Why Dogs Attack...
...Parents Against Canine Killers

Canine Killer:
A dog that through a combination of training and/or abuse, and instinct, has developed the propensity of aggressive behavior towards innocent people. This dog is essentially a loaded gun.

Just as we often view dogs in a human way, dogs view us in a dog way. This means that they often will clearly communicate that they are unsettled or upset to us in dog language. While understanding these behavioral signals can’t always stop an attack, missing these cues can result in an attack that could have been otherwise avoided.

Why do dog's attack?
Dog attacks and maulings occur, for the most part, because of nine major predisposing factors. Predisposing factors make a dog more likely to attack. These predisposing factors, you might say, make him a loaded gun. Precipitating factors, then, are the events or situations that then set him off, or pull his trigger, directly leading to the attack.

Proper pet selection, socialization and training can make the difference. The risks, while they may not be insurmountable, compound exponentially when combining more than one risk factor such as: dog of a breed that was selected for aggressive traits, poor or negative socialization early in life, aggression inducing training or life experiences, and intact male hormonal dominance. Chronic pain and frustration such as that caused by chaining or health problems can also contribute to aggression.



DOMINANCE AGGRESSION: He bites because he is dominant (superior in his own mind) to the offender, or to establish or maintain his dominance.

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Most of us were imprinted with an anthropomorphized (made to take human form) and idealistic image of dogs during our formative years. We were raised in a genre of canine-feel-good box office hits. Creative writing and expert dog training have left us with an image that a dog’s altruism rivals Gandhi’s, his crime solving abilities, Sherlock Holmes, and his creative problem solving abilities make him a hairy little MacGyver. The image of talking dogs with a full set of human thoughts, emotions, and humanistic driving forces was superimposed over the real animal.

Dogs ARE thinking, feeling beings with needs, emotions, dreams, and nightmares of their own. However, they don’t talk or think in the ways that we are comfortable with perceiving. He doesn’t have a hidden agenda, we’re just deliberately myopic or near sighted when we look at him. He eats …well, sniffs...well, and chews on carcasses long past their...well, let’s not even go there. Instead, how about we go to the groomer’s for a bath, dip and body clip, buy him a nice winter sweater and a spiky necklace with his name on it.

pack The actual dog is a carnivore who has adapted to life among humans only in the last 12 thousand years. He is by history and nature a pack predator. He relies on the pack structure for survival, and our families are often unwittingly major players in is his pack structure.

Within the pack dynamic are an extremely important hierarchy and a fairly complex communication system that we should learn and teach to our children.

pack Groups of predators who hunted in packs were more successful and survived to pass on their genetic material. So successful was the pack structure behavior, that pack behavior became prevalent in many hunting groups across several families within the animal kingdom. In times of scarcity or change, only the most efficient of the packs survived. If a pack was fighting amongst itself, it perished. Fighting was reduced or eliminated for periods of time by the establishment of a hierarchy within the pack. Symbolic displays of aggression replaced the full blown fight, unless the dominance hierarchy was to be challenged and re-established. Survival of the pack was of the utmost importance to the individual, without the pack he would not survive.

A hierarchy or pecking order reduced fighting and inefficient chaos within the pack. Infrequently, fights burst out when dominance was challenged. When dominance was determined, order was reestablished in the smoothly functioning and life sustaining pack. Then, mere symbolic displays of dominance and submission served to maintain order.

pack The dominant dog could snort a quick growl, raise his hackles, take a dominant stance, position his body in a dominant position relative to his inferior or give a dominant stare to communicate warning to the subordinate, avoiding an energy and injury wasteful attack. If the insubordinate did not heed warning, an attack likely followed to maintain his position within the pack.

Survival of the pack was of utmost importance to the individual. The next most important, was his place or status within it. Unfortunately, often the dog sees the children of the family as below him on the dominance hierarchy. Read More: Unprovoked attack by family dog considered to be friendly, bites boy many times on the face.

packThe dominant dog has more assurance of receiving food and mates to pass his genetic material. Instinctually, he is not likely to give up his dominant position in the pack readily once it has been established. When the pack happens to be our family, early socialization with children helps to establish a favorable position for them in his view of the family pack structure. Read more: Early Socialization.

Where are your children or grandchildren relative to your dog in this invisible hierarchy? Dogs generally place themselves above small or young children and below one or more adults in the household. Extreme caution should be taken when a child below the dog on the dominance hierarchy is allowed access to the dog. Read More: Child below the dog on the dominance hierarchy mearly bumped into dog.

