Aggression in dogs is a very serious behavioral problem and is a learned behavior. All puppies are born equal, not aggressive. If a puppy grows up to be aggressive, something happened along the way to make the pup fearful. A fearful pup unattended to becomes an aggressive adult dog.
Aggression can be prevented if the owner understands natural canine growth cycles and the factors that influence the development of aggressive behavior.
There are different kinds of aggression: dog aggression; aggression towards children, men or women; protection aggression; food aggression and possession aggression also called resource guarding. In this article I will focus on aggression in general.
There are critical periods in a puppy’s life, that when understood will help you raise a healthy well-adjusted puppy into adulthood. A wonderful book that I always recommend is, The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior by Clarence Pfaffenberger. It’s a very old book yet this chapter on critical periods of a pups life is some great information.
Puppies are born with their ears and eyes shut to the world, yet they feel everything that is happening to them. They feel their mother licking them clean, picking them up and feeling their litter mates all around them. You have seen a litter sleeping in a heap, a puppy pile, yes? Well, they are keeping each other warm and safe, just like, in the womb. Yet, when their other senses become engaged, the ears and eyes open and a whole new world of exploration becomes available. This is the first critical period in a puppy’s life.
In the first critical period of a pup’s life, they are learning about socialization in their litter. This is where and when pecking order begins. From 3 weeks of age until 8 weeks of age, puppies are behaving in a very instinctive manner, establishing a hierarchy through play. If a puppy is removed from its litter before 8 weeks of age, it is being robbed of very important social interactive skills with its litter mates, which could cause a pup to grow up to be aggressive with dogs. Therefore, in order for the puppy to develop into a well-adjusted adult, a puppy should not be taken away from their litter mates before 8 weeks of age.
The next critical period in a puppy’s life is between 8 and 10 weeks of age. This is when they start to realize that there is life outside themselves. They begin to become curious about people, other animals, things, etc. and it is a very fearful period. There should be great care taken to make sure that everything they are exposed to is done with a gentle hand, and an abundance of patience. This is also the time when bonding with a new human friend can begin.
After 10 weeks of age, bonding has begun and more socialization to the world is a necessity to ensure the success of a well-adjusted dog. If a puppy doesn’t bond and get properly socialized during their first 16 weeks of life, it may very likely develop aggressive behaviors. The key to having a well-adjusted adult dog is proper socialization during puppyhood.
Having said this, a dog doesn’t reach his age of maturity until he is between the age of 18 months and 3 years. There are many factors that influence this age of maturity, including, breed, temperament, socialization, training, etc. Therefore, it is imperative that for the first two years of a puppy’s life it is crucial to establish leadership skills in training, properly socialize your puppy with dogs and children in all walks of life, and to expose your puppy to all different environments and situations. Doing so will ensure a happy, healthy well-adjusted adult dog. These are key elements to the prevention of aggression.