Canine Aggression Toward Familiar People: A New Look at an Old Problem

Short Synopsis: It used to be common to refer to aggression towards familiar people as dominance aggression in all contexts. These veterinary PhDs outline different explanations for different types of aggression directed at owners, including how to diagnose based on body language, neurologic exam, a complete blood cell count, serum chemistry panel, and urinalysis.

The authors write, “Medical differentials that should be considered are
hepatic encephalopathy, hypothyroidism, and neurologic disorders such as seizures, storage disease, inflammatory and infectious diseases, and brain tumors. It should also be kept in mind that any disease process that makes
the dog feel uncomfortable or painful may increase aggression.”

They continue, “Aggression toward household members can have many reasons. Differential diagnoses include ‘‘dominance aggression,’’ conflict-related aggression, resource-guarding or possessive aggression (often considered a subtype of conflict-related aggression), fear-induced aggression, play aggression, excitement-induced aggression, and maternal aggression. It should be kept in mind that a dog that is excitable for any reason is more likely to be aggressive (or to show any other behavior problem). Hyperexcitability therefore should be addressed if present.”

The authors conclude with basic diagnostics and training plans for each subset of aggression towards household members.

Authors: Andrew U. Luescher, DVM, PhD, Ilana R. Reisner, DVM, PhD

Publication: Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice

Publication Date: September 2008

Applies To: aggression towards familiar people, dominance

Sample Size: Literature review



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