The dominant dog has a strong instinct to bite or attack the insubordinate if he does not heed symbolic gestures and warnings, thereby avoiding a full blown challenge to his status.
Read More: Imprint training
Read More: Family dog mauls 10 year old boy necessitating amputation of arm below elbow

However, the instinct to punish the insubordinate can be overcome by a stronger pull in the other direction of pack hierarchy. A stronger pull would be the proximity of an entity that is above this dog on the dominance hierarchy.

pack It is a forceful pull that can stop what would have been an attack. The child may accidentally set the dog off, but the dog defers to his superior, if present, and “lets it go.” If the adult is not present, the dog will react as he sees fit, and highlights the reason a young child should never be left alone with a dog even for an instant. For, as we are superimposing our movie dog image upon our dog, he is superimposing his image of the pack upon our family. In the human-dog family hierarchy, there are usually one or more dominant entities above the dog. This is usually one or more adult member of the family who has established clear dominance over the dog. He will show all the signs of subordination to that person above him, complete with licking, obedience, and submissive posturing. The dominant dog has another side for those below him on the pack hierarchy or outside the pack.

pack Depending on the temperament of the dog, preprogrammed to a large extent by the amount of dominance aggression in his genetic material, his trigger may be easy to pull. See dog as a loaded gun. At one extreme is the dog who gives no apparent warning and latches on to the face of a toddler standing in front of him with a cookie, with the owner just feet away. He was within his rights as he sees them, as the insubordinate was clearly out of line by not relinquishing the desirable object when he had said in bold and clear dog language “give me the cookie or else”.



MALE HORMONAL DOMINANCE AGGRESSION: Have your male dog neutered to greatly reduce the risk that he will attack

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packThe intact male is much more likely to attack. This is due to the effects of his male hormones upon his behavior. It does not apply to puppies or young dogs. As the cells become influenced by male hormones over time, the full effect takes place.

It is highly recommended that all male dogs be neutered. If they must remain intact for showing or breeding, extra precaution is necessary. Extra precautions include:

  • Intense socialization early in life and continued throughout life, and supervision. Do not allow him to have contact with children unless it is immediately supervised by you.
  • Don’t allow him to be attacked by another dog.
  • Don’t allow him to be hurt by anyone maliciously.
  • Don’t allow him to be in a situation where he could be pepper sprayed.
  • Don’t chain him, especially in a small area for any length of time.
  • Keep him healthy and pain free.
  • Don’t allow him to be alone with children or allow him to have contact with children unless immediately supervised by you. Read More.


Male hormone aggression refers to the markedly increased incidence of aggression and attacks involving intact male dogs. Multiple intact males together are even worse. They have been known to escape their enclosures to chase down and attack adult male humans in their prime without provocation. See “pack hunting instincts.”



PACK HUNTING and PREDATORY INSTINCTS: When dogs gather as a pack, in any number, primitive pack hunting instincts are activated. One relatively benign dog can be pulled into the excitement of the death frenzy if he is in enough of the wrong company. If he’s a medium to large size dog he could contribute substantially to the injury or death.

pack of dogs

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While many of the pack instincts can be overridden by recent (as in the last several hundred years) of genetic selection, socialization, training, life experiences, and love...some very strong instincts such as the predatory pack hunting instincts still remain largely intact. When dogs are together in any number, even 2 dogs, more is worse, the sensory input they receive from being with the pack activates primitive pack hunting instincts. Read More: Two people killed by bulldogs allowed to roam in Howell, Michigan summer of 2008. Read More: Infant killed by pack hunting instincts.

Sight, smell and vomeronasal organ function (you don‘t have one) are heightened. A primitive alluring excitement that humans have not yet suppressed overtakes the individual will of each dog when they gather in a pack. Images of the excitement of the hunt, the chase, and the kill, excite what appeared to be a domesticated dog.

When the hunting pack instincts are activated, they circle the prey. I’ve seen it multiple times in livestock that I had treated as a large animal veterinarian, then, experienced it first hand for a more thorough study of the topic. One or more pack predators aim for the large vessels of the neck and to incapacitate the forehand, one or more go for the flank and large vessels of the back of the leg.

Any dog can be turned into a potentially lethal weapon, but a Chihuahua is more of a BB gun, relative to the large fighting dog which is more comparable to a rifle. Read more: Dog as a loaded gun.

dog as rifle rifle

When 2 dangerous dogs, or more dogs of a somewhat less dangerous temperament, have access to a single human, especially if the human is young or old, the end result is often serious and can be fatal.

The owner, the dominant entity to the dog, to which the dog had displayed all appropriate sings of submission, may be bewildered when their dog is involved in a predatory pack attack. He may not be able to believe that his dog was capable of such atrocity. After multiple incidents, however, the credibility of the dog owner begins to waver.



UNNATURAL SELECTION FOR AGGRESSIVE TRAITS: Temperament is preprogrammed to some extent by the amount of aggression in his genetic material.

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wolf pack wolf pack

Natural selection refers to survival of the fittest. Unnatural selection refers to human interference in the animal kingdom’s breeding and survival programs. Humans choose qualities in the animals that they want to reproduce. Then they repeatedly choose the offspring that most closely represents their ideal, and breed them.

