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Some Information About

Dog Aggression


Disclaimer:  The advice on this web site is not intended as a solution for pre-existing cases of aggression.  If your dog is aggressive, please contact a dog trainer or behaviorist who is knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with cases of aggression.  If you are scared of your dog, please don't delay - find a professional to help you.  The longer your dog has "practiced" being aggressive, the harder the problem will be to solve - it's best to get help now rather than later.  Dogs do not "grow out of" aggression - if you do nothing the aggression will tend to either remain the same or get worse.  Also, be aware that there are no quick fixes for aggression and that violent or harshly corrective methods tend to produce further aggression.  Furthermore, punishing a warning stare, growl, snarl, or snap may only teach the dog to not give the warning.  It is important that your dog give you the warning so you can take heed and not get bitten.  A dog that has been corrected for aggressive displays (warnings) is still emotional about whatever is making him feel the need to use aggression, if he cannot flee from the problem and if he is afraid to give a warning because he has gotten corrected, he may have no choice than to bite without warning first. 


Suggestions for Preventing Bites

Adopting an Adult Dog

Consider Why You Want A Dog

Dog Safety

Raising and Socializing Your Puppy

Recommended Books

Shopping for a Puppy

The first thing I recommend for preventing dog bites is to educate yourself and your children on safety around dogs - this includes dogs that live in your family, neighbors' dogs, dogs being leash-walked at the park, loose dogs spotted in the neighborhood, chained dogs, and dogs confined in cars, crates, kennels, fenced areas, or invisible fenced areas.  I have seen many grown-ups actually let their children run up to a strange dog.  This is a foolish and dangerous thing to allow.  I have seen kids who remember to let the dog sniff the back of their curled and lowered hand, but forget to ask the owner for permission first, approach too quickly, and present the hand into the dog's face instead of being calm and letting the dog approach their hand to sniff.  I've also heard parents boast about how their family dog is so gentle that he lets the kids climb all over him, pull on his hair and even poke him.  Again this is a foolish thing to allow.  It is unfair to the dog who has to put up with being climbed on and teased.  It is also unfair to the children who are not learning how to be responsible with an animal in their care.  It is also dangerous since someday the dog may decide he has had enough and actually bite the kids.   I've also seen many parents instill fear of dogs in their kids in the hope that they will stay away from strange dogs.  This is also likely due to the parent's own fear of dogs.  Again, this is not fair to the children because it teaches them to act scared and does not teach them how to act in a safe manner around dogs.   My recommendation to all people, adults and children alike, is to never approach a loose dog, chained dog or confined dog because this is how many of the serious bite cases occur.  Teach your children what to do if they are ever confronted by a loose dog and definitely teach them never to approach or tease a chained or confined dog.   To learn about safety around dogs and about how to teach safety and respect of dogs to your children, please visit AKC's public education section of their web site -

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Following are valuable suggestions for preventing bites.  These suggestions include those that are effective from the first day you decide to adopt a dog or get a puppy and also include bite prevention ideas effective throughout the life of your dog -

    Preventing future bites - consider why you want a dog - for the dog's sake, think long and hard before getting a dog:

  • Do you want a sweet dog who will make a great family pet and are you willing to put the time and energy into making this happen?  - good for you!

  • Are you looking for a dog to train to be involved in dog sports such as agility, obedience, herding, or hunt tests? - that is great!

  • Are you looking for a dog to protect your family and possessions? - Be careful.  We all have a Lassie mentality when it comes to dogs.  We expect them to perform fabulous feats to protect us and save us if necessary.  The truth is that dogs tend to not be able to communicate to us that Johnny fell down the well.  Sure dogs can sometimes do amazing things like warn their family that the house is on fire and let their owner know that an epileptic seizure is about to occur.  Janis Bradley in her book "Dogs Bite, but Balloons and Slippers are more Dangerous" points out that "It is a fallacy for people to think that dogs know white hats from the black hats - if you teach your dog to be wary of strangers to protect you, someday the stranger to the dog will be one of your friends or family."  My advice is that a sweet family pet can have the "image" as a protector.  Please choose a puppy or dog with a good temperament and train him properly.  Many dogs will bark and really that is all you need for a protector image.  Teach your dog to sit at your side and speak as a bluff to the "bad guys".   If you want even more of an image, get a good natured dog with a black coat (for some reason people are more scared of a black Labrador Retriever than a yellow Labrador Retriever and the only difference is the color).  Steer away from the truly aggressive dog because, instead of protecting your family, he will tend to bite your family (or bite your neighbors who will then sue your family).

