Human-directed aggression by domestic dogs is a major worldwide public health problem. The causes of aggression are complex, and research in this area often has to balance ecological validity with pragmatic controls; accordingly, it often does not meet the thresholds for quality typically used in reviews applying a classical “evidence-based” approach. Here, we propose a method of literature assessment that makes the “best use” of available evidence to identify and synthesise evidence relating to the most likely risk factors reported in the scientific literature. We used a systematic review process to initially identify relevant literature relating to potential early life experience (i.e., in the first six months of life) risk factors in the dog for human-directed aggression in the adult animal. Fourteen papers met our initial screening process and were subsequently analysed in detail, with data extracted and effect sizes calculated where possible. This highlighted the potential importance of the source of the animal, the age at which it was rehomed, the reason for the acquisition, the experience level of the owner, the animal’s socialisation experiences, the consistent husbandry and management practices, the training, the sex ratio of the litter and the history of dogs that display aggression in the pedigree as risk factors. Taken together, it seems that early experiences which limit the ability to develop effective coping strategies and routines may be particularly important. We provide guidance for the future standardised reporting of risk related to human-directed aggression by dogs to allow greater synthesis of the literature in the future.
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