Behaviorists identify up to fifteen different kinds of aggression in dogs. An important point to remember is that aggressive behavior serves a function to the aggressor and is therefore reinforced when conflict happens and the outcome is in his favor. However, this also means aggressive behaviors can be changed, and more appropriate behaviors can become just as functional to the dog. Some kinds of aggression respond well to behavioral therapy, and some do not. Almost all kinds can be managed to keep people safer.
Some recognized types of aggression are maternal or hormonally-based aggression, pain, predation, fear, play, territorial, resource guarding, inter dog or social-status related, redirected and idiopathic, among others. Some of these behaviors are considered “hardwired”, meaning they have strong biological function for the well being of the dog and are very resistant to modification.
Other kinds of aggression have been learned through experiences that a dog has had and are often more amenable to modification. One such example of a hardwired aggressive behavior is predatory aggression – it’s not directed as a social threat toward others but as a means to food acquisition. Because of this, some researchers don’t consider predation as an aggressive behavior, although it looks aggressive to the average person.
Another example of hardwired behavior, maternal aggression, dissipates with changes in hormones when pups are weaned. Similarly, pain aggression can completely resolve when the underlying medical condition is addressed.
Resource guarding, further broken down into food, object, space or location guarding, and people guarding, is an example of aggressive behavior largely learned through experience. For example, if a dog is threatened when he has coveted items or is in his special space, and the dog makes ugly faces with his teeth and growls, and the perceived threat goes away, the ugly face and growling behavior was reinforced and will happen more often.
These kinds of aggression can be greatly improved, if not completely resolved, with a modification program. Teaching the dog that there is no threat can be effective.
Certainly, there are typical kinds of aggression that Chihuahuas may show. Sometimes Chihuahuas exhibit fear aggression, which is largely learned and then reinforced by subsequent experience. After unsuccessfully trying to evade the fearful stimulus, such as big, scary strangers or strange dogs approaching them, they resort to acting out aggressively in an attempt to chase it away. To a Chihuahua weighing only six pounds, everything bigger than him is a potential threat.
Resource guarding behaviors are another common issue. The somewhat stereotypical sight of a Chihuahua snarling at approaching strangers when held by his owner, or staking out territories such as beds or couches in the home that elicit growls and snapping when others approach, are examples of resource guarding behaviors.
Food and toy guarding are other examples of this kind of behavior. A Chihuahua exhibiting this behavior feels his resource is at risk and is ready to defend it at all costs, so watch out! The good news is that resource guarding is amenable to behavior modification.
The prognosis of solving an aggression problem depends on what kind of aggression your Chihuahua is presenting with, the duration of time the behavior has been exhibited, and client compliance with recommendations and protocols.
If your Chihuahua is exhibiting any kind of aggression, get professional help immediately. With an accurate diagnosis and a well-thought out modification plan, you may able to resolve many kinds of aggressive behavior.