Behavior is part genetic (what they were born with) and part environmental (anything that happens after birth).

  • The genetic component of behavior can be influenced through the intent of the breeding program over a large enough period of time, usually hundreds of years. Thus, it is incorrect to say that any breed of dog is equally suitable as a pet for a family with young children. Your small animal veterinarian is a valuable resource in this matter.
  • Genetics influenced by many generations of human interference and unnatural selection, can pull a dog forcefully in the direction of the genetic traits that humans have selected.
  • Some breeding programs have repeatedly chosen the most aggressive dogs with powerful bites, a tendency to bite and not let go, and powerful musculature and have repeatedly bred the most vicious offspring with deliberate intent to create a “super-killer”
  • If the genes were repeatedly tamed by choosing breeding parents with the most loving and gentle natures over hundreds of years, you have a pull away from the more primitive and dangerous instincts.




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two dogs fightingSome  individuals and some breeds  ( or general types of dogs such as fighting  types) have an increased propensity toward predatory attacks.  The appearance and actions of the potential victim can influence the outcome of the attack.  If the victim appears or acts, smells or looks like PREY, the predatory attack is a more likely occurrence.  If more than one dog is involved  PACK PREDATORY INSTINCTS are heightened.  It takes much less prey input  from the victim, and it is much more difficult to dissuade an attack, when more than one dog is involved. 

Predatory instincts are influenced by

  • Unnatural selection, when predatory instincts are among the behaviors that are considered desirable in the offspring.
  • Dominance aggression
  • Intact male hormone aggression.
  • Pack hunting instincts activated when dogs form a pack.
  • The presence of prey.


This is a warning sign. They often go on to attack people, particularly children and seniors, which are the next level of prey.

Dogs allowed to roam, that form packs of 2 or more dogs, often attack other domestic animals where opportunity exists. This is a much more common and much less reported form of dog attack. The next level of prey, after other animals, is humans; starting with the humans that the dog perceives as prey.

Prey is fearful, flees, or is small or weakened in some way; such as children and seniors, who, not by accident, account for most severe dog maulings. Since attacks on domestic animals precede attacks on children and seniors, tracking attacks on domestic animals by participating veterinarians and animal health technicians, could provide information important for reducing attacks on children and seniors.

Prey purely for sport is usually chosen to be prey of little risk. With increasing hunger, pent up aggression, or with multiple dogs forming a pack, more risky prey may be selected.

Whether you are observing the lion or dingo pack choosing its prey, they will choose the young, the old, the weak, maimed or sick. If the potential prey presents too great a hazard to the predator, other prey may be selected. However, they will be emboldened by the presence of one or more other dogs. See PACK PREDATORY BEHAVIOR




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packDogs are territorial animals, especially those breeds selected for watch dog or guarding behaviors. There is “an invisible line in the sand” that they create with their excretory glands and read with the vomeronasal organ. (You didn’t know they had one of these? Then it should come as no surprise they don’t know that you don’t). The line demarcating their territory is invisible to humans. To other dogs, it is the pheromone equivalent of the written word…in bold letters using bright red spray paint.

Usually the territory of the dog(s) is delineated by a perimeter fence around the property. That is, unless the dogs are allowed to roam or run off the property, even for short periods of time. During that time they may mark and “claim” the entire road in front of their property, part of the neighbor’s yard…you get the idea.

Thus, usually, you are safe from territorial aggression as long as you stay off the dog’s property. Unfortunately, the careless dog owner that poorly contains his dogs may be in the process of poorly containing them when you, your senior parent, or child walks by. Territorial aggression, especially when more than one dog is involved, can be fatal.

The current practice in many locales is to wait until someone is hurt. Not just hurt, but seriously hurt, before any action is taken. (Who ever came up with that plan?)

Dog In Truck BedTerritory also includes a car or back of a truck when the dog is in a public place. When the territory that he’s guarding is small, his territorial aggressions are heightened. He is already backed into a corner and the only way to go is forward, at you, with his mouth open. The dominant dog and the fear biter alike are more likely to strike in this situation.



ABSENT, POOR OR NEGATIVE SOCIALIZATION: Early proper socialization cannot be overemphasized 

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During early life, a puppy should be exposed to as many novel and potentially noxious stimuli as possible, AND have those stimuli paired with stronger positive reinforcements. Children are a potentially noxious stimulus for many dogs. He should be exposed to children who lavish him with careful, gentle, loving attention, treats, toys and other positive stimuli.

Adults should supervise closely the child or children to be sure they aren’t accidentally rough or hurt the puppy in any way. Then, when the dog sees a child later in life, instead of being bewildered and fearful of the erratic movements and sudden outburst of vocalization and movement, they will have a happy feeling imprinted on their nervous system. Read more: Imprint Training.

