Fruit Valley Veterinary Clinic

Dominance-Related Aggression in Dogs


Aggression : growling, lifting a lip, snarling, snapping, or biting - directed primarily at family members or people with whom the dog is familar, is often dominance-related aggression.

Situations leading to aggression

Competition : overvalued resources - food, treats, bones, rawhides, stolen objects, resting place, bed, crate owner.

Postural challenges : being hugged or petted, being patted on the head, being pulled back by the collar or scruff of the neck, being stared at, being lifted up, grooming, nail trims.

Being admonished or disciplined : owner raises a finger or rolled-up newspaper, hitting, yelling.

A battle of wills : trying to make the dog do something against its will.

Treatment of dominance

  1. Adjust management- increase the dog's exercise and feed it a sensible diet (dog food only)
  2. Fine-tune obedience training. Conduct 5 to 10 minute sessions twice daily in a quiet environment. Make the sessions fun. Use one word commands, give rewards for quick response and ignore failed commands.
  3. Make the dog earn all food, toys, games, attention, praise, petting and freedom. For example, the dog must sit or lie down first - the canine equivalent of saying "please."
  4. Avoid confrontations and do not use punishment.
  5. Do not engage in rough play.
  6. Medications like Prozac may be prescribed.

Reference - Dodman "The Dog Who Loved Too Much" p.35

Dog-on-Dog Aggression Related to Dominance

The dog is aggressive to some other dogs and displays both dominant posturing (body held erect, tenseness, tail held up, eyes fixed on other dogs) in the presence of other dogs and other signs of dominance at home (being overly confident or pushy).


  1. Gain control over the dog through obedience work.
  2. Physically restrain the dog when necessary, using a halter, for example.
  3. Neuter males.
  4. Employ pharmacotherapy in extreme cases.
  5. In sibling rivalry situations, support the more dominant dog.

A BONE TO PICK. 1997, Dr. Nicholas Dodman. Tales, Treaments and the Psychology of Dogs.

Dog-on-Dog Aggression Related to Fear

This involves more-generalized aggression to all dogs or dogs of a certain size or breed. The dog's history may be important (for example, aversive events may have occurred in the dog's life). Posturing may be a clue, as for example if the dog backs off with its tail tucked.


  1. Desensitization with counterconditioning usually works well.
  2. Pharmacotherapy (with, for example, propranolol, buspirone, or Prozac-like medication) may be needed in difficult cases.

A BONE TO PICK. 1997, Dr. Nicholas Dodman. Tales, Treatments, and the Psychology of Dogs.

Aggression of Dogs Toward Babies

Dominant, fearful and predatory dogs may all present a threat to babies and young children if they are not properly controlled. Dominant dogs often do not pose a threat until children reach toddling age. Fearful dogs are most likely to be aggressive if they cannot escape the unwanted attentions of unfamiliar or seemingly obnoxious children. Predatory dogs may (rarely) pose a threat to newborn infants.


  1. Understand your dog and control your child.
  2. Institute a dominance-management program for dominant dogs at the earliest opportunity. Do not allow young children and dominant dogs to be left alone together.
  3. Fearful dogs will benefit from systematic desensitization exercises with other children to reduce their fear and apprehension. If there is any doubt about a fearful dog's trustworthiness around your child's friends, the dog should be isolated when they visit.
  4. Predatory dogs should be carefully introduced to new babies. Do not leave such dogs alone with babies.

Before the baby arrives

  1. Sharpen up on obedience training.
  2. Make environmental changes early.
  3. Take the dog for walks with the stroller.
  4. Acclimate the dog to the diaper-changing routine using a doll.
  5. Desensitize the dog to a tape recording of a baby crying.
  6. Get behavior problems under control.
  7. Bring home an article of the baby's clothing (not a diaper) from the hospital for the dog to smell.

