How to Keep a Dog from Climbing the Canine Ladder of Aggression

Recognizing the signs of canine stress will help stop a dog from becoming aggressive to the point of endangering your safety.


Dogs don’t act aggressively to strut their stuff or show who’s dominant. That’s a human thing. Canine aggression is a response to what a dog perceives as a threat. With aggressive behavior, the dog is trying to deflect the threat and restore harmony. Dogs so want harmony, in fact, that most of the rungs on the Canine Ladder of Aggression, a graphic devised by British veterinary surgeon and behaviorist Kendal Shepherd, BVSc, are not acts of aggression at all but signs of appeasement. They include such behaviors as yawning, nose licking, and turning away. They all mean “I’m uncomfortable; you’re making me anxious. Can you please stop doing the thing that’s making me feel stressed and unsafe?”

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