Of the hundreds of e-mails, and phone calls received by us, about 40% are about aggressive dog problems.
If you own a dog, we hope to provide you with some insights and answer some of your questions about aggressive dog behaviour. If nothing else, I hope this information will help you recognize the signs of aggression, understand the types of aggression, understand the consequences of not dealing with aggressive behavior and gain insights that will help you make the right decisions. If you need more information – click here.
There are many kinds of aggressive behaviours among dogs. The simple chart below may help you understand just how complicated this subject really is and the fact that when any dog snarls or growls and bares its teeth regardless of breed, size, age and sex, this conduct should be taken seriously. Such behaviour can mean a variety of things from a medical condition that is causing your dog pain and requires medical attention — to a threat that can mean eventual harm to a person or other animal. Aggressive temperaments that appear in puppyhood should be dealt with early on or suffer more serious consequences later on.
The good news is that many types of aggressive behaviour can be controlled or modified.
A dangerous, unpredictable bully that may intimidate some or all family members. Often, only one person in a family may have control over the dog. He has a problem with strangers and does not discriminate. He may be friendly sometimes and sometimes not. “He doesn’t do it all the time,” is a frequent comment made by owners of dominant aggressive dogs in an attempt to justify the unacceptable behavior. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this aggressive temperament is protective. The dog is downright dangerous.
A dog that is nervous, insecure and frightened a great deal of the time. He usually reacts to almost any disturbance from ringing doorbells and telephones to approaching people and animals. Reactions range from aggressive barking, growling, baring teeth, snapping, biting or a combination of any of these. May bite when cornered or when feeling threatened. More likely to get bolder as he gets older. Owners often feel protective of fearful dogs and fail to recognise the serious nature of this kind of aggression. Thinking your dog will outgrow this behaviour is a big mistake.
Usually a danger to anyone entering his domain and may growl, lunge or bite. He may consider certain noises intrusive, like the doorbell. When walking with his owner he may claim the territory they are walking or standing in and therefore can be aggressive toward any approaching person or animal. He is a threat to any person or animal violating his space — the house, yard, car and even the bed he sleeps on, which may be yours.
A dangerous Jekyll and Hyde. Will bark, growl, bare his teeth, snap or bite when any person or another pet goes near anything the dog considers his. Approaching the dog or getting close to things he has in his possession like food, toys and your book, shoe or whatever, will trigger aggression. Dog can be any age, breed or sex. If this is your dog’s problem, you may have encouraged it by allowing it to continue in puppyhood. If your dog is still a puppy, it is important to modify the behaviour now.
People cause this form of aggression by being abusive and overly dominant in trying to correct or punish their dogs. How else is a dog to respond if you yell at, point a threatening finger or newspaper at the dog, or worse than that, hitting your dog? This includes wrapping the dog on the nose or under the chin, chasing or cornering them with anger, standing over them in a threatening manner, or frightening them with angry reprimands. Dogs at the wrong end of this will respond aggressively sooner or later.
Just like people, dogs have varying degrees of pain tolerance. Some dogs are genetically pain sensitive in specific areas of their bodies. This can cause a problem during grooming. And some aggressive behaviors are involuntary reactions to injuries or illness like hip dysplasia, arthritis, skin disorders and ear problems. A dog can’t say, “Hey I’m in pain,” so he may snap or bite to try to stop you or someone else from touching him. Medical attention is called for.
People, animals and things in motion trigger this behavior. It is associated with the hunting and stalking prey drive. They tend to attack with the victim or object moves away. This dog will chase joggers, children, cats, bikes, cars — anything that moves, including someone just strolling by. It’s a mistake to think that the chasing dog will not deliver on his threat.
Seen most often in a female that is nursing or raising a litter of puppies. This instinctive reaction usually occurs when a person or animal approaches her whelping area or he puppies. The dog may nark, growl or snap. Usually diminishes when the puppies are weaned and almost always stops completely when the litter is gone or on its own.
Most often occurs between dogs of the same sex with some exceptions. Dogs that fight are competitive and territorial and are focused on dominance versus subordination. Fear and territory are other influences. The barking, chasing, growling, lunging and biting that are evident in mature dogs are generally seen in puppies during learning and playing. Modifying the behaviour while the dog is young is doable. Waiting until the behaviour is habitual creates a dangerous and serious problem.
The dog may bark, snap or bite a person or animal that interrupts aggressive behaviour. A combination of adrenaline and a sharp focus when a dog fights makes interrupting the fight extremely dangerous.
The Signs of Aggression:
A dog is a member of your family and should be. He or she is your friend, companion, buddy and pal. You can only hope to bring as much comfort and joy to your pet as your pet brings to you. It is no wonder that many dog owners, when faced with an aggressive dog, wish that the unacceptable behaviour would simply go away — dissolve — take a powder — and get lost.
So, they ignore it — pretend it doesn’t exist — and avoid it. They insist, “He’ll grow out of it!” Or they think, “Our dog loves us and wouldn’t hurt a member of the family.” Or they say, “He isn’t aggressive all the time.” Hello! Think about it.
If dog owners (and a lot of professionals) didn’t ignore the problem, people wouldn’t be living with aggressive nightmares. Children wouldn’t be maimed for life. There would be no deaths from dogs. And certain breeds of dogs would not be discriminated against. Aggression is not a breed problem. It exists in every breed, just as loving, wonderful dogs exist in every breed. It’s a human problem!
Keep an open mind and take a new look at your dog. It’s the only way you can recognise and acknowledge the signs of aggressive behaviour. You can’t solve, modify or control dangerous behaviour if you don’t recognise it. If you can modify the behaviour, sometimes you can control it and that can save your dog.
It is a mistake to believe that if a dog has not bitten anyone, the problem is not serious. If the other signs of aggression are there, you are just lucky to this point. An aggressive dog can go beyond his warnings at any time and hurt someone.
Early signs of aggression are usually easy to deal with, but the older a dog gets, the less likely you will be able to modify or even control it and that can seal the dog’s fate — or someone else’s.
Some signs are blatant, others can be subtle.
Some of the signs – if they occur anytime, anyplace, for any reason, directed at any person, animal or thing. Any of these warnings mean the dog could bite:
- Curling lips
- Mounting people
- Blocking your path
- Barking aggressively
- Biting (even if it does not break the skin)
I’ve been working with dogs and their owners for more than a decade, and denial is everywhere. In many cases, owners of aggressive dogs just don’t get it. They see their dog as another person and they try to people-reason with their dog saying things like, ‘Oh, Benny, don’t growl at daddy!’
But a dog is an animal with animal instincts that are not the same as human reactions. Other owners get it, but — they know the dog is aggressive; they just don’t want to hear about it. They cross their fingers and hope the dog will outgrow the behaviour.
They play canine roulette and often get downright defensive when someone says the dog is aggressive. And some owners know the risks and dangers and responsibly take steps to modify or control the problem. I hope you are one of them.