Recognizing Behavior Patterns Key to Understanding and Solving Aggressive Dog Issues
Dogs aren’t born aggressive—but when aggression occurs, especially toward humans, the problem must be dealt with firmly. For both safety and liability reasons, aggression is among the most serious issues dog training professionals are asked to address.
Nationwide statistics underscore the potential danger of dog bites. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly five million Americans suffer from dog bites each year. On average, 800,000 people are injured seriously enough each year to require medical attention. Sixty-one percent of dog bites occur within pet owners’ homes and 43 percent of all dog bites involve children bitten by the family dog. These numbers are both staggering and alarming, highlighting the need for public awareness and education.
Dog aggression is a behavioral pattern, not a personality type. This means one breed is not necessarily more aggressive than any other. By and large, aggression is situational, and more than 90 percent of the time dog aggression is a reaction based on fear. I have treated all breeds of dogs for aggression and found that the diminutive Chihuahua can be just as aggressive as the much larger Rottweiler or German shepherd. Clearly, the larger dogs can instill more fear and potentially cause more harm because of their size and strength. But the root causes of the behavior are the same—and nearly all can be addressed with proper training.
Unfortunately, many dogs are euthanized for behavior problems that could have been corrected. Dogs may bite for many reasons—most bite out of fear, but there are other types of aggression. Whether a dog has bitten a family member or a stranger out of fear or to show dominance, the problem is serious. If your dog displays any of the following behavioral patterns, seek the advice of a professional immediately.
Fear-based aggression is the most common form of aggression. Typically this will happen when a dog misunderstands a threat in its environment. This triggers his “fight or flight” instinct. Dogs that bite and growl out of fear tend to be under-socialized, or have had bad experiences and negative memories. These canines feel uneasy when approached by strangers or when little children run up to them. Although they’d prefer to run away, they may feel cornered—and that’s when bites may occur. Also, people who try to break up fights between dogs are often the victims of misdirected aggression. This is a common situation, resulting in accidental bites from dogs that are otherwise wonderful, loving pets.
A dog exhibiting dominance aggression is most likely to direct his inappropriate behavior to his family members. A dominant canine thinks he is the head of the household. To show this, he may refuse to get off the couch or bed. Should you attempt to remove him, he will growl and bite.
Does your dog growl or snap if you get too close during feeding or when he’s playing with his favorite toy? If so, he is displaying possession aggression. Canines exhibiting this behavioral problem do not trust anyone with, or even near, their favorite toy, food or person. A dog that does not allow you near him while he is eating must be corrected. If a dog is overly possessive of a person, that person must be the one to correct the dog.
Predatory aggression, often seen in herding breeds, stems from an instinct to chase prey and bring it down. Some dogs may go after cats, squirrels, or livestock—especially if these animals are on the move. In worst cases, dogs exhibiting predatory aggression may go after small children. Be aware if your dog routinely becomes intensely fixated on an object as fixating can result in a chase or attack.
Any dog can exhibit pain-induced aggression. Some dogs that experience chronic pain from a number of medical or physical conditions can develop aggressive tendencies as a way to protect themselves from the pain caused by handling. Be aware if your dog displays any kind of physical discomfort. Dogs suffering from trauma may also bite their owners. If your usually mild-mannered dog has been in an accident, do not trust that he won’t bite.
A dog that growls, barks and bites at joggers or cyclists near his home is exhibiting territorial aggression. This behavior can also be directed at anyone new to the house, such as mail carriers or guests. These canines are fine once the potential threat has left their territory, but they can be especially tough on visitors. Typically a dog will bark to warn of an intruder, but if a dog continues to feel threatened, he is more likely to attack to defend himself.
If your dog has a problem with aggression, call a professional trainer or animal behaviorist. I also recommend enrolling your puppy in obedience class or bringing him to visit My Little Pack of Dog Trainers for aplay session. This will expose your dog to other people and other dogs. And, most importantly, he will learn to follow the commands of his pack leader—you.
Wendy Blanch is the owner and dog behavior therapist and trainer with Leader of the Pack Home Dog Training.951-339-1040. Wendy@LeaderofthePackHomeDogTraining.com
This post was written by leaderofthepack