Dogs naturally interact and respond to a complex set of social, physical and environmental signals that primarily revolve around body posture, movement, vocalization and facial expression. Aggression in dogs can take any of a number of forms, ranging from aggression caused by dominance, fear, protection/territorial control, food, sex or other factors. How a particular dog ultimately responds to its environmental stimuli is based on genetics, hormonal influences, environmental factors, socialization, training and overall upbringing.
Proper socialization of puppies to people and to other dogs is critical, regardless of the dog's breed, gender or prospective use. Puppies go through major developmental phases between 3 and 12 weeks of age where proper and positive interaction with other animals, people and novel environments are crucial to helping them develop appropriately solid social character traits. Puppy classes are an excellent way to achieve this socialization while establishing a solid training foundation. If an owner fails to capitalize on these critical developmental periods, their puppy may not develop the proper skills and behaviors to make it a good household member.
Curbing Aggressive Behavior
Aggressive behavioral problems are difficult to resolve without the assistance of a specialized trainer or veterinary behaviorist. Realistically, dog owners should hope to manage and modify unacceptably aggressive behaviors in their pets, without expecting complete correction. Of course, the younger the dog, the better chance there is to resolve inappropriate behaviors.
The goals of treating canine aggression are to eliminate the aggressive behaviors and render the dog safer, to enhance human safety and the human-animal bond, to alleviate the anxiety causing the dog's aggressive behavior and to make the dog and its people happier and calmer. Treatment for aggression involves desensitizing the dog to the eliciting stimulus (other dogs, threatening people, children approaching their food, etc.) and counter-conditioning or rewarding the dog for calm or good behavior. Complete control over the dog, by either the owner or the trainer, is essential for this to work. A head halter or harness can be a valuable tool that provides not only physical control but also causes the dog to focus his attention on his handler, rather than on external stimuli. No amount of superficial advice can provide what your veterinary behavioral specialist can provide to assess and address your dog's particular situation. However, physical punishment and harsh restraint are strongly discouraged as they usually intensify aggression-based behaviors.