Behavior Problem - Dominance Aggression


Dominance aggression treatment

Question: Hi,

I was browsing the net when I came across your site (, where I found some information about dominance agression. I have a 3 year old male springer spaniel which has been showing signs of dominance agression for a couple of years. It gets worse sometimes -- now he's going through a "good phase", he's been sweet these days, but won't let us (we're a young couple) give him a much needed haircut nonetheless.

Anyway, I was reading about the mechanisms of dominance agression in springers and the use of fluoxetine on such cases. I consulted quite a lot of vets, but none of them would know anything about this subject. Actually, most of them didn't even know what was I talking about. I live in Brazil, and it seems that vets in here are not well trained on the subject of dominance agression.

Since I have no access to a behaviorist (I don't believe there are any in my country...), I thought about putting my dog on fluoxetine, but I couldn't find out what's the correct dose to begin with. None of the vets I consulted could offer any help on this. So I'm writing you in hope that you could point me in the right direction -- either helping me with the dose or pointing me to some site that has some info on this. I'd be very grateful for any help you could give me. Thank you in advance for the attention, looking forward to hearing from you. Flávio. Answer: Flavio- It is important to note that fluoxetine is considered to be one component of therapy for dominance aggression and fearful aggression. Usually there is a component of one or the other of these conditions when "rage syndrome" is thought to be occurring in a springer spaniel. It is important to pursue behavioral control of the situation. To do this, it is important to try to identify the type of aggression present. Fearful aggression is treated differently than dominance aggression, although both may be partially responsive to the use of selective seritonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine. If the aggression appears to be dominance related, such as aggression that occurs when an owner tries to move a dog off of a favored spot such as a couch or chair or tries to take away a favorite toy and occurs quite suddenly with little warning, this fits the typical "rage" episode reported to be common in springers. For this type of situation it is recommended that the dog be made to work for all positive things, such as feeding, petting, going outside, etc. The simplest approach to this is to make the dog sit before giving its food, before going on walks, etc. It is important that this be a consistent part of behavioral training as it makes the dog defer to the owner, reinforcing the owner's dominant status without physical confrontation. If necessary, a dog may be muzzled during the training until it becomes reliable about responding to commands. A head halter type collar helps, too. This is hard to do in a family situation, as all family members must consistently follow the protocol. If this is not possible it is much less likely that the aggression can be controlled. It is never possible to totally trust a dog that has exhibited severe dominance aggression and children, elderly folks and people not smart enough not to approach a strange dog in an manner than might be viewed as aggressive have to be protected from the dog at all times. As part of the behavioral training, fluoxetine may be helpful. The dosage is 1mg per kg every 12 hours to 24 hours. It may be best to start with the higher dosage and to lower it only if the dog responds enough to make it worth considering long term use of the medication. Mike Richards, DVM 11/11/2002

Prozac for dominance aggression

Q: i am looking for some up to date info on the side effects of prozac used in dogs. we are from a veterinary hospital in ontario and are considering putting a 3 year old lhasa on prozac for dominance aggression. we would just like some more technical info. any help would be appreciated. thanks. A: At the present time the majority opinion seems to be that there are no well defined side effects from fluoxetine (Prozac Rx) in dogs. However, it is important to consider that the types of side effects seen in people would be really hard for a dog to communicate about -- there is no way the dog can say that it feels anxious, isn't sleeping well, feels drowsy or dizzy or nauseated (although vomiting would be tip off here). My best guess is that some of these effects do occur. How serious that might be is hard to say. People quit taking these types of medication when they are bothered by them but our pets don't get that chance. In theory, fluoxetine should be a good medication to try in aggression --- but you have to be very very careful relying on medication in a situation in which aggression is occurring. Don't take it for granted that the medication will work. Continue to work on behavioral modification as well. Mike Richards, DVM

