Dealing with Your Dog’s Pack-Mentality Aggression
Aggressiveness in dogs comes in three types (or drives): prey, pack, and defense. The triggers are different in each drive, and so is the management, or cure. Discovering how to anticipate your dog’s reaction under certain situations is part of managing his behavior.
Other than ignoring or putting up with the behavior, you have three basic options:
- Expending the energy: Each behavior has a timeframe, or energy, and it can be managed by expending that energy, which means exercise specifically focused on that energy. The exercise can be playing ball, jogging, playing tug-of-war games, or whatever. Training is always a good idea.
- Suppressing the energy: This option means that the dog isn’t given an outlet for the energy. Suppression can be an effective temporary solution, provided that the dog has periodic opportunities to expend the energy. Absolute or long-term suppression isn’t a good idea. The energy only redirects itself into another undesirable behavior.
- Switching the drive: When Buddy growls at another dog, for example, he’s in defense drive. To manage the situation, switch him into pack drive. Cheerfully say something like “You must be joking” and walk away in the opposite direction.
Depending on the situation, you’re going to use a combination of the three options in your management program.
Aggression from dogs high in pack drive
Pack drive consists of behaviors associated with reproduction and being part of a group. Dogs in pack drive may
- Show signs of aggression toward people
- Attack other dogs with no apparent reason
- Not stop the attack when the other dog submits
The problem with this kind of aggression is that there aren’t many obvious triggers. This behavior is frequently observed in dogs that are taken away from their litter and mother before 7 weeks of age. Between 5 and 7 weeks of age, a puppy learns to inhibit his biting. He also learns canine body language at this time. In short, your puppy learns he’s a dog. Puppies that haven’t learned these lessons tend to be overly protective of their owners and may be aggressive toward other people and dogs. They can’t interpret body language and haven’t learned bite inhibition.
In a household with more than one dog, while one dog is being petted and the other is seeking your attention at the same time, the dog being petted may aggress toward the other dog. Being overly possessive is common behavior in adopted older dogs and rescued dogs.
Lack of adequate socialization with people and other dogs prior to 6 months of age can cause subsequent aggressive behaviors. For example, a dog with an owner who is a single woman can be aggressive toward men. The cause could be lack of socialization or exposure to men.
Management: Aggression toward people
You can solve a lack of socialization with other people by gradually getting the dog used to accepting another person. Take the case of a man-aggressive dog, for example. As always, the job is made easier when the dog has some basic training and knows simple commands like “Sit” and “Stay.”
Here’s how to get your dog to accept another person:
1. Begin with Buddy sitting at Heel position, in Control Position (no tension on the leash and only 1/2 inch of slack).
2. Have the person walk past the dog from a distance of six feet, without looking at the dog.
3. Just before he passes the dog, have the person throw Buddy a small piece of a hot dog or another treat.
4. Repeat Steps 1 through 3 five times per session — but no more.
5. When Buddy shows no signs of aggression at six feet, decrease the distance.
6. Keep decreasing the distance until Buddy will take a treat, open palm, from the person.
The person shouldn’t look at the dog. He should pause just long enough to give the dog the treat and then pass.
Management: Aggression toward other dogs
Aggression toward other dogs, especially if the aggressor has had a few successes in his career, isn’t so simple to resolve. Prevention here is the best cure: Keep your dog on leash, and don’t give him a chance to bite another dog when you’re away from home.
To calm dogs with aggressive tendencies, get some essential oil of lavender from a health food store. Put just a couple drops on a small cloth, and wipe it onto your dog’s muzzle and around his nose. Lavender has a calming effect where one dog aggresses at another dog. It enables the dog to concentrate on his work. You can also use it in a spray bottle (four drops of oil to eight ounces of water); just spray the room before the dogs come in. It really works wonders with the dogs and even calms the owners. If your dog is in an agility competition and can’t concentrate because of the number of dogs and people around them, try this trick: Wipe wiping the dog’s muzzle and nose with the oil. You’ll likely see a dramatic improvement in his performances.