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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I saw a post claiming that "People who own aggressive dogs are weak" supposedly, according to "8", that meant that people who were nervous or insecure would get aggressive dogs or make their dogs aggressive to make themselves feel stronger or safer. I would like to challenge that. I think it is true that owners who are insecure are more likely to have aggressive dogs. BUT. It is more because of these factors:
1. The dog picks up on their owner's fear, nervousness, defensiveness, and reacts accordingly- with fear. This leads to aggression.
or
2. The owner, in order to make themself feel in charge of something (usually subconsciously), uses aversive training techniques like leash pops, alpha rolls, choke chains, strong shock collars, yelling, hitting, etc. The dog is then so stressed out and fearful that it lashes out unexpectedly, whether at their owner, at other people, or at other dogs.
or
3. Someone rescued a dog who has some kind of traumatic past. They are trying to work through the dog's issues, but haven't completed their desensitization training yet. (So don't attack them for trying to help out the poor dog!)
 

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Yeah, that post was from 2009, and that person hasn't been on the forum since then.

There are lots of reason that dogs can "act aggressive", when they may or may not actually be aggressive. Most displays of aggression are actually fearful behavior.
 

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An awful lot of so called "aggression" is a dog in defense (fear).
An awful lot of fearfulness in dogs is genetic nerve.

Most fearful rescues were never abused. They were born that way and their fear is genetic.

I have dogs I have trained in tracking, obedience and protection in the sport I do.

None were wantonly aggressive.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
An awful lot of so called "aggression" is a dog in defense (fear).
An awful lot of fearfulness in dogs is genetic nerve.

Most fearful rescues were never abused. They were born that way and their fear is genetic.

I have dogs I have trained in tracking, obedience and protection in the sport I do.

None were wantonly aggressive.
I am interested by what you said, as I had never heard of genetic fear. To clarify, it is possible for a dog to be born fearful? Is it possible to overcome that?
 
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I am interested by what you said, as I had never heard of genetic fear. To clarify, it is possible for a dog to be born fearful? Is it possible to overcome that?
Yes.
Overcoming it? Not entirely. You can help the dog become better with patience, time.. calm. It also depends on the level of fear and nerve.

Under stress the dog will often revert.
I have seen a few dogs that were so genetically fearful the best option is euthanasia. The dog lives a miserable life and is so unstable as to be a liability.

I recall a beautiful Show line German shepherd that at 6 months old was so fearful and unstable she had to be euthanized. This dog was biting for real and the owners were good owners.

I put the blame squarely on the breeder. The fearfulness had to have shown up in the lines leading up to this puppy being produced.
 

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I am interested by what you said, as I had never heard of genetic fear. To clarify, it is possible for a dog to be born fearful? Is it possible to overcome that?
Yes, fear is one aspect of genetic temperament & dogs are born with a 'range' of fear. Some of this can be chalked up to maternal hormones - a stressed bitch will have such a high level of fear hormones in her system, it will cross the placenta & affect the brain development of the puppies in utero. This is a survival mechanism - if Mama is living in an incredibly stressful environment, then fearful behavior could mean a matter of life vs death for any puppies born into such an environment.

As far as 'overcoming' this fear... Let's say that "Fear" is rated on a scale of 1 - 10 (1 being totally terrified of any/every thing and 10 is the 'bomb-proof' dog who is afraid of basically nothing) Each puppy comes into this world within a 'range' on this scale. One might be on the fearful end of the spectrum with a range of 2 - 5. With the BEST early socialization & environment, this pup will end up as a 5 (so, mid-level fearful dog) Another might be on the confident end of the spectrum with a range of 7 - 10) Even with the absolute minimal or worst case early socialization, this pup will bottom out at a 7 (so generally confident)

Basically nature (genetics) gives you a baseline range & nurture (early socialization) moves each puppy up or down within that pre-determined range. After that, you have life experiences to which the puppy/dog is exposed that will continue to shape his/her long term behavior. It's not a simple process that can be chalked up to a simple answer.
 

