Dominance Based Aggression in Dogs

    Dominance based aggression which is also referred to as impulse control aggression or conflict aggression is the last type of canine aggression.  Frankly, I don’t care too much which term is used as long as people understand how dangerous it is to interact with dogs with this kind of aggression.  These dogs are bullies!  They want to control everything and everybody in their lives.  Thankfully, in my experience, this is the least common cause of aggression.  Out of the hundreds of aggressive dogs I have worked with, only a handful exhibited this form of aggression.  
    Here is a common history for dogs with this problem.  A puppy starts to bully other animals in the family for no apparent reason.  By one year of age, the dog is now targeting human members of the family, usually the youngest child.  As the dog ages, they work their way up the chain of command.  I had one client call me on emergency because their aggressive dog cornered the entire family in the bathroom.  They had to remove the screen and escape  through the window.
    What can be done for dogs with dominance based aggression?  It grieves me greatly to say this but I cannot in good conscience recommend treating this kind of dog because the risk of serious injury for everyone in the family (humans and pets) is always present.  In my experience, behavior therapy only masks the unwanted behavior lulling the family members into a false sense of security.  Sadly, these dogs should never be trusted.  It is too often only a matter of time until they attack.  Therefore, I recommend humane euthanasia for dominant aggressive dogs and adopting a shelter dog instead.  With so many wonderful dogs being euthanized every day because of a lack of shelter space, I think it truly is the only answer in these rare, but difficult cases.        

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.