Case Report: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Fear-Based Aggression, Redirected Aggression, Conflict Aggression, and Resource Guarding

Radley is a four-year old, spayed female Labrador mix. Her family brought her to see Dr. Amy Pike of the Behavior Medicine Division of the Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia because Radley had started to develop aggression towards the other dogs in the household and she was becoming reactive towards unfamiliar dogs on leash walks. The family also reported that she had always been exceptionally anxious, even as a puppy.

Radley was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder; fear-based aggression towards unfamiliar dogs; redirected aggression; conflict aggression; and resource guarding aggression towards familiar dogs.

While dogs do not create social/dominance hierarchies with humans, they will do so with each other over resources. Resources are anything that a dog deems important, including food, toys, bones, resting spots, human attention and access through confined spaces such as hallways and doors.

When a dog fears that something important to them will be taken away from them by another dog, they will use non-verbal and verbal signals to indicate their desire to the other dogs to stay away. Typically during these interactions, one dog will defer to the other in order to avoid confrontation. However, should these warning signs be ignored by the other dog, or if the warning signs are punished by the owner (remember that even verbal scolding can be punishing), the resource guarder may feel the need to escalate to using higher levels of aggression like a bite. Often humans attempt to make everything “fair” for their dogs, or they attempt to reinforce the wrong dog as dominant, which can put strain on the dog’s relationship. If the humans continue to interfere in this manner, an increase in intensity and frequency of aggression can occur.

Radley was started on Fluoxetine 40mg and a behavior modification treatment plan was prescribed. The family is extremely pleased with her progress. They have successfully implemented a “watch me” cue that they give to Radley prior to her reacting to other dogs on leash walks. The family is managing the household resources appropriately and has prevented any further aggression from Radley towards her canine housemates.