Adults should supervise closely the child or children to be sure they aren’t accidentally rough or hurt the puppy in any way. Then, when the dog sees a child later in life, instead of being bewildered and fearful of the erratic movements and sudden outburst of vocalization and movement, they will have a happy feeling imprinted on their nervous system. Read more: Imprint Training.

When life experiences further support this happy feeling, a properly socialized pet is the result.

Unfortunately, socialization is not genetically transmittable. For example, take a female from a breed many consider to be to be very dangerous, such as a pit bull. If she is of proper temperament, with excellent socialization and training, she can prove to be an excellent pet. Her puppies, however, when raised in less ideal circumstances can display the whole spectrum of behavioral possibilities. They aren’t automatically good pets just because their mother was thought she can transmit a basically favorable attitude toward humans. The socialization, training and supervision must be repeated with each generation.

Repeated acts of love and kindness combined with the avoidance of painful and cruel stimuli can win the heart and loyalty of a dog of any breed.

This is the opposite of procedures used to create the aggressive super killer dog; the potentially lethal weapon

(Read More - Predator Dogs) Puppies are sometimes deliberately negatively socialized during critical imprint time frames in their lives in an attempt to create the super-killer dog, for personal protection, premises guarding, sport, or for the social status of the owner.

The pull of love can override preprogrammed genetic instinct, sometimes to a large degree. Socialization against aggression involves a lot of loving attention during the formative, imprint sensitive, times in a dog’s life. During approximately the first 16 weeks of life, when unfortunately many puppies are in puppy mills, is an important time for socialization. Early windows, or time frames, for imprinting positive feelings towards humans can be missed in the puppy mill.




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Training can be valuable in establishing proper dominance with your dog and in teaching him to override some instincts.

  • Presence of the person that gives the command during the training may be important in reinforcing the concepts learned in training
  • Training does not transfer automatically from the trainer to another person. The person must be trained in giving correct commands and must be dominant to the dog.
  • Just because he is trained doesn’t mean you can leave him and a child together unattended! Once the dominant person leaves the dog’s immediate perceptual field, the dog becomes the dominant entity, and he will do what he feels is appropriate.

ABSENT OR DELIBERATE AGGRESSION-INDUCING TRAINING: Training in the wrong direction will increase the dangerousness of the dog. The presence of humans other than the trainer is deliberately paired with aversive or cruel and sometimes painful stimuli. The dog connects the painful stimuli with the non-trainer and becomes hateful towards humans, particularly strangers.




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A dog in pain or chronically frustrated is more likely to attack. The source can include:

Other factors such as jealousy and possessiveness are discussed under the topic: tips for parents.




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This can refer to the fierce guarding of an object, location or other being. In that sense it overlaps jealousy. The FEARBITER isn’t the dog that will pursue its victim and maul him or her to death. He is fearful and bites to say “Leave me alone!”



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packIn early America the one bite rule was designed to protect the dog owner from the unforeseen event that his previously trustworthy dog, needed to work his large farm, might bite someone.

The one bite refers to the dog being allowed one bite, not the owner. At times, the abuse of the law has become: The dog bites or causes serious injury, the owner has no liability, and he destroys that dog and can get another similar dog to take its place. The next dog is also allowed one bite.

The “bite” can actually be a severe mauling, with no liability to the owner again.

This next dog is disposed of, and on it can go. One might refer to the law as the "disposable attack dog" rule.

The law made sense once upon a time. The law still exists in the states of:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey

Read More: One Bite Rule Law



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In veterinary medicine, dogs are classified as companion animals, and the care of dogs is referred to under the category of companion animal medicine. However, there are essentially 2 types of dog owners and the dog is not always a companion animal.

When the dog was acquired by the person or family solely for companionship, he is a companion animal. The dog owner treats the dog as a being with inherent worth and thoughts and feelings of his own. The dog owner cares for the needs of the dog as best they can within their means. The dog is never used as a weapon.

When the dog was acquired for guarding/attack purposes, purposes that involve aggression towards humans, he is not a companion animal. He is a loaded gun. The responsible dog owner must take precautions to ensure the safety of the people and domestic animals in the surrounding environment from their dog.  

As with a loaded gun, children and people not versed in safe handling of the weapon, must be kept separate from it. It is the responsibility of the owner of the gun, as well as the owner of the dog used for protection/guarding/attack purposes to prevent unqualified persons from gaining access to their weapon.


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  • dog of a breed that was selected for aggressive traits,
  • poor socialization early in life which puppy mills exacerbate,
  • poor, absence of, or aggressive training and life experiences,
  • multiple large dogs together,
  • chained for extended periods of time. Read More:
  • and intact male hormonal dominance.
  • Chronic pain and frustration such as that caused by chaining, or health problems can also contribute to aggression.