Dominance aggression

Q: I have 3 dogs: Maude is a 15 year old shep mix female spayed. She weighs about 50 pounds. She was my brother's dog all her life but the past 3 years she's been with me cuz she's old and all and he moves around alot. Basically in great shape for her age. Has a very large fatty tumor, apparently from getting hit by a car as a pup, which has grown over the years. By the time I got her, it was too large to remove, especially in light of her age. She's a bit stiff, slowing down, and has 2 other problems - flea bite dermatitus, which is largely under control, and she may be getting incontinent, wets herself more and more often. Hershey is 3 years old, has lived with us for a year, is a spayed female chocolate lab, 90 lbs., in robust health. She came to us from some people that kept her in a cage almost all day every day for the first 2 years of her life. They couldn't or didn't know how to control her and so they kept her in a kennel They had 3 or four other dogs, which they mostly treated the same way. They didn't hurt them or anything, just kept them in lockup all the time except to go outside a couple hours a day. All their other dogs were spayed females, 1 other lab and some cockers. Onyx is about 8 months old, male pit mix who has not been neutered, and we've had him about 4 months. Problem is Hershey out of the blue the other day started going after Maude. The first time she may have tried to hump Maude, I'm not sure, but she very occasionally does (and quite frequently does with Onyx, the pup). Maude doesn't tolerate this usually, snarling and getting out from under Hersh. But anyways, Hershey just waded right into Maude, had her down on her belly on the floor, biting her shoulder/back. I had to beat her and pry her off Maude (who wasn't fighting back at all, which is wierd for her) and restrain her from going back after Maude. A few hours later she did it again, and this time it was even harder to get her off. She tore alot of skin off Maude's shoulder. Took Maude to the vet who put in drains and some stitches, and when I brought her home Hershey got loose from my roommate and went after her again. Again, I had to beat on her and pry her jaws open to get her to let go. Before this happened, Hershey has never shown any aggression towards Maude, has always given her plenty of space and been respectful of the limits Maude sets with her. Hershey has tried to be friendly or whatever with Maude, trying to lick her and stuff, and sniffing her, but Maude at best will only briefly tolerate that before snarling a little and moving off to one of her spots. (Maude will go up and sniff Hershey once a day or so, but in a stiff kind of dominant way, and Hershey gets real still and submissive when Maude does that.) Maude is more tolerant of the puppy, and will even play fight with him occasionally. Hershey and the puppy play all the time. Hershey is generally a very sweet dog, and since we've had her she has learned alot about how to mind and what she's allowed to do and what she isn't. Hershey always wants to urinate on top of where Maude does, and kind of rushes Maude sometimes, she's in such a hurry to get a whiff and squat over the same spot. Overall, though, it's been kinda live and let live til now. The vet said Hershey may sense Maude's age/infirmity (although he did some"bloodwork" at my prompting and said there wasn't anything out of the ordinary wrong with her, other than the above mentioned ongoing problems) and that Hershey may be "trying to help her along". That comment, and suggesting a muzzle and separation, was all he had to offer. So, my questions are: 1) what's going on here?, and 2) can I change Hershey's behavior? I read through most of the posts to this board and didn't see anything referencing this specific sort of instinctual behavior, if that is what it is. Thanks. A: Nuhat- Before I forget -- the urinary incontinence (leaking urine) is usually treatable. It may even help to reduce the aggression between Hershey and Maude to treat this, since urine marking is part of dominance behavior, which is probably underlying the problem between the dogs. Dominance related aggression is not as common in female dogs as it is in male dogs. It is hard to be sure of the types of aggressive behavior without seeing the interactions. Despite this, your description does sound like dominance aggression. Hershey may have decided that she is old enough and confident enough to challenge Maude and try to take over as the dominant dog in the household. The "humping" behavior and the attacks are suggestive of this. If Maude is unwilling to give up dominance or if Hershey is not responsive to submissive signaling from Maude, the attacks may intensify. It is very very helpful to get advice from a trained behaviorist in this situation. Your vet may know of someone in your area who can assist with this problem. If you are near a veterinary school many of them now have behaviorists. It does not normally take many visits to establish the cause of the dominance and work out a plan for dealing with it. In the meantime, separation of the two dogs and/or muzzling the dogs is reasonable advice. It can be hard to treat aggression between female dogs and at least these things may insure that no one is injured while an attempt is made to sort the problems out. Please ask your vet if there is a behaviorist who can help in your area. Mike Richards, DVM

Dominance aggression possible

Q: Hi. I have a five year old male cairn terrier. His behavior has become so confusing and displeasing we just don't know what to do for him We feel very sorry for him because it is impossible to give him love or attention even when he is begging for it. He will come right up to one of us and tap our leg or arm with his little paw and make big pitiful eyes at you. When you go to pick him up or pet him he starts growling fiercely. As soon as you let go of him he stops growling but then he looks all mixed up as to why he didn't get picked up or put on my lap or whatever he was asking for. Then he starts pawing and begging again, then growls when you try to give him what he wants. You can actually put your face right up against his mouth when he is carrying on and he won't bite or hurt you in any way. In fact, he'll even lick you while he is carrying on. His little body gets all tense and rigid as soon as you make any attempt to touch him , hug him or pick him up and this hysterical growling starts up. Is there anything we can do for him? A: I really think it would be best if you would consider consulting with a veterinary or certified animal behaviorist. This may be a sign of dominance aggression (I can't even be close to sure of this just on the information you have supplied -- someone needs to watch this interaction who has experience determining that sort of thing). If it is dominance aggression there is a very good chance that he will bite, perhaps quite suddenly, during one of these episodes. Please be very careful about putting your face next to his. First have your veterinarian examine your dog to be sure there is not any sort of physical problem that may be causing pain or discomfort when he is picked up. If your vet thinks he is OK, then you should consider finding a behaviorist. Your veterinarian may be able to help you find a behaviorist in your area. Even if you have to travel pretty far it would be worthwhile to consider this option. Good luck with this. Mike Richards, DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...