After the baby arrives

  1. Introduce the dog and the baby gradually, without a fuss, and with the dog on lead.
  2. Do not ignore the dog in the presence of the baby.
  3. Make sure that the dog and baby are always supervised when together.
  4. Work to familiarize the dog with the baby and to acclimate it to the baby's ways as the child grows.
  5. Watch for warning signs of dominance (such as growling) or fear (trying to run away or hide).
  6. Never leave a predatory dog alone with a young baby.

TWO DOGS AND A BABY. 1997, Dr. Nicholas Dodman. Tales, Treatments, and Psychology of Dogs.

Territorial Aggression (Anxiety-Related or Fear-Related)

Territorial aggression manifests itself as aggression to strangers on the dog's own turf (home, surrounding streets, and car). People in uniforms are a particular target.


  1. Exercise is generally beneficial. A dog should have a minimum of twenty to thirty minutes of aerobic exercise daily.
  2. There is some evidence that fearful dogs may benefit from low-protein diets (16 to 20 percent protein for dry rations). Low-protein diets should not be fed to growing dogs, pregnant bitches, and dogs with certain medical conditions.
  3. Sharpen up on obedience training.
  4. Desensitization with counterconditioning (for fear-based cases). Desensitization involves acclimating the dog to a person it is afraid of by gradual exposure , allowing the dog to become comfortable at progressively increasing levels of challenge. This is often done in association with counterconditioning (e.g. food reward).
  5. Limit the dog's urination to one spot in the yard.
  6. If prescribed, give the dog medication, e.g., propranolol (Inderal).
  7. Use a shake can when the dog fails to respond to a verbal command in the car.

BEWARE OF THE DOG.1997, Dr. Nicholas Dodman. Tales, Treatments, and the Psychology of Dogs.

Seizure-Related Aggression

Violent, uncontrollable episodic aggression is elicited by a trivial stimulus. There is a pre-aggression mood change, which lasts for minutes or hours before an attack and a post-aggression depression with reduced responsiveness. It is sometimes associated with compulsive behaviors, such as self-licking and snapping at imaginary flies.



  1. Exercise extreme caution in dealing with an affected dog, especially when it is behaving peculiarly.
  2. Medicate with an anticonvulsant, such as phenobarbital.
  3. Monitor the dog's behavior closely and be prepared to adjust teh animal's medication and your interaction with the dog accordingly.

Dealing With Chewing and Destruction

  1. Choose the right toys
    1. Make certain to choose toys that are appealing to your dog. This may vary from dog to dog as some may be most attracted to texture or appearance, while others may be more attracted to a food inserted or stuffed into the toy.
    2. Choose toys that are durable and safe. Dogs that enjoy chewing should be given toys that take as long as possible to destroy without losing interest. If rawhide is given, the pieces should be large enough for the puppy to gnaw, without chewing off large pieces that can be swallowed. Rolled or thick, flat sheets may be preferable to sticks or pieces with knots.
    3. Change toys, or rotate through them to keep up their interest.
    4. Choose toys that are not overly similar to your possessions (e.g., old shoes, towels or clothes, child toys, etc.).
  2. Encourage Play
    1. Reward correct chewing. Use praise, affection, or occasionally toss a small treat to the puppy for chewing on its toys.
    2. Lace toys with food. Many toys are designed so that they can be coated or stuffed with food treats to attract the pet. Freezing the toys with food inside may extend the duration of play, chewing, or eating food or toys. Manipulation toys, such as Buster CubeTM, Tricky TreatTM, Crazy BallTM, etc., deliver small pieces of food which serve to reward the dog as it chews and may further increase the duration of interest in the toy.
  3. Provide a regular regime of exercise and play
    1. An overabundance of energy and lack of acceptable activities can lead to exploration and chewing. Provide enough exercise, interactive play, and training to calm and settle the dog before leaving it alone or unsupervised.
    2. A number of interactive play toys have been designed to combine play and social interaction with family members or other pets. These toys include balls, pucks, and floating toys for chase and retrieval and some for tugging and pulling.
    3. Tug and pull toys may not be appropriate for all dogs. As long as you are the one to initiate the play, can stop the game on command, and the dog does not have a problem with aggression or overly exuberant play, then these toys may be an acceptable means of directing play and chewing to an appropriate outlet.
  4. Prevent and deter undesirable chewing
    1. Even though your dog has a number of appealing toys and has received plenty of interactive play, training, and exercise, he or she may be attracted to chew and investigate some of your household possessions. Therefore, supervision or confinement to a crate or pen when you are unable to supervise should prevent any inappropriate chewing.
    2. If you are not available to supervise and you wish to avoid confinement training, it might be possible to move potential targets out of your dog’s reach (dog-proofing), use aversive tasting substances (e.g., RopelTM, Chew GuardTM, Bitter AppleTM), or use avoidance devices (Snappy TrainerTM, Critter GitterTM, ScraminalTM, Spray BarrierTM, SsscatTM) to keep your dog away from items that might be chewed.
    3. If you catch the dog in the act of chewing something it shouldn’t, immediately interrupt it with a sharp noise or a pull on a leash if one has been left attached. Then, give a proper chew toy to the pet and praise it as soon as it begins to chew. However, even if you consistently catch and interrupt your pet when it is chewing on inappropriate items, this may only teach it to avoid chewing these items in your presence.
    4. Never punish after the act and never use physical punishment.

