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Aggression in Dogs: Understanding Dominance Aggression

Tushar Kanchan

9 Apr 2023

Dominance aggression is a behavior that has undergone a lot of discussion lately due to some general misunderstandings.


Aggression is a common behavior problem among dogs and often leads to owners seeking professional help. Among behavior referral practices, up to 59% of aggression cases are eventually diagnosed as dominance aggression. Dominance aggression can occur between dogs or between dogs and humans and represents a significant proportion of all problem behavior cases.

Dominance Aggression: Prevalence and Misunderstandings

Dominance aggression is a behavior that has undergone a lot of discussion lately due to some general misunderstandings. Dominance refers to a relative social ranking between two individuals in a particular situation. The concept of dominance is often associated with competitive or status-related aggression. The lower-ranking individual will yield to the higher-ranking one to avoid escalating conflict or a fight.

Types of Dominance and Contextual Aggression

There are different types of dominance, such as social dominance, sexual dominance, food dominance, and resource dominance. Aggression can occur in different contexts. Sometimes aggression occurs without relevance to the wider social structure. For example, a dog may become very protective of a bone and show dominance aggression toward someone it would never aggress to in any other setting. For this reason, some behaviorists have chosen to call dominance aggression either competitive or status-related aggression.

Connection between Dominance and Fear Aggression

It's important to recognize that there is a close connection between dominance and fear aggression. A dog challenging a person may change into a fear mode without the person noticing the body language or contextual shift. When both types of aggression coexist in the same incidence, it might appropriately be called conflict aggression.

Statistical Profile of Dominance Aggressive Dogs

Between 65% and 90% of the dominant-aggressive dogs are males, and of those males, more than 90% are intact at the time of presentation. Purebred dogs also appear to be overrepresented, with 82% to 87% of dominant-aggressive dogs being purebreds. Dogs that were ill as puppies are also overrepresented in dominance aggression statistics.

Dominance Aggression in Puppies and Early Signs

Dominance aggression can occur in puppies as young as 6 weeks. This is when littermates establish their hierarchy, usually over food. However, this aggression between puppies is normal and not correlated to how any puppy will relate to people, either as a puppy or as an adult dog. A young puppy that growls and snaps at an owner over food or handling should be put through the anti-aggressive puppy-training procedures discussed later so that the owner will become the leader and not a threat.

Development of Dominance Aggression in Sexual and Behavioral Maturity

Dominance aggression toward people may not become obvious until some time between sexual maturity (6 to 12 months) and behavioral maturity (18 to 36 months). This behavior is not controlled by hormones, but the presence of testosterone or lack of estrogen may exacerbate the amount of aggression shown. The spayed females that are more likely to show increased aggression are those that were already showing signs as puppies.


In conclusion, aggression in dogs, specifically dominance aggression, is a complex and nuanced behavior that can manifest in different contexts and situations. Understanding the statistical profile of dominant-aggressive dogs and the early signs of aggression in puppies can help owners seek professional help early and take the necessary steps to address the problem. By educating ourselves about dominance aggression, we can create a safer and happier environment for our furry friends

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