Signs Your Dog May Be Displaying Dominance Aggression
The dominant aggressive dog is generaly a sane, sound dog... and will usually only bite if you, or someone else who threatens him, attempts to place him into what he perceives as a submissive position. He may also bite if you do something to him which threatens his position as the pack leader... something behaviourists call the "Alpha Dog" or dog dominance .
This generally occurs when owners don't understand how dogs communicate, and they haven't paid close attention to the series of increasingly dominant aggressive dog behavior that their dogs have demonstrated.
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Although dogs are commonly characterized in terms of their dominance (e.g., "Fido is the alpha."), there is some controversy as to whether dominance is a stable personality trait.
In wild wolf packs, displays of dominance aggression have been observed to include "licking up," which involves essentially begging for food; "pinning," in which the dominant dog appears to threaten another, which shows submission by rolling over; "standing over"; territorial marking; and more passive expressions of body language, including holding the tail and ears erect, looking directly at other dogs, circling and sniffing other dogs, growling if the other dog moves.
Submissive displays mirror dominant displays and include adopting a posture that is physically lower than other dogs, such as crouching, rolling over on the back and exposing the abdomen, lowering the tail (sometimes to the point of tucking it between the legs), flattening of the ears, averting the gaze, nervously licking or swallowing, dribbling of urine, and freezing or fleeing when other dogs are encountered.
In wolves, recent research has indicated that dominant behaviors have been misinterpreted as personality traits that determine the individual's place in a linear hierarchy in the pack. In contrast, Mech (see recent research, below) argues that packs are family units, and that the "alpha" of a pack does not change through struggles for dominance. Rather, he argues that the family unit serves to raise the young, which then disperse to pair up with other dispersed wolves to form a breeding pair, and a pack of their own. This model undermines the popular conception of dominance in wolf social behavior.
Research on canine familiaris has also questioned whether dominance is a personality trait. Svartberg and colleagues (2002) gathered behavioral data from 15,000 dogs of 164 breeds in attempt to identify major personality traits. In an approach similar to those used in humans, the authors performed a factor analysis of their data, and identified five major traits: "Playfulness," "Curiosity/Fearlessness," "Chase-proneness," "Sociability," "Aggressiveness." A similar analysis by Goddard and Beilharz (1985) revealed two major factors in social behavior: "Confidence," and "Aggression–dominance."
These studies suggest that dominance aggression, per se, may not be a personality trait. Rather, underlying personality traits such as aggressiveness, confidence and curiosity may affect the prevalence of dog behaviors that are viewed as dominant.
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