Inappropriate Elimination

In the majority of cases, urination and defecation by dogs within the home is a normal (for the dog) behavior usually caused by ineffective house-training methods, particularly in young dogs. Another reason for inappropriate elimination is marking, which is particularly pronounced in dominant male dogs, where it takes the form of leg lifting. There are also medical causes of inappropriate elimination particularly in older dogs. Dogs that urinate or defecate only when their owners are away may have separation anxiety.


  1. For inappropriate elimination resulting from inadequate house-training, retraining the dog to a particular location outside the home may be all that is necessary.
  2. For treatment of marking behaviors in adult male dogs, neutering must be considered the treatment of choice when this is an option. For other types of marking behavior, dominance restructuring or antianxiety medication can be helpful.
  3. Treat anxiety-based conditions by attempting to reduce the cause of the anxiety. Medication--for example, buspirone--can be useful.
  4. Medical Conditions should be diagnosed and treated first by your local veterinarian if there is any suspicion of their involvement.

TO PEE OR NOT TO PEE. 1997, Dr. Nicholas Dodman. Tales, Treatments and the Psychology of Dogs.

Submissive Urination

The urinalysis exam was normal. However, your animal appears nervous about novel situations and eager to show submissiveness. He/she tends to do this through submissive urination. With this problem, it is important to avoid any punishment, verbal or physical, since that will only elicit more urination. Many submissive urinating dogs outgrow this behaviour with adolescence.

Things that can help:

Separation Anxiety

Dogs with separation anxiety often have a dysfunctional history. Because they are insecure, they tend to follow their owners around the house, look anxious as the owners prepare to leave, and become distraught when they are finally alone. They bark and whine immediately after their owners leave and often destroy things, particularly moldings around windows and doors. Temporary anorexia during the owners' absence is another feature and, in some extreme cases, the anxiety may cause dogs to urinate and defecate when their owners are away. An exuberant greeting ritual completes the syndrome.


  1. Try a program of desensitization and counterconditioning.
  2. Begin a program of independence training.
  3. Ignore the dog for twenty minutes before leaving and on returning.
  4. Employ sustained release food treat 20 minutes before departure.
  5. If prescribed, medicate the dog with antianxiety drugs or antidepressants.

Footnote: Owners can compound their dog's separation anxiety by empathizing too much. Firm but supportive leadership, providing clear direction, can go a long way toward reconciling this behavioral problem.

The Dog Who Loved Too Much, 1997, Dr. Nicholas Dodman - Tales, Treatments, and the Psychology of Dogs