behaviours in dogs: a new descriptive-contextual
©Joel Dehasse*1, Maya Braem2, Sabine Schroll3
are many different classifications of aggressive behaviours in dogs
that do not seem to agree with each other. Our intention is to
review and analyse these classifications and to propose a clinically
operative classification based on the integration of several
We used books, articles and Internet articles to
review what has been written on the specific subject of
classification of aggressive behaviours in general (in ethology and
animal behavioural medicine) and in dogs in particular. This
overview was correlated with our experience in a heuristic way. We
constantly kept in mind our objective, i.e. to build a valuable
classification useful to clinicians and for research purposes.
reviewed the current situation of paradigms, definitions and
classifications on the different aggressive behaviours in general
and in dogs. We have understood that the actual descriptions confuse
descriptive, contextual, etiological, functional, neural and other
classifications as if they were the same concepts. But they are not
and hence cannot and should not be mixed.
should aggressive behaviour be classified? It will depend on the
objectives. To depict the ethogram of canine aggressive behaviour,
one should use a descriptive classification. To treat aggressive
behaviour, one should use a disorder classification, in which
aggressive behaviours are mere symptoms, or a symptomatic
classification correlated with effective treatments. This ideal
clinical classification does not yet exist (there is no agreement on
the terminology of diagnoses and disorders).
ideal classification would be a global one, using descriptive,
contextual, functional, and causative details and particulars,
including, if possible, neural circuitry and genetic analysis. We
may ask ourselves the question: does this ideal classification
exist? Actually, the answer is no. The diversity of the phenotypes
of the dog’s behaviour may well be due to the combination of the
actions of only a few neural centres and mechanisms, which we are
not actually able to prove yet.
the global description of a behaviour should include a depiction of
the sequence of acts, the analysis of context, postures, triggers
(or eliciting factors) and the multiple consequences, we think a
descriptive-contextual approach is the method best suited to the
analysis of semiotics.
proposed classification will be hierarchized by dangerousness for
the target (or victim), from mild to lethal.
Education of young / Parental disciplinary and weaning aggression
Intrasexual (Intraspecific Intergroup) aggression
Irritation (irritable) aggression
Defence of young
Defence of space / Space-eliciting/managing aggression
Predatory aggressions and Group hunting
good descriptive classification based on ethology and behavioural
medicine paradigms is a preliminary stage before starting
correlation studies and cluster analysis of different aggressive
behaviours in dogs.
©Dr Joël Dehasse - Behaviorist veterinarian - 2005-11-16