If you have a dog that is a bit of a scaredy dog or even bares his teeth, this may interest you. New research is making discoveries about dog anxiety and dog aggression and now this knowledge might even help with human anxieties…

Dog anxiety and aggression may be genetic

Dog aggression is a problem

As we know, dog aggression can be a problem to dog owners and to society. What you may not know is that most dog aggression is based on fear. Your dog is scared of an approaching dog and to make this supposed threat back off, they growl, show teeth or lunge, barking at the other dog, who beats a hasty retreat.

“No thanks mate. I’m outta here!”

Is your dog happy to meet other dogs or a little scared?
Is your dog happy to meet other dogs or a little scared?

Researchers at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, in the US, looked at the genes associated with aggression in dogs. They discovered that canine genes associated with aggression towards humans in the household were quite different from those associated with aggression towards unknown people and dogs. They found a series of 12 genes that are associated with aggression towards strangers.

What this means for dog owners

Why is this important for dog owners? Well, it means that down the track we – or those who breed dogs – may be able to genetically test for these genes and breed dogs who are not pre-disposed to aggression. That’s good news!

It also lets some of us dog owners, whose dogs are less than friendly towards other people and dogs, off the hook – just a little. Until now, behaviourists, vets and trainers have been telling dog owners that we must socialise our puppies and dogs. And yes, of course, this is still extremely important in the development of calm, canine behaviour but if your dog has genes for aggression, then any amount of socialisation may never be enough to prevent it from being expressed by your dog.

Dr Jo says “As we understand more about our dog’s aggressive behaviour and their anxiety, we may be able to reduce these unwanted behaviours and even improve our own anxiety…”

And how does this help humans? Well, further research will be looking at the neural pathways of aggression and anxiety and also exploring new therapies which target these biochemical pathways. These may include drug therapies which will ultimately regulate the behavioural effects of these emotions.

Scaredy dogs

Helping humans too

Researchers are currently exploring these in dogs and it is forecast that if they are effective in dogs, then they can also be applied to humans. Yes, humans with a pre-disposition towards aggressive behaviour may be calmed by understanding dogs.

This may be a long way down the track but it is good to know that we are not completely to blame for our dog’s behaviour and that, eventually, perhaps, we will be able to relax a little more when out walking our dogs.

If your dog is aggressive towards unknown people or dogs, or towards family members, it is always worth seeking professional help.

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  1. Isain Zapata, James A. Serpell, Carlos E. Alvarez. Genetic mapping of canine fear and aggressionBMC Genomics, 2016; 17 (1) DOI: 1186/s12864-016-2936-3


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One comment

  1. I think a lot of people have already associated that there are specific dog genes and breeds that are more prone to aggression. And yes, seeking professional help is still the best when you suspect your dogs’ behavior are off.

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