Canine Conflict Aggression

Commonly referred to as Dominance Aggression, it had become an overly used term in behavior circles. Dominance is a very normal, useful behavior in dogs. Without a clear hierarchal pattern in a social group of dogs, there will be a constant conflict over resources. A dominance pattern allows effective distribution of valued resources (food, shelter, territory and access to reproductive rights) among the members of the group. The higher ranking individuals dictate this distribution through the use of cues and signals that fall short of aggression. Only when individuals challenge the social order do aggressive displays arise. Rarely do challenges result in death to either member. This would not be productive for the overall survival of the group.

The thought was that the pet owner became the replacement social group for the dog. Conflict aggression is a newer term used in some cases where aggression is directed toward family members. It is a learned set of behaviors in which the dog has learned to use aggression as a means of achieving desired goals. This can be cessation of certain activities (petting, movement, brushing, etc.) performed by owners or to obtain resources (food, resting areas, etc.). Punishment tends to create conflict in that the dog becomes more anxious in not being certain how various encounters will turn out with owners. At times the dog may receive attention and at others, punishment. Inconsistency makes this situation worse. The key is maintaining consistency in interactions. This does not mean physical, verbal or emotional abuse in the name of assuming the "alpha position". Punishment only results in temporary control of a situation or can result in increasing aggression. There are better ways.
You control access to valued items and you can demand compliance with requests (commands) from the dog in exchange for delivery of these valued resources from you to the dog. For example:

  • All dogs should be made to assume a sit-stay or a lie-stay before receiving ANYTHING from you. This includes food, petting, attention, being taken out for a walk, play, etc. The request to sit should be reinforced initially with a food treat but later the reward will be the resource the dog is requesting.
  • Not responding to demands made by the dog. If the dog solicits attention from you inappropriately (jumps up at you, barks at you, etc.), your response should be to ignore the animal and walk away until he/she is calm. At the moment they are calm, request one time that they sit-stay and reward with a food treat. Upon complying, grant the dog the request they had made initially.
  • Consider the use of a head collar (Gentle Leader, Halti) to help gain better control of your dog's behavior and provide a more humane way of correcting inappropriate behaviors.
  • Increase exercise with increased leash walking and plenty of opportunity to utilize command-response-reward training.