  • Are you looking for a status symbol? - this is not a good reason to get a dog.  You must be willing to train and socialize your dog, you must develop a good relationship with your dog, you must be willing to meet your dog's needs for his entire lifetime.  Unfortunately status symbols do better sitting in one place, being ignored by you, and being admired by your neighbors.  Dogs do not do well sitting in one place and being ignored by you.  Plus, an untrained, mismanaged and misbehaved dog does not get any admiration from the neighbors.  An inanimate object serves much better as a status symbol than a living being.  Do not get a dog as a status symbol only to have it end up biting your friends and family.  Temperament and relationship are so much more important than status. 

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    Preventing future bites - shopping for a puppy:

  • Take your time - do not impulse buy.  Research the breeds that you are interested in.  Besides learning about their appearance and grooming needs, learn about their personality and temperament.  Learn what the breed needs to keep it happy and to live with it.  Does it need a job and a lot of exercise?  Is it a breed that tends to bark a lot?  How aggressive is the breed?  What is the purpose of the breed?  A hunting dog? A hunting dog that was also bred to guard the boat and hunting lodge?  A sheep dog? A sheep dog that herds or a sheep dog that was bred to guard the flock?  The larger and more formidable the dog, the more aggression has to be a concern (let's face it, a large aggressive dog is more dangerous than a small one).  For example, Rottweilers can be great family pets, but certain individuals may not be the right choice.  Rottweilers originated from Germany and were used for herding, drafting, and guarding.  They were valued to protect their owner and his personal possessions; however, their massive rise in popularity resulted in many poor breeding practices and cases of irresponsible ownership.  Obtaining a Rottweiler (or, for that matter, any large and powerful breed) with health problems and a poor temperament can be a real liability.   Be sure to check the function that a breed was originally bred for.   If the breed was originally bred as a guard dog, fighting dog, watchdog, battle dog, bull or bear baiting dog, wild boar hunter, an attack dog, etc. your job in finding an individual of the breed needs to highly consider the temperament and ease of training of the parents and relatives of the puppy's litter.   Concerning the "Pit Bull" breeds, I wish to stress that there are many wonderful "Pit Bull" individuals (this also holds true for other breeds that make the evening news as dangerous dogs).   Karen Delise writes in her book, "Fatal Dog Attacks, The Stories Behind the Statistics" that "Pit Bulls have a problem with our society ... For the past 20 years, Pit Bulls have been subjected to cruelty, abuse and mistreatment to a degree and on a scale that no other breed in recent history has ever had to endure ... Any real or imagined viciousness on the part of the Pit Bull breeds pales in comparison to the brutality, callous disrespect for life, and inhumanity of many of their owners ... It is easier to dismiss this as a 'breed' problem instead of addressing the real issues of crime, poverty, animal abuse, ignorance, greed and man's lust for violence ... Far too many Pit Bulls are owned by three types of exceedingly abusive people - Drug dealers, sadistic people who enjoy watching dogs fight and kill each other, and inner-city gang members and street punks.  Unfortunately these people ... choose to destroy the temperament of the breed by using unnaturally aggressive breeding stock ... A minority of Pit Bulls are well-bred and fortunate enough to be owned by people who obtained them because they admire and respect the true traits to be found in a Pit Bull, namely exuberance, intelligence, determination, loyalty and a great desire to please and amuse their owners."  Now that I've told you to shop carefully considering the temperament of the largest and more aggressive breeds, I'm going to tell you to do the same for all other dog breeds.   Even though the Doberman Pinscher breed has a long-standing reputation for fierceness and was originally developed almost exclusively as a protection dog, many Doberman breeders have been working hard on improving their breed's health and temperament.  Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson in their book, "Paws to Consider" state that, "despite their rough reputation and fierce looks, Dobes are generally sweet, soft dogs."  Now if a dog such as a Doberman, developed as a protection dog, can be selectively bred to be gentle and sweet, it can go the other way.  For example, poor breeding of breeds such as the American Cocker Spaniel, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Beagle and many others can produce individuals of dubious temperament - aggressive due to dominance or fear.    Following is what Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson say about these breeds - American Cocker Spaniel: "At their best they are delightful, happy companions that love everyone with equal enthusiasm.  Sweet and easy to train.  In our years, we have trained several hundred American Cocker Spaniels, and we recall only a handful of wonderful ones.  The rest were poorly bred specimens, prone to unwanted behavior that ran the gamut from really annoying, chronic submissive wetting to downright horrendous aggression."   Golden Retriever: "Who can imagine a sweeter dog than the Golden? The poster pet endorsing the family dog: 'Good with children' is assumed.  Loving, goofy, devoted to the point of fawning, these are simply some of the nicest dogs we humans ever managed to breed.  ... On the other hand ...  The decline of this fine breed brings us much sadness.  Now all too many are short-lived, problem-prone, and temperamentally weak ... we never used to see any aggression and now we see dog aggression, dominance aggression, territorial aggression ... you get the picture."  Labrador Retriever: "The classic Lab tolerates children extremely well, is forgiving and sweet ... Because of their incredible popularity (number one in AKC's ranking for many years now), the quality of the dogs ranges widely from wonderful family companion to generally fearful, from hyper triathlete to unpredictably aggressive."  Beagle:  "... Fans point out their good looks, adaptable nature, and sweet disposition ... Beagles, though not normally aggressive, when they are they are quite nasty."

