behaviours in dogs: a new descriptive-contextual
The descriptive-contextual classification
©Joel Dehasse*1, Maya Braem2, Sabine Schroll3
did not invent a totally new vocabulary. Sometimes I did, for
example with "distancing aggression". Most often, I used
the existing vocabulary. Keep in mind that if I use the word
"irritation aggression", it does not mean aggression
triggered by irritation, but aggression in a context of irritation.
|The aggressive behavior classes are organized from mild controlled aggression to severe (potentially) lethal aggression.|
1.1.1 Parental weaning aggression
mild aggression used by parents (that involves threatening and even
gently attacking their own offspring at weaning time); e.g., to
terminate unwelcome suckling, etc.
1.1.2 Parental disciplinary aggression
Controlled mild aggression used by parents (that involves threatening and even gently attacking their own offspring); e.g., to keep offspring close at hand, to urge them into motion, to break up fighting, etc. (Dehasse, 1999).
mild aggression used by parents (that involves threatening and even
gently attacking their own offspring); e.g. to teach appeasing and
submissive postures, etc. (Dehasse, 1999).
aggressive behaviors occurring during play, including mock-fighting,
kicking and play-biting between young and/or adult dogs or dogs and
humans (or other animals), and resulting in learning to control its
movements and bites.
mild aggressive-like, mock-fighting, behaviors strictly in the
context of play.
4 phases aggressive sequence (threat, attack, end, refractory),
shown towards conspecifics or humans in competition for resources or
privileges. Competitive aggression results normally in
hierarchization (when resources are average or plentiful), but there
may be exceptions when resources are scarce and animal fight for
may be coded as
(between individuals of the same social system) or intergroup
(between individuals of different social systems)
or not hierarchizing.
1.3.1 Food-elicited aggression
in a context of competition for (palatable) food, bones, …
the social group, there is normally no inhibition of male aggression
towards females and puppies over 3 to 4 months of age. There may be
inhibition of male aggression in presence of high rank pregnant or
lactating females and puppies les than 3 months of age.
1.3.2 Non-food object elicited aggression – Possession aggression
in a context of competition for non-food objects, toys, … Also
called possession aggression with the following definition:
“Aggression that is consistently directed toward another
individual who approaches or attempts to obtain a nonfood object or
toy that the aggressor possesses or to which the aggressor control
access.” (‘possessive aggression’, in Overall).
aggression is often violent, and sometimes not related to the group
nor to hierarchization process. It may appear in different
disorders, including unipolar disorders.
1.3.3 Resting area-elicited aggression
in a context of competition for a resting or isolation area
(different from critical (fear-elicited) aggression).
1.3.4 Social interaction/alliance-control-elicited aggression
in a context of competition for social interaction with (high
ranking) individuals of the social group.
1.3.5 Space-control-elicited aggression
in a context of competition for area which permit to observe, and
control (regulate, forbid or authorize) the movements (passage) of
several individual of the group, or having been recently
included/accepted in the group; these individuals have to use
appeasing rituals to move around.
1.3.6 Sexual-control-elicited aggression
aggression in a context of competition for interaction and
intercourse with the other sex, i.e. aggression between males,
aggression between females (in heat).
1.3.7 Other resource-elicited aggression, non specified.
in a context of competition for other resources or privileges.
1.3.8 Dueling fights
(particularly intragroup aggression) in an apparent context of
competition for hierarchy (without competition for specifics
resources), mostly between high ranking individuals and adolescent
targets. The aggression seems quite brutal and violent towards the
adolescent who has to use appeasement and submitting rituals
repetitively. This dueling period may go on for several months until
complete hierarchization of the adolescent in a lower rank.
dueling fights happen more often between individuals of the same
sex, but are sometimes intersexual too.
Controlled intermale, more often than interfemale, aggressive display between conspecifics of different groups. There is no evident resource or privilege that may trigger this aggression.
male’s aggression involving threats and attacks directed toward a
female that forces her into a more prolonged sexual alliance with
him” (Wilson 1975, in Barrows 2000).
It has been observed in feral and domestic male dogs towards female dogs (even not in estrus) and also sometimes from male dogs toward female humans and may evolve into rape-like behavior.
aggression due to - or in the context of - an (anticipation of an)
interference (or undesired interaction) with any behavior of the
dog, by an individual (dog, human, other animal) to which the dog
has been correctly socialized to, such as constraint, undesired or
unexpected manipulation, and/or controlled aggression due to an
intrusion in the critical distance of the aggressor dog by an
individual (dog, human, other animal) that is not considered as
aggression can be coded:
This irritable aggression is influenced and modified by classical and operant conditioning.
due to or in the context of a (threat of an) intrusion into the
security and/or critical distance of one puppy or the group of
puppies by adult males or female dogs.
are several aggressive behavioral sequences related to the context
of space management, such as the management of the space around the
animal body, the space occupied by the group, or the
individual/security space of the dog.
distancing aggression may precede territorial (proactive)
aggression, since individual distance is an evolutionary precursor
to territory. Territory management may need map-like brain cognitive
capacities, something quite more complex than the defense of the
area surrounding one’s body.
deflected from the object or individual that arouses it toward a
neutral (or substitute) object or individual.
aggression may easily be modified by classical and operant
conditioning with a change of target when the dog is excited or
triggered by a noxious stimulus.
For example, aggression to the phone or people answering the phone when the dog is overexcited, …
of a mobile/moving object (bicycle, automobile,…) or individual
(jogger, …) from a class/category to which the dog has been
(probably not correctly) socialized.
is probably part of the innate predatory aggression sequence but is
classified separately because of the complexity of the hunting
called ‘critical reaction’ (by Hediger), it is an intense
aggression by a dog, showing (including autonomous) signs of fear,
occurring only in cases where escape has been attempted but is not
possible, when an individual considered to be dangerous invades the
critical distance of the dog.
modified by learning.
of different dogs of the same group to attack and sometimes injure
severely, or even kill, a dog or a human (to whom the dog is
normally socialized to) from the same or from another group, in a
Mobbing is a modality and can apply to several types of aggression, such as territorial aggression or competitive aggression. It can be seen in intragroup aggression and lead to the death of a submissive or un-submitting (new) member of the group, such as in ‘pack-response aggression’ as proposed by Beaver (1994).
towards puppies leading to lethal lesions and sometimes cannibalism
There are two kinds of infanticide: the aggression by a mother to her own offspring and the aggression by an adult dog towards strange offspring. The function and trigger factors may be quite different in both situations.
pursuit, catch and sometimes kill and consumption of (part of) an
individual from a class/category to which the dog has not/poorly
been socialized to.
put predatory aggressions in the plural because they are complex
different behaviors. There
are different typical behaviors depending on the size and behavior
of prey. They are made up of the step-by-step organization of
several independent behaviors (or stages) such as stalk, crouched
run, walk and pauses, pursuit, prey-kill, neck-bite and
asphyxiation, death shake, etc. The ending phase, i.e. eating part
of the prey, will depend on physiological factors such as hunger
© Dr Joel Dehasse - Behaviorist veterinarian - 2004-01-25