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If you want to be really technical, no puppy is born instantly fearful. Fear response seems to develop between five and eight weeks on average, and prior to that anything the dog sees or experiences is assumed to be 'safe' and 'normal', which is why it's so important for breeders to be so involved in early socialization with their puppies. But genetics absolutely impacts how soon that fear response develops and how intense it is when it happens. It's been shown that breeds that are more sensitive and prone to anxiety, such as border collies, develop their fear response significantly earlier than breeds who are generally more bold and bomb-proof, like labs (again, on average). Like everything involved with something as complicated as fear, this is just one piece of the puzzle, but it's an interesting one (at least to a dog nerd like me).

Early exposure to pain can also impact the development of fear and anxiety.

Check out Dr. Jessica Hekman if you want to know more about this stuff. She researches dog behavior in relation to genetics and brain development. She does some awesome webinars and even classes sometimes
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
That's interesting. I think i might continue to research this topic more. Thank you guys for all of your responses!
 

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Also look up developmental or fear cycles - I don't recall the Scott & Fuller develop cycles [similar in concept to Spock's cycles for human development], but they were something like 4 -8 weeks ['everyone is a friend'], 8 -11 weeks[first fear cycle, socialize with friendly strangers], 12-16 weeks[continue exposure to friendly things, slowly], then roughly 6 months to 14 months [fine tune socializing, extend to the rest of the world]. It's easier for you to look up the details, than for me to try to type the details.

There are variances among breeds and individual dogs, retrievers tend to be relatively easy to socialize .... Goldens can be legendary for loving everyone. I have a Lab mix, rescued at 1.5yo with minimal socialization and exposure to the world ... met maybe 8 people and 10 dogs, who was scared of his own shadow, but showed it through apparently aggressive behaviors. When I investigated more closely, mainly very loud barking. It took me a year of counter-conditioning to 'eliminate' his reactivity, another year to get him to the point of friendliness of a 6 month Lab, and a third year to get his first AKC Therapy Dog title, with continuing visits and experiences.

He still continues his 'aggressive' appearing behaviors, but only during high energy play with equivalent high energy dogs. Otherwise, when he's not 'working,' he's the neighborhood sweetie. BTW, he kind of fits your 'third category' - he didn't have a traumatic life [according to the Vet that took care of him from 4 weeks old], he just had a long stay in a no-kill rescue, before I adopted him, so he didn't get the early socialization with the world that he needed.
 

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My own experience with aggressive dogs and their owners is that the owners are negligent and arrogant. Rules don't apply to them. They let their dogs run. They don't repair weak fences. They blame others for doing something provocative - like walking down their street. The one I finally took to court lied under oath.

It's not that good owners never end up with aggressive dogs, but when they do, they usually manage the dog and minimize the problem. From what I see here, the biggest problem with caring owners and aggressive dogs is probably the conviction that they can somehow turn that dog into a peaceful dog park candidate.

From my experience doing rescue with dogs (and breeding, raising and showing horses for 30 years), I think most aggressiveness, fearfulness, shyness, etc., is genetic. The best owner in the world may make it a little better, but it can't be erased. I took in dogs out of really abusive, ugly situations, who immediately after getting out of that situation flowered into lovely, loving pets. They might react strongly to a particular thing that had caused them pain or fear, but in general they were great. For instance, one flew backwards when I turned toward her with a spatula raised in my hand, but she only did it once early on. Admittedly I'm talking Rottweilers here. Individuals of more sensitive breeds probably have less ability to bounce back.

What I saw on the horse side completely changed my ideas from believing nurture was more important than nature to the opposite. Breed the same mare to a different stallion, and you would get so different a temperament the only way to account for it was the different genes. Not that the mare didn't have major influence, but changing the other 50% also could slew thing around in surprising ways.

On the other side, I once took in 2 half-Rottie puppies, raised them myself, and ended up keeping them because they were so shy that fear aggression was a given. I didn't have the nerve to adopt them to the kind of homes that applied to my rescue.
 
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