibit this type of behaviour even before they are fully grown or matured. Dogs that have experienced family violence, physical abuse or neglect may also exhibit this behaviour. It is important to note that aggression can be displayed in various contexts and learning experiences can modify the way in which this aggression is displayed so that it may not always be aimed towards the same target.
Common Indicators of Aggression in Dogs
One common way that owners can identify the presence of aggression in their dogs is when they display strange behaviours such as snarling at unfamiliar dogs or growling and snapping at their own family members. An eye-to-eye stare or baring teeth are also considered signs that may indicate the presence of aggression.
If your dog is showing signs of aggression, there are steps you can take to prevent it from becoming dangerous or put down at the shelter. Here are some noticeable behaviour changes.
If your dog has been indoors all day, this is a cause for concern. If she is too nervous to go outside, this could mean that she feels trapped inside. A healthy option for both you and your dog is to take it out for walks and jogs, ensure your dog is comfortable while you are talking a walk or jog around the neighbourhood, as you are going out of their comfortable zone.
When left alone for long periods of time can easily stress out a dog. If you cannot be around your dog to comfort it when you are away, the next best thing is giving her a stuffed animal or other toy that smells like you. You do not have to leave the item with your dog permanently; just bring it out every now and then so that your dog can take comfort in its familiar smell whenever she needs it most.
If dogs are important family members, they should have access to the same comforts and luxuries as everyone else in the household. If you are not able to provide your dog with quality things like a squeaky toy, this is a cause for concern. A dog that has not been provided with any toys or treats will usually show signs of stress.
Dogs show their stress in many different ways, so it is important to look for the types of stress that they experience most often. If dogs display signs of anxiety, this usually indicates that they feel stressed because they did not get enough attention, exercise, or mental stimulation.
It is important to look out for signs that could indicate that your dog feels overstimulated because it is being trained to do something new or has been presented with a strange situation. These are signs indicating that your dog may just need a break or some down time.
Dog can become easily stressed when they do get enough exercise or mental stimulation. Always rewards your dog for their good behaviour. They usually feel most rewarded by food. It is a good idea to give your dog lots of healthy treats and high-quality veterinary food.
Some dogs may develop anxiety if they think one of the family members is leaving. If you are gone for long periods of time, try leaving her with another family member or with a pet sitter.
Dogs feel a certain level of loyalty to their owners just like people do. If your dog gets scared and feels very comfortable in its surroundings, it means that it is not comfortable enough with the environment that you have been providing for them.
Dog owners must make sure that they understand the difference between the types of aggression and how to handle them appropriately. Always be responsible for all of your dog’s actions, that includes picking up their droppings, but that’s another story for another time.
Provide plenty of attention and exercise to keep them away from situations that may trigger aggression and prevent any accidents from taking place. Be aware of your dog’s personality. Always observe your dog’s behaviour and interaction with others in order to know what they will respond to positively.
It is the owner’s job to guide the dog so that it knows how to react appropriately and behave in a way that won’t get them into trouble.