Dog Aggression Problems and Pack Order


A dog's aggressive behavior can lead to fighting, biting, and challenges for the alpha spot in the pack hierarchy which can disrupt an entire household. Share these visitors' stories and see what tips the Dog Expert has to offer.

Dog Aggression Problems and Pack Hierarchy at Home

I have had two male dogs, one Springer Spaniel, and one mixed Border Collie/Lab, who were absolutely wonderful cuddlers, and loved to be beside, or resting partly on top of me when I was reading. I loved this affectionate aspect of these dogs. However, both developed some aggressive tendencies.

The Springer would growl at me if I tried to get him out of the car and he didn't want to go, or if I reached for his bone. He also became very nasty if I tried to get him off the bed (he usually wasn't allowed on the bed.)

The Border/Lab was always right on top of me. When we adopted him from the Humane Society at six years old, his previous family had said he was not aggressive toward dogs, nor did he seem aggressive at the Humane Society. After a few weeks of being with me, he started to get in fights with other dogs when we were on walks and he was loose. Eventually this became a big problem, and he would just attack another dog as soon as he saw it. He eventually bit a human -without provocation- and had to be put down.

Now we are looking for another dog, and my husband thinks that my cuddling these dogs so much may make them more likely to protect or dominate me and lead to aggression. Is it possible that it is my behavior that is encouraging their aggression? I adore dogs that love to cuddle, and my instinct would be to get a cuddly dog again. Is it possible that just having a female would reduce the problem?

Thank you for any help you can offer.~~Carol

Expert Answer


I believe your husband is on the right track, but first let me express my sympathy on the loss of your beloved pet.

Dogs are pack animals, instinctively driven to band together in order to survive. The leader of any pack is called the Alpha and is the most dominant animal in the pack. The Alpha uses aggression to protect lower pack members and defend its place as leader. The rest of the pack members fall in line after the Alpha, and each dog in the group knows who is above, or dominant to him, and who is below, or submissive to him.

In human/dog relationships, the dog views us as part of his pack, and humans should naturally be the Alpha, calling the shots. Somewhere along the line, you unknowingly relinquished your place as Alpha, and your dogs began challenging you for leadership of the pack.

While it's wonderful that you had such an affectionate relationship with these dogs, more boundaries would have been helpful. A firm but fair reaction to the Springer the first time he got on the forbidden bed could have settled that issue and given you a chance to assert your rightful place as leader of the pack. Because he managed to get away with it, he took it as a sign that your leadership was open to challenge, hence more aggressive behavior on other issues like the car.

I suspect the same basic problem with your Border Collie/Lab mix. At some point he seems to have begun viewing you as submissive to him in the pecking order, and decided you needed to be protected by him during your outings. Allowing him to run loose instead of being controlled on a leash may have reaffirmed his ideas about your pack relationship. While you can't be 100% sure about his background before you received him, no matter what you've been told, seeing the Springer's behavior may have also helped inspire his aggressive behavior.

My suggestion is to put off getting another dog and concentrate on bringing the Springer back in line. The best way to achieve this would be through obedience training. A good instructor can show you how to master your dog and regain control, once again placing you in the Alpha position. Obedience training is also fun, and doesn't require much physical effort on the owner doing the training, so it can be enjoyable for you both. A check with your local dog club or Humane Society should put you in touch with obedience training classes in your area.

I don't believe getting a female for your next dog would necessarily solve any of your issues, and may inspire your Springer to more aggression if he hasn't been neutered. Concentrate on getting him in line first, and increasing your training skills to prevent this problem from happening again in the future. Then you'll be ready to take on a second dog, confident that you will be able to remain in charge of your pack.

I hope this info has been helpful to you, and thank you for your questions. Please let me know how the situation with your Springer works out.


Why Are My Dogs Suddenly Fighting?

My dad has a Chow Chow and an Australian Blue Heeler. They are both males and have always been friendly to each other until my dad's wife brought her two dogs to live with them. Her dogs are both female Labrador Retrievers. All four dogs have all lived together for two years now, but within the last few months the Chow has begun jumping on the Australian Blue Heeler and fighting with him.

~~ Donna

Expert Reply

Hi Donna,

Do you know if all four dogs have been spayed/neutered? Sometimes sexual tensions will cause an outbreak of fights. If the boys aren't neutered, I'd take care of this and see if it ends the fighting.

That said, since this problem didn't begin until after the dogs had lived together for two years, the Chow's behavior change may be a sign of an underlying medical condition that hasn't yet come to light. It would be a good idea to take him in for a thorough check up. This would also give your dad a chance to discuss the sudden fighting with your vet and see what ideas he/she has about the situation.

I hope you find these suggestions useful. Thank you for your question.

~~ Kelly

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Dog Aggression Problems and Pack Order