Dog aggression towards household members


Aggression in dogs towards domestic staff may be part of normal dog behaviour, but it is influenced by the environment, upbringing and genetics. It appears in situations where people approach the dog or objects belonging to it. It is also called aggression from dominance, aggression caused by social position, or aggression from competition or conflict.

It manifests itself by:

  • growling
  • raising of the lips
  • barking
  • biting
  • jumping


Traditionally it has been regarded as normal canine behaviour directed against humans. However, it can be an unpredictable and impulsive action with serious health consequences for humans.

There is breed specificity and pedigree analyses show that it may be more common in related dogs. The model of inheritance is unknown.


  • SPANIELS (English springer spaniel, cocker spaniel)
  • may also occur in other breeds and hybrids

Aggression in dogs towards household members usually manifests itself at the age of social maturity (12-36 months). It can occur already in very young dogs.

  • More frequent in male dogs (neutering has no effect) than in females.


A thorough interview should be carried out to establish the diagnosis, and assess the threat the dog poses to the owners and the environment. Owners may not recognise or be concerned with less obvious signs of aggression such as

  • staring
  • growling
  • baring of teeth
  • biting,

which may have been present for some time. The details of the early manifestations of aggression are extremely important for making a diagnosis and determining a prognosis.
It is important to remember that not all aggression against owners is due to a desire to dominate, but sometimes it has an anxious basis.


Displays of aggression in dogs towards household members usually occur in the vicinity of the dog’s bed, food bowl, or toys or during contact with the dog (stroking, reaching out) and reaching for the dog’s favourite items. It may also occur during contact with favourite family members, The dog behaves aggressively towards household members or people with whom it has an established relationship. Aggressive behaviour may also occur in other situations but is not limited to, for example, defending a territory or attacking other dogs or strangers. Before starting treatment, the triggers of aggression, the frequency of aggressive episodes and their intensity should be established.
Aggression may not occur in the same situation every time and may vary in intensity from one household member to another.
Aggressive behaviour is usually accompanied by a rigid body posture, staring, head raised, ears erect and forward, and tail raised. Owners may describe these situations as a combination of these postures and more submissive postures (tail up but ears down, eyes averted) indicating an element of conflict, anxiety or fear in the dog’s motivation.


It can be part of normal dog behaviour, but its severity is influenced by the environment, upbringing and genetics.
Aggression may be influenced by primary disease processes, early experiences (learning that aggression allows control of the situation) and lack of consistency or clear rules in the functioning of the household and the dog’s relationship with the owner.
It is rarely a manifestation of medical problems, but the original disease must always be eliminated, as pain and/or illness can influence the tendency to show aggressive behaviour.
Inconsistent or inappropriate methods of disciplining the dog or inconsistent interactions between the owner and the dog may influence the development of conflict and/or aggressive behaviour.


There are usually no significant changes. Medical problems, especially pain, may contribute to aggressive behaviour.MORPHOLOGICAL/BIOCHEMICAL examination of blood, and urine – usually no abnormalities. If abnormalities are found they usually indicate a primary metabolic or endocrine disorder.IMAGERY – MR (magnetic resonance imaging) if brain disease is suspected. May be useful in differentiating the cause of pain.


Outpatient treatment consists of behaviour modification and the possible introduction of pharmacological therapy.

Adequate exercise should be introduced and maintained to reduce the frequency of aggressive behaviour.

A diet low in protein and rich in tryptophan may help reduce aggressiveness but is unlikely to have a significant effect in the absence of behaviour modification.


Situations that trigger aggression should be avoided. The dog is not allowed to climb on furniture. Do not give him treats or toys he prefers (e.g. untreated leather). It is necessary to hide toys and to teach the owner that it is he who sets the time for play and activity. Physical contact with the dog is limited, including stroke. Do not physically chastise or punish the dog.
The dog should become accustomed to walking with a bridle collar and muzzle. Whenever the dog comes into contact with people, it should wear a bridle collar and a light leash of 1.5 metres. A long leash is used to pull the dog away in a situation that may cause aggression. YOU DO NOT GRAB THE DOG DIRECTLY!
Behaviour modification – using non-confrontational methods, force the dog to recognise and reinforce the owner’s position as alpha. Reward and submission-based training methods should be used to teach the dog to obey people’s commands without coming into conflict with them.
Affection control – the dog is taught to obey commands before it receives the thing it wants from people. For example, the dog must sit or lie down before receiving a meal, before being petted or going for a walk. For the first 22-3 weeks, owners should only give their dog attention in short, closely structured periods (command-reaction-reward). During the rest of the time, they should ignore the dog’s behaviour, especially when it is looking for a way to get attention. The owner initiates contact with the dog by giving a command and ends the interaction before the dog does.
Opposite commands – using positive reinforcement (food, toys, play, stroking) to teach the dog the opposite behaviour to those that have ended in aggression attacks in the past. For example, a dog is taught the commands „come down” to get off furniture and „leave” to drop a toy it is holding.



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