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Not All Aggression Is the Same

By Robin Tierney

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What are the different types of aggression and how can you tell them apart? Here is an illuminating round-up from "Best of LA" trainer Cinimon Clark.

1) Food related aggression: the dog consistently shows aggression in the presence of food, rawhide bones, biscuits, blood or human food. (This excludes starvation situations.)

2) Inter-animal aggression: the dog expresses aggression that is out of context, i.e. perceived threat from a dog many yards away who is not aggressing. This includes all growling, barking and lunging on leash.

3) Maternal aggression: the dog shows consistent aggression toward her puppies.

4) Pain aggression: the dog shows aggression when restrained, held or made to do something. Frustration or restraint aggression occurs when pulling back on leash; give the dog some wiggle room.

5) Play aggression: the dog shows consistent aggression when playing with another animal who shows normal interaction (such as play bows).

6) Possessive aggression: aggression directed toward an individual who approaches or attempts to obtain a nonfood object from the aggressor.

7) Predatory aggression: the dog exhibits quiet behaviors indicative of prey drive, i.e. staring, salivating, stalking, lowering of the body.

8) Protective aggression: the dog shows consistent aggression when a third party approaches (when without a real threat by the third party).

9) Redirected aggression: the dog directs aggression to a third party when the dog is prevented from reaching the primary target.

10) Territorial aggression: the dog displays consistent aggression in the vicinity of an area when that area is approached by another individual.

11) Dominance aggression: the dog shows abnormal, inappropriate, out-of-context aggression (threat, challenge or attack) toward people under any circumstance involving passive or active control of the dog's behavior.

12) Idiopathic aggression: aggression that is truly unpredictable. This type of aggression, which is very rare, is frequently confused with subtle dominance aggression. With idiopathic aggression, the dog will attack anything in its path, animate or inanimate.

Responsible trainers and behaviorists will tell you there is no way to "cure" a dog of anything. Dogs don't possess computer chips one can replace. Dogs act according to the situation, using only what behaviors have worked for them. Many dogs have learned that when they feel uncomfortable, aggression will end the interaction. This is the case with most aggression. In addition, any dog can bite -- and may bite if put into a situation that seems frightening or confrontational.

Aggression is a serious problem, but it is something that can be successfully managed. The chain of events leading up to aggression can be turned into something else. For example, a dog can be taught by a committed owner that if he is uncomfortable, he should just sit, listen to his handler, and the threatening event will end.

The key is owner compliance. Success depends on the owner's willingness to work consistently with the dog.

Ms. Clark and other trainers advise to beware of leaving any dog unattended with children. An adult should supervise at all times so that he or she can immediately intervene if necessary.

Note: The "Best of LA" award was given by LA Weekly in Los Angeles.

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Last Updated: July 26, 2014 (LET) PawSupport