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All breeds of dogs have the potential to become aggressive if not socialized, properly trained or treated appropriately either as puppies or as adult dogs. Some breeds are also more prone to aggression than others and in particular more prone to being dog aggressive. Dog aggression is defined as a particular dog being violent or vicious to other dogs, without provocation nor while in defense of its family or property. A dog that is trained as a guard dog is not aggressive, it is defensive and protective, but does not attack unless someone or something is invading its area or territory. Guard dogs are trained to bark and take an aggressive stance before actually moving to the attack as a last resort.
Aggressive dogs, however, will attack other dogs or without provocation. These dogs are not always the breeds that are commonly associated with this behavior, they can even be small and toy breeds. Larger breeds such as the American Pit Bull, Bull Mastiffs, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Akitas, German Shepherds and even Giant Schnauzers can be aggressive, but with proper training and socialization this is not typically a problem.
Some breeds have a natural "possessive aggression" which means that they tend to guard what they consider their belongings, even from owners and family members. Typically this behavior starts when the puppy first growls at a person to say "this is mine" and instead of the owner handling this situation by removing the item and substituting another, thereby teaching the dog that the owner is actually in charge of the "things", the human just leaves the item with the puppy. Over time when this happens the puppy, and then the dog, learns that he or she can keep things away from the owner by showing aggression. The possessive aggression is very serious as this is often the cause of serious dog bites, especially towards children that reach towards the dog to get a toy or to go near the dog's food. Possessive aggression can be managed by removing all the dogs "belongings" and only giving them to the dog one at a time, removing them and not letting the dog be in control of the items. Through this process the dog realizes that he or she is not in charge of things, the humans are. This can be very difficult issue to handle and an animal behavioralist is often needed to help the family make adjustments to help the dog understand what is happening and what is expected to change. This can also be a potentially dangerous training activity and children should never be involved in working with a dog with possessive aggression until the behavior is completely eliminated.
Male and Female Aggression
Dogs are pack animals with dominance and aggression used to establish their position in the pack. The strong and more dominant males and females are the pack leaders, while the younger adults, senior dogs and the puppies form lower levels of the pack.
Dogs, both male and female, tend to be most aggressive when females are in heat. This is when the female dog or bitch is receptive to being bred by the male. When in estrus or the heat cycle the female will become aggressive towards other dogs, both male and female, until she is ready to be bred. At this time she will be very accepting of the male dog but will still be aggressive towards other females, especially those also in heat. This is the natural cycle as in nature the most dominant or aggressive female would then be the first to breed, ensuring the greatest chance for her to become pregnant. Intact females can typically interact with each other when they are not in season with little difficulty, but they also interact very well with both spayed females and neutered males.
Intact males are typically the most dog aggressive of either sex. They are often more aggressive at all times, but will become particularly aggressive when females in heat are anywhere in the area, even if not in direct contact with the males. Males will use their physical strength to push around smaller males, growl, and generally intimate smaller or weaker intact males. This behavior is hormonally driven to ensure that the strongest male breeds with the females, leading to stronger and healthier puppies and a better overall pack. Neutering males eliminates most of the hormonal behavior after about 3 weeks from the surgery, preventing most of the aggressive type behavior that is typically seen in male dogs. It will also prevent many of the marking and urination problems that are seen with intact males.
Training and Socialization
Unless the owner wishes to breed the dogs or has a purebred dog they wish to show in Kennel Club events and ultimately breed, all dogs should be spayed or neutered as soon as possible. This will also have health benefits to the young dogs as they have less chance of developing reproductive cancers, becoming injured in fights, and even prevent wandering and roaming problems.
If you are going to be a responsible dog breeder it is very important to socialize your dog, especially if they are a known dog-aggressive breed. You will also have to take additional responsibility to keep your female restrained and away from males during her estrus cycle to prevent unwanted pregnancies and possible health concerns for the female. It is also important to keep intact males in a very secure yard as they may decide to dig, chew or climb their way out of the yard in search of a female dog they may be able to smell. Both males and females tend to become rather moody and temperamental when there are females in heat in the area so children should never be left unsupervised with either males or females at this time.
Training and socialization for either spayed and neutered or intact dogs is critical from the youngest possible age. Even the best trained dog will often become disobedient, headstrong and stubborn during the mating season, so care must be taken to have intact males and females on a leash or lead or secured at all times.
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