Dogs behaving badly - understanding and managing canine "aggression"


RCVS Veterinary Specialist in Behavioural Medicine 

EBVS ® European Veterinary Specialist in Behavioural Medicine

Behavioural Referrals Ltd., Chester, UK

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Learning Objectives: 

1. Appreciate that “aggressive” responses may be justified from a canine perspective 

2. Understand emotional motivations for “aggressive” behaviour in dogs 

3. Recognise canine body language as an indicator of emotional state 

4. Understand the relevance of emotional arousal in cases of canine “aggression” 

5. Appreciate that dogs exhibiting “aggressive” responses are not necessarily behaving “badly”.



When dogs bite it is not unusual for the people involved in the incident to be shocked and to feel that the behaviour came “out of the blue”. In addition, people will often view the behaviour as “bad” and react to it with punitive interactions, both verbal and physical. Owners will often report that their dog has previously been “fine” with visitors or with children and feel that the behaviour is “out of character” or “unjustified”. Veterinary practices can also find themselves taken aback when a canine patient bites. So is it true that dogs who bite are “bad” dogs or is there an explanation for the behaviour which can help people to prevent “aggressive” incidents and respond appropriately if they do occur? 

While it can be useful to know where and when “aggressive” canine behaviour is likely to occur and who is likely to be directed toward these pieces of information are most helpful in relation to prevention of specific incidents rather than long term resolution of the behaviour. Understanding why the dog behaves in this way is crucial in order to be able to see the situation from a canine perspective and this presentation will explain the emotional motivations for “aggressive” responses and offer practical advice regarding preventing, predicting and managing this potentially dangerous behaviour.

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