    I'd like to make it clear that I do not intend to pick on any particular breed, but I do want to make the point to do your homework, not just on which particular breed to get, but also on which individual of the breed to get.  Even though most individuals of a breed have wonderful temperaments, as in the Beagle breed, some individuals can be quite nasty ... and the apple does not fall far from the tree (temperament can be genetic) ... make sure you know what the family members of your puppy are like as far as personality and temperament!

  1. Visit web pages to help you choose a dog.

  2. Check out "Paws To Consider, Choosing the Right Dog for You and Your Family" by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson.  To order this book visit or or

  3. Call a local kennel club, breed club, or visit a local dog show to look at dogs.

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    Preventing future bites - adopting an adult dog:

  • If you plan on getting an adult dog from a rescue or shelter, think temperament first.  Ask many questions to find out what the rescue or shelter knows about the dog's past.  If the dog has a known bite history, walk away.  There are many non-biting dogs in need of homes.  Sweet friendly dogs get euthanized every day for just ending up in the shelter too long.  Please rescue a friendly dog and avoid dogs that charge the kennel barking and growling.  Also avoid extremely fearful dogs since they can bite out of fear. 

    It's a huge benefit for you to rescue a dog who has been fostered first.  Many rescues foster the dogs so they learn about each dog and match them to the profile supplied by potential adopters.  By fostering, they will have had a chance to assess the dog's temperament.

    Some shelters also do temperament tests.   Be aware that shelters are not created equal.   Just because a shelter is a "no-kill" shelter, does not mean that it is a good place for the dogs within.  Due to the stressful nature of most shelters, dogs that end up in a shelter environment tend to loose more and more of their good qualities the longer they are there.  Following is advice for choosing a dog from the shelter:

  1.  Make sure that the dog has soft sweet eyes (no hard stare and no glancing eyes in which you can see the whites of the eyes). 

  2.  Make sure that the dog has a friendly, not stiff, stance with relaxed ears - not aroused and forward  and not plastered back.

  3.  Make sure the dog is not barking and lunging at the kennel gate. 

  4.  Do not choose a pathetic dog hiding in the far corner of the shelter shaking.  You can't be sure that this dog won't bite in fear. 

  5. Do ask the shelter workers what they know about and their experience with the particular dog that you are interested in.  What do they know about his/her temperament and background? 

  6. Finally, have a shelter worker help you take a friendly-appearing dog out on leash away from the barking dogs and other shelter commotion and see what you think about the dog.  Does he warm up to you or remain aloof?  Is he friendly?  You want a friendly dog that does warm up to you, not one that does not seem to relate.   It's important to not take out any dog that does not seem friendly in the kennel.   Also do not take out any sexually mature-intact dogs (meaning over 1.5 years of age and not "fixed"), and do not take out dogs that are overly cautious, that are highly aroused, or that do not show any signs of friendliness.

