Are cavapoos aggressive?

The cavapoo is not an aggressive breed and can generally be trusted around children, making them excellent family pets. That said, all dogs, regardless of breed, are capable of aggressive behaviour. Typically, aggression is the byproduct of fear and stress. This is why it is important to socialise your cavapoo and give them a diverse range of experiences from a young age so they grow into a confident dog.

Cavapoo with another dog

We each know what we mean by “aggression” and have our preconceptions about the breeds that display it, but it pays to take a look at the origin of the word. The first recorded appearance of the word in English was in 1611. It derives from the Latin “aggressio”, itself derived from “ad” and “agredi”: to step towards. Initially, “aggression” described an unprovoked attack. The law had to be changed in Britain after a spate of unprovoked attacks by guard dogs who had broken loose from factory premises and savaged people on the pavements outside. The Guard Dogs Act of 1975 stipulated that the handler had to be present on the premises; it was no longer acceptable to leave the dog unattended.

There were two security officers at Brands of Vauxhall, where my father worked during and after the war, and one guard dog. The dog was the unfortunate product of the training of the day: locked up in the dark and underfed.  One officer declared his intention of quitting if the dog were not sent packing; the other, his handler, declared his intention of quitting if the dog went. The men snarled at each other and became quite aggressive….

Some breeds are inherently aggressive and not particularly suitable as family pets. Gladly, the cavapoo does not feature in the aggressive breed list. In contrast, the Rottweiler, for instance, was bred to herd cattle by nipping at their heels, although many make good pets and loyal protectors of children. But the truth is that any dog and any breed may display aggression if conditioned to do so. Aggression is rarely unprovoked.

The temperament of the cavapoo

Cavapoos are the happy result of cross-breeding between two good-natured dogs. Both the Cavalier and the poodle are inherently friendly, gentle, affectionate and loyal. Your puppy may favour one parent above the other in temperament, but both parents are likely to have been dependable with children and eager to be best pals with their owners. However, aggression may be caused by bad handling or incidents that unsettle your dog.

You’re cute when you’re angry

Er….really?  Well, the sight of a furious woman might conceivably appeal to a bloke, but the signs in a dog are less attractive.  Recognise aggression in a dog.  This is your chance to avert disaster. 

  • Piloerection:  This is a fancy term for a reflex action that causes the hairs along the backbone to rise.  We say that the dog’s hackles are up.  It is easier to see in some breeds than in others for obvious reasons, but all dogs have this reflex.  Whether it has been activated by fear or anger, its object is to make the dog look bigger and more intimidating. Depending on the context, you may need to act to avoid aggression, but it can be a sign of fear.  After all, the things that make our own hair stand on end include ghosts, and most people are more terrified of Uncle Osbert crying “Boo!” from the folds of a white sheet than spoiling to run him through with the poker (although they may wish to after the deception is discovered). My dog Tamsin’s hackles are up when the dustcart arrives, but the correct procedure is to cuddle because she is frightened.
  • Glaring:  This is certainly a sign to take seriously. The dog’s eyes may even turn red.  When I introduced a new pup after the death of Tamsin’s companion, I carried the little bundle into the sitting room. It was a step too far that first night, and Tamsin’s glare was undoubtedly the prelude to an attack. Over a game in the snow next morning, they bonded quickly and have lived together happily ever since.
  • Behaving uncharacteristically:  Know your dog. If he has stiffened or stopped wagging his tail in a situation that he normally enjoys, he is communicating distress which could result in aggression.  Heed it. The onus is on you to act.  
Cavapoos play fighting
Here two cavapoos are play fighting – this is not aggressive behaviour, even though it might look like it

Trigger-Happy?

Generally not. But there are triggers that are well recognised, as well as a few that are peculiar to some dogs. What causes aggression in dogs?

  • Aggression from another dog may make your hitherto well-adjusted pup nervously aggressive.
  • Same-sex companions: Sadly, dogs of the same sex who have lived happily together may turn on each other.  It’s one of the most distressing experiences you as a dog-owner can have, and if this kind of ill-feeling develops, play safe and don’t leave them unsupervised.  We spayed and separated our two bitches  by using gates at home and, eighteen months later, they were happily living together again, but the problem is serious and you may need to rehome one dog.
  • New puppies need to be introduced with care to your older dogs.  It’s best to place a new puppy behind a gate or in the crate and then let your older dog sniff around.  Fido needs plenty of assurance that you love him as much as ever, tempting as it is to lavish caresses on the new arrival.  And watch that children don’t overwhelm the pup, who may then become aggressive around them.
  • Feeding times can be an occasion for aggression.  The dog may mistake a child’s attention for an attempt to steal his food and react uncharacteristically.  I know that some trainers are keen on the practice of interrupting the dog and even removing the dish to train the dog not to react.  Note that some dogs are happy for you to be around their feeding bowls until they have a bone!
  • The Postman: To your dog, the postman – em, postperson – may appear to be an intruder. The nicest dog can display territorial aggression, and it is important that your dog is not free to attack.  For your postman’s safety, fit a wire basket behind the door or have an external letterbox. Your cavapoo will probably welcome visitors to the house if you do, but may bark to alert you and to say, “Hello and welcome!”  This is not aggressive unless it carries on.
  • Ill-treatment and bad experiences cause aggression.  My parents inherited a dog that had had to be removed from the children in the family as she had begun to associate children with being smacked. Her lip would curl back in aggressive fear in the presence of children under twelve. Dogs who have been bred or used for breeding in puppy farms have often been subjected to neglect or abuse. To avoid this kind of aggression and the misery of having to get rid of your dog, check his origins again and again. Cavapoo puppies command a high price, especially since Lockdown, and although puppy farming has now been illegal from 6th April this year, there are people unscrupulous enough to breed or acquire puppies badly reared and badly treated. 
  • Don’t touch me there!  Aggression in a wounded animal is perfectly understandable.  Improvise a muzzle for any dog injured in an accident, including your own. If your normally gentle dog is being aggressive about being touched, suspect pain such as arthritis and consult a vet.
  • Inherent aggression: Now and again, you encounter a dog that has been born aggressive. If your dog is so aggressive that no interventions make a difference, sadly, there is usually only one course of action. Don’t pass the problem on.

What to do if your dog shows aggression

Smacking any dog is inadvisable as you won’t get the behaviour you want and you risk introducing another reason for aggression. If your dog’s aggression is defeating you, get recommendations from your vet for a behaviourist. A  good behaviourist should equip you with the understanding and techniques to work with your dog yourself, so you won’t need too many (admittedly pricey) sessions.  High-quality training treats such as little lumps of cheese, chicken and sausage, gradual exposure at a distance from the object of distress and lots of praise and food when your dog ignores the trigger are usually the best methods.                    

 A cavapoo from a reputable source is very unlikely to need this kind of intervention anyway, and most dogs thoroughly enjoy the basic training that they all deserve. Not all well-adjusted pups like puppy parties (I thought one of mine would love every moment, and she detested it), though many have a lovely time. However, later puppy training is money well spent. It occupies your dog, develops the habit of learning (my eleven-year-old can and does learn new tricks) and is a chance for you to identify any possible problems and to intervene early.  

Aggression? The only words you want Fido to hear are: “What a good dog!”

Neutering your cavapoo

If your male cavapoo is demonstrating any sort of aggression, frequently tries to dominate other dogs or perhaps has an issue with humping then neutering may be a suitable course of action. If useful, I also wrote about when you should get your cavapoo neutered.