Downeast Dog News

Conflict Related Aggression

By Christine D. Calder, DVM, DACVB | Jul 01, 2022

What is Conflict Related Aggression?

Conflict related aggression is a condition that results in aggressive behaviors such as barking, growling, lunging, snapping, or biting directed towards people that a dog knows well (often family members). These dogs may show confusing body language (approach for attention and then snarl, growl, snap, or bite) before and during an attack. Afterwards, the dog may “slink off”, shake, or appear “remorseful” causing people to assume they feel “guilty” or “sorry.” This is usually not the case, and these behaviors often indicate anxiety or fear instead.

Common situations for this behavior include:

• Moving or disturbing while resting

• Staring directly

• Reaching over the head or reaching out your hand

• Placing a leash and collar on or off

• Disciplining

• Hugging, kissing, and petting

• Bathing or grooming

• Restraining

Many dogs with conflict related aggression also guard toys, food, spaces, and many other items. It is their way of gaining some form of control and predictability over their environment and human interactions.

How is Conflict-related Aggression Treated?

1. Avoid Confrontation. Confrontation increases fear and anxiety which often escalates behavior rather than stop it.

2. Avoid Inconsistent Interactions: Predictability is key to reduce anxiety and uncertainty.

3. Monitor body language closely. Dogs express themselves with their eyes, ears, mouth, tail, and body. An understanding of body language helps to keep a dog feeling safe and avoid unnecessary conflict.

4. Positive Reinforcement training: Positive reinforcement training builds relationships. Start button behaviors such as eye contact, a chin rest, or standing on a platform are taught to build trust and give opportunities for the dog to say “yes” or “no” in a non-confrontational way.

5. Relaxation Exercises: Such as learning how to take deeper breaths on cue or shaping relaxation lowers anxiety and teaches new coping skills.

6. Behavior Modification: When specific triggers are identified, behavior modification changes emotional states and individual responses to these triggers.

7. Medications: In many cases, medication may be helpful as part of a complete treatment plan.

As with any behavior problem, it is important to consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist to rule out underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to the behavior and develop a treatment plan.