Hormones are to Blame for Aggressive Dogs, Scientists Say

Fagjun | Published 2017-10-10 03:21

Higher levels of a hormone called vasopressin may be what makes aggressive dogs.


How do you keep your dog from becoming too aggressive toward other dogs?



Some dogs can come across other dogs on their walks and simply make the usual dog pleasantries of sniffing each other. Some dogs, however, would be happily walking down the street until they come across another dog, upon which they turn into barking, snarling monsters. This is, at the very least, awkward for owners. However, leash aggression can go beyond simple barking.


When aggressive, dogs don't just bark; they are also more likely to bite. They may get aggressive when they see other dogs or strangers, and they also get aggressive when they get territorial or feel protective over their food or pups. In the US, aggression is also the leading cause of dogs getting surrendered to shelters, where there's a chance that the dogs may get put down.


Thus, understanding the origin of aggression in dogs may save a lot of dogs—and humans, as well.



Oxytocin and Vasopressin


Service dogs usually have higher levels of oxytocin.



To understand aggressive dogs, let's look at the issue from a nature vs nurture standpoint. Experiences can shape aggression in dogs, like if a young puppy has been abused or treated badly. It is then more likely to grow to be an aggressive adult dog. However, the dog's temperament also plays a factor. Hormones, in turn, partially influence a dog's temperament.


A new study, the first to explore the connection between the hormone vasopressin and aggression in dogs, may open up new possibilities for treating aggression in dogs. Researchers studied dogs with a history of aggression by pairing them with dogs similar in age, size, and breed, and weren't known to get aggressive. The dog pairs were faced with a curtain behind which barking sounds were playing. Behind the curtain was also a box, a bag, and a cardboard cutout of a dog.


When the curtains lifted, the aggressive test dog in each pair barked the most when the dog cutout was revealed. The hormone vasopressin went into everdrive in the aggressive dogs.


Interestingly, however, levels of the hormone oxytocin in both aggressive and non-aggressive dogs remained the same. Oxytocin is known as the love hormone, and it helps facilitate bonds between individuals, like a mother and child.



Medication for Aggressive Dogs


Will medication be able to take aggression out of dogs?



Oxytocin and vasopressin are present in humans as in dogs. While oxytocin is the love hormone, vasopressin is linked with anger and aggression. Ideally, these two hormones balance each other out, particularly in dogs. This balance allows dogs to sniff other dogs in greeting, but also keeps them from getting too friendly, which may elicit a negative response.


Testosterone is another hormone that influences dog behavior. People have been opting to get their dogs neutered to prevent them from getting too aggressive. However, there have been instances in which a dog becomes even more aggressive after getting neutered. Thus, a surgical solution may not be the best choice if we want our dogs calm.


A better alternative may be pharmaceuticals—medication. Researchers can develop something that can target vasopressin in aggressive dogs, especially in the worst cases.


Hey! Where are you going?? Subscribe!

Get weekly science updates in your inbox!