Carpe Shar-Pei (Seize the Wrinkled Dog)

Dog Aggression

In the hobbies of dog fancy and dog breeding, the term dog aggression describes canine-to-canine antipathy.

Aggression itself is usually defined by canine behaviorists as "the intent to do harm". Many dogs will show "displays of aggression" such as barking, growling, or snapping in the air without actually having any aggressive intent.

Dog aggression is a common dog behavior, and can be seen in all breeds of dogs, although some dog breeds have a predisposition to display such aggression. The breed standard usually spells out whether dog aggression is common in the breed and to what degree it is allowed. Most of the terrier breeds and the bull breeds have a higher likelihood of developing dog aggression. Individual dogs may or may not display the level of aggression that their breed standard suggests.

Factors contributing to aggression

Factors contributing to the likelihood of the development of dog aggression include:

  • Breed predisposition
  • Living as part of a multidog household
  • Lack of proper exposure to other dogs during the critical socialization period
  • Early imprinting by an aggressive or nervous dam
  • Being raised as part of a large litter (more than 5 puppies)
  • A traumatic experience associated with other dogs, such as being attacked or having seen a fight
  • Lack of abundant resources (food, water, sex, etc.) in the environment
  • Thyroid malfunction or other medical conditions

Dog aggression does not usually become a serious behavior in most dogs until they reach the age of 1.5 years. Prior to that age, most dogs show only the seeds of developing aggression, such as fear and/or nervousness around other dogs, displays of aggression only under certain circumstances (while on leash, in the presence of food, in the presence of the owner, etc.), or most commonly, over-the-top play behavior. Play behavior such as tackling, chasing, mouthing, nipping, pawing, and wrestling are all normal canine behaviors that serve the evolutionary function of preparing the young dog for later combat and hunting. Young dogs that engage in excessive amounts of these behaviors are much more likely to develop dog aggression as they age.

Dog aggression should not be confused with human aggression, which is allowed in some breed standards as well, as long as the aggression springs from a desire to defend the dog's owner or territory.

United States

The United States has the highest reported incidence of dog aggression problems of any country in the world. One of the major contributing factors to the development of dog aggression is living as part of a multidog (more than one) household. More than a third of dogs in the United States—a higher percentage than any other country in the world—live as part of multidog households.

Qui me amat, amet et canem meum. (Love me, love my dog.)

St. Bernard, A.D. 1150, Sermo Primus

Paper and canvas prints of "Growing Up Chinese Shar-Pei" by Barbara Keith are available online.

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