Aggression As A Mental Disorder In Canines


People across the world keep dogs as pets. These dogs are
usually a big part of their owners' lives and often grow up
to truly be, "man's best friend,". What, then, can be done
for a dog with behavior problems? Through recent research
it has been established that dogs, like many humans, do
suffer from mental disorders. There is however, a variety
of treatments available and a complete cure is often
achieved. Dr. Nicholas Dodman, in his book, The Dog That
Loved Too Much, says that, "Aggression is the most common
behavior problem reported in dogs,"(10). 

There are many different types of aggression found in dogs
all of which show different symptoms, have different
causes, and different treatments. One type of aggression is
dominance-related aggression. Dominance is mainly expressed
in two ways: competition over resources and self protection
(Dodman 23). Dominance-related aggression is usually
directed toward those who reside with the dog which makes
affected dogs difficult to live with (Horwitz 42).
According to Dodman, traditional treatments of
dominance-related aggression include an increase in
exercise, brushing up on obedience training, and ceasing to
engage in any rough play or wrestling (35) . More recently,
however, drugs such as Prozac have been used as treatment.
Dodman says that Prozac is,"...extremely effective at
curtailing dominance-related aggression...enabling owners
to quickly gain the upper hand,"(34). 

Another type of aggression found in canines is
seizure-related aggression. Symptoms of seizure-related
aggression include a pre-aggression mood change that can
last for minutes or hours before a seemingly unprovoked
attack suddenly occurs (Dodman 48). Dogs with
seizure-related aggression, "...may wake up from a deep
sleep and immediately attack whatever is there..." (Dodman
38). In order to positively diagnose a dog with
seizure-related aggression, a test known as the
electroencephalographic (EEG) examination must be used.
This test measures the electrical activity of the brain.
Treatment of this disease usually includes medicating the
dog with an anti-convulsant such as phenobarbital (Dodman

Another form of aggressive behavior is known as territorial
aggression. There are two types of territorial aggression:
fear-related and anxiety-related. "Dogs with fear-motivated
aggression come in all sizes, shapes, and
breeds...,"(Horwitz 45). Territorial aggression is aimed at
strangers who are on the dogs turf and is often directed
toward those in uniform (Dodman 69). Dodman says that dogs
who are looking out the window watching the postman deliver
the mail are having their aggressive behavior (barking,
growling, etc.) reinforced upon the postman's departure
(53). This unintentional reinforcement of the unwanted
behavior makes it hard to treat as the dog feels that it is
doing it's job as protector of the home successfully.
Treatment of territorial aggression consists of
desensitization programs where the dog is gradually exposed
to its fear (i.e.-the postman), sharpening up on obedience
training, limiting the dog's urination to one spot in the
yard, and, if prescribed, a medication such as propranol
(Dodman 68). 

C.W. Meisterfeld, PH.D., is considered to be a pioneer in
the study of canine psychology. Meisterfeld says that, "The
biting behavior of a dog is a natural response to certain
trigger situations,"(48). Meisterfeld sites survival
instinct and improper relationship between owner and dog as
two major reasons for biting (48-51). The survival instinct
of a dog is a very complex and complicated subject. In
general, however, "The survival triggered by
any action a threat and leads t o an
automatic response-flight or fight,"(Meisterfeld 48).
Improper relationship between owner and dog occurs when the
owner does not assert himself as leader and the dog
therefore becomes dominant (Meisterfeld 51). 

Preventing a dog from becoming aggressive is something that
must be worked on from day one of the dog's life through
obedience training and consistent commands (Meisterfeld
51). However, as seen through the work of Dr. Dodman, even
if your dog does become aggressive, all is not lost. There
are a plethora of treatments available and most are a
complete success. 
Works Cited:
Dodman, Nicholas. The Dog Who Loved Too Much. New York:
Bantom Books, 1996.
Horwitz, Debra. "Recognizing Aggression." Dog Fancy April
1996: 40-47.
Meisterfeld, C.W. "To Bite or not to Bite." Dog Fancy April
1996: 48-51.


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