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Mon-Fri 8 to 5:30
Sat. by appointment only

31310 Woodhaven Trail
Cannon Falls, MN 55009

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651-258-4050 office
651-258-4051 fax
651-222-0885 Twin Cities


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Canine Aggression

A dog’s temperament is determined by hereditary genes and environmental conditions!

Health authorities report that more than one million people are bitten each year. This number represents the reported cases only, and most cases go unreported. Bite wounds account for one percent of emergency room admissions and the annual cost to healthcare is approximately $30 million. Half of the dog bite victims are young children under 10 years of age. Aggression in is the most serious behavior problem that dog owners encounter. It can be preventable, if owners understand the factors that influence the development of aggressive behavior during their growth periods.

The puppy period is a critical socialization period between 3 weeks (when they start to see and hear) and 14 weeks of age. Puppies should be purchased after eight weeks of age and proper socialization should continue in their new home. Puppies experience a fearful period between 8 - 10 weeks. During this time, a puppy socialization class that promotes positive reinforcement is extremely important. Every puppy should be exposed to and gently handled by at least 100 adults and children.

The juvenile period starts at fourteen weeks. This dreaded adolescence period ends when the pup reaches sexual maturity between 14 - 15 months of age. Puppies that are kennel raised for the first 14 weeks (with limited human contact) will remain shy of people and exhibit fearful behaviors when stressed. These puppies are improperly socialized and have a difficult time trusting people and other dogs. Attending obedience classes during this time helps them to socialize with other dogs and teaches them to trust as well as respect people.

Dogs reach sexual maturity between 6 - 14 months of age. During this period, the males begin to lift their legs to urinate. They also may start barking at strangers and become more protective of their things and space. It is important to introduce strangers (adults, children, and other dogs) at their home property as well as in public places during this period. We also recommend spaying the females and neutering the males at 6 months of age. By removing the excess hormones the dogs bond more easily with their owners because they are more willing to learn, and are easier to obedience train.

Factors That Influence Aggression
Genetic makeup or hereditary genes play a major role in aggression. Dogs bred for protection (Akitas, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers) are expected to be more aggressive than (Golden Retrievers or Labs). Terriers by nature are intelligent, independent feisty little dogs used for hunting and killing rodents or small animals. It is important to evaluate the breed characteristics, and choose one that best suits your needs and fits into your lifestyle! The breeds that have a genetic predisposition for aggressiveness should have experienced owners.

Inbreeding may cause unstable temperaments as well as serious health issues.

Hormones contribute to aggressive tendencies in intact male dogs and in females who are nursing and protecting puppies.

Environmental Conditions that influence aggression are: being isolated from human contact, lacking proper socialization opportunities, using improper reinforcement techniques of negative behaviors by inexperienced owners, using inconsistent commands between family members, using excessive punishment, being teased by children or adults, being frightened or attacked by an aggressive dog, being aggravated at delivery people, joggers, or bikers.

Dogs are genetically programmed to live in a pack hierarchal order that influences their social rank. The rank is established and maintained by their body language. The most dominant dog maintains the alpha status and the others fall into place. When dogs live with people, they look at their family as their pack members. They attempt to establish their position or rank within the family by challenging the more submissive members (particularly the children). It is important to correct dogs that display dominant gestures such as growling at anyone who walks near them or while guarding their food dish or possessions. When dominant gestures remain uncorrected, the dog gradually gains in rank over one or all family members. Subtle signs of dominance usually go unnoticed until the dog bites a person for infringement on their alpha position. Owners misunderstand or ignore the progression of these behaviors and blame the dog for biting "for no reason." These dogs frequently end up at animal shelters and are destroyed because their owners misunderstood the development and progression of aggressive behavior. Ten million dogs are euthanized each year because of unwanted behavior.


Aggression Types
Dominant-aggressive dogs stand tall with their ears erect and pointed forward, their tail is held straight up, and their eyes are open and in a fixed stare. They bark excessively, snarl or snap, emit a low pitched growl, raise their hackles up, exhibit curled up lips and exposed teeth. They may attack other animals such as dogs, cats, or horses. They may mount people's legs or place their front paws on the shoulder of other dogs. They push people aside when going through a door. They chase moving objects such as joggers, bikers, cars and trucks. They escape from home and roam for long periods of time. Dominant dogs demand attention, excessive affection and are possessive of their possessions, space and sleeping areas. Most of these dogs choose to ignore soft toned commands or the command to “down” or “drop”. They resist being placed in a submissive position. The males lift their legs to mark things in the house and everywhere outside. Punishment cannot be used to correct a dominant aggressive dog! It takes a knowledgeable trainer and an experienced dedicated owner who is willing to train, utilizing behavior modification skills to achieve respect and gain the alpha position. CVS does not recommend a dominant aggressive dog for the average dog owner!

Defensive-aggressive dogs display submissive body posture (ears back, often flat against their head, avoid direct eye contact; lower their head and body; and may tuck their tail between their legs. Some may experience submissive urination, lick their owner’s hands or roll over to expose their bellies. They may resist handling or grooming and hate to have their feet touched. If cornered, they become aggressive fear-biters and often snap at people who turn their back to walk away. Dog’s that exhibit these tendencies must learn to trust. It is important to use behavior modification skills and positive reinforcement to build their self esteem.

Other types of aggression: pain related aggression, possession aggression (of space or things), maternal aggression (parental protection of puppies or family), territorial aggression, status related aggression, intra-sexual (male to male or female to female), protection aggression, predatory aggression, and play aggression.

If your dog exhibits any aggressive acts, an animal behaviorist should be contacted. Timing is crucial because it is easier to change or modify behaviors when they first get started. The more ingrained the negative behaviors get, the harder they are to modify. Treatment starts with filling out the Canine Behavior History Form. Once we receive the CVS form, it is evaluated and a treatment plan is determined. We encourage family members to attend the first appointment with your dog. Using positive reinforcement and behavior modification training methods, we teach dog owners how to effectively become the alpha leader of their family or pack. We also teach owners how to modify their dog’s strong instinctual behaviors with appropriate and acceptable behaviors. When necessary, Dr. Winter may prescribe medication for your dog to help make the transition easier for them to accept.


  • Avoid entering private property unless specifically invited.
  • Avoid an encounter with guard-trained dogs.
  • Avoid direct eye contact, which the dog interprets as a challenge to fight.
  • Glance at the dog so you know where it is, but don't stare at their eyes.
  • Do not run, when confronted by a threatening dog.
  • Stand your ground, and demonstrate moderate dominance by firmly commanding the dog to “go home or sit”.
  • If the dog backs away, slowly retreat until it is out of site.
  • If you are on a bicycle, do not ride away from the dog. Stop, get off and stand with the bicycle between you and the dog.
  • Do not pet a loose strange dog.
  • Do not touch or pet a strange dog that is eating or sleeping
  • Do not turn your back on an aggressively barking dog.
  • Do not scream or run (be still and remain calm).
  • Do not be embarrassed to ask an owner to restrain their dog.
  • Do not be embarrassed to jump on a car, climb a tree, or call for help if you feel threatened.
  • As a last resort throw food or an object at an aggressive dog.
  • Report all aggressive loose dogs or incidents of actual bites to the police.
  • If you are knocked down (curl up into a ball, and use your hands to protect your head and neck).




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