Prior to visiting the shelter, check out Sue Sternberg's Rondout Valley Kennel website.  This shelter in New York state is the way all shelters should be run.  Check out the shelter shop and purchase "Successful Dog Adoption." 

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    Preventing bites - raising and socializing your puppy:

  • Treat your puppy with love so he does not learn to be aggressive - do not teach him to be aggressive.  For additional information, read "Dogs Bite, But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous" by Janis Bradley.  Especially read pages 157-166, "A Few Simple Strategies for Reducing Dog Bites".

  • Socialize and train your puppy.  Teach your dog to love all sorts of people.  For additional information about socialization, read "The Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson, pages 57-66.

  • Teach Bite Inhibition to your puppy.  For additional information about bite inhibition, read "The Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson, pages 67-69.

  • Puppy mouthing - aggression or not? Click here for information about puppy mouthing. 

  • What games can I play with my puppy or dog?  Will some make him aggressive?  While I recommend to not play games where you chase your puppy or dog or wrestle with him, "Tug" is, quite surprisingly, a game I recommend; however, it's only for those mature enough to play by the rules.   For additional information about Tug of War and Tug of War Rules, read "The Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson, pages 37-43.

  • Prevent possessiveness - food bowl exercises, object exchanges and placement commands.  For additional information about food bowl exercises, object exchanges and placement commands, read "The Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson, pages 77-85.

  • Teach your puppy to be comfortable with handling and grooming.  Jean Donaldson states, "In their lives, dogs will have to be handled for a multitude of reasons, including vet exams, being groomed, held down or otherwise physically restrained and being hugged, grabbed and patted by a wide demographic sampling of humans.  Good relaxed tolerance of handling does not come naturally for most dogs.  One of the best favors you can do your dog is to teach him, while he's still a malleable little puppy, to happily accept all the handling he will have to put up with during with lifetime.  You yourself, your friends, family and puppy classmates can all simulate the main handling situations and pair the puppy's relaxed acceptance with food and play rewards."  For additional information about Handleability, read "The Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson, pages 85-88.

  • Avoid training methods that might challenge or scare your dog and thus make him bite.  Click here for the foreword written about training methods by Jean Donaldson in April 2001 to Pat Miller's book "The Power of Positive Dog Training."

  • Warning behavior (stares, growls, snarls, or snaps) -  punishing a warning stare, growl, snarl, or snap may only teach the dog to not give the warning.  It is important that your dog give you the warning so you can take heed and not get bitten.  A dog that has been corrected for aggressive displays (warnings) is still emotional about whatever is making him feel the need to use aggression, if he cannot flee from the problem and if he is afraid to give a warning because he has gotten corrected, he may have no choice than to bite without warning first.  Please contact a trainer for help if your dog is offering aggressive warning behaviors.

  • Bite thresholds - "he bit without a warning?, or did he?" - For information about The Bite Threshold Model, read "The Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson, pages 90-94.  Please contact a trainer for help if your dog is offering aggressive warning behaviors.

  • Never reach for a scared dog or a dog that's guarding food, an object, or a place.  - For information about The Rehab of Fearful and Aggressive Dogs, read "The Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson, pages 88-96.  Please contact a trainer for help if your dog is offering aggressive warning behaviors.

  • Keep your dog healthy - illness and pain can make a dog bite.  Visit your veterinarian regularly and feed your dog a healthy diet.

Recommended Books:

  • Body Posture and Emotions.  Shifting Shapes, Shifting Minds by Suzanne Clothier

  • The Cautious Canine, How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears by Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D.

  • The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson

  • Good Owners, Great Dogs by Brian Kilcommons with Sarah Wilson

  • How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With by Rutherford and Neil

  • On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas

  • Scaredy Dog! Understanding and Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog by Ali Brown

  • If a Dog's Prayers Were Answered ... Bones Would Rain from the Sky - Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs by Suzanne Clothier

  • Animals in Translation - Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

  • Dogs Bite, But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous by Janis Bradley. 

    To order these books visit or or

"Dogs are carnivorous animals with sharp teeth, and consequently we do have a solemn duty to socialize them early and to teach them good bite inhibition, so that if they ever are pushed beyond their tolerance level, they don't do any harm" - Jean Donaldson.


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