Each year, more than 2% of the United States population suffers from a dog bite. That equals more than 4.3 million people! Canine aggression is not abnormal, but to better understand how to handle it, we need to understand the types of aggression and its causes.
Dog aggression, or threatening and/or harmful behavior towards another living creature, includes growling, nipping, snarling, snapping, lunging, and biting. When they display this behavior, they are only revealing normal species-typical behavior that is dangerous and unsuited with human lifestyle. There are various reasons why a dog will become aggressive towards their owner or complete strangers.
Sometimes aggression may stem from a medical problem unknown to you. It’s because of this that it is recommended to take your dog to a veterinarian when attempting to find out why they are being aggressive.
If a medical reason for the hostility isn’t found, your veterinarian will probably refer you to a behaviorist. A behaviorist will then acquire a behavioral history from you and then prescribe the recommended therapy.
The regularity and relentlessness of violent behavior may be reduced but, in most cases, aggression cannot be abolished entirely. Even if treatment seems successful, forever be on guard. Remember that the regularity and relentlessness of violent behavior may be reduced, but there is always a risk when keeping an aggressive dog. What is always to be your main concern is the safety of yourself and those around you!
Your veterinarian will do a thorough examination on your dog to find out if there’s a medical reason for their aggression. For example, a dog with a painful back may lash out when picked up. If there are no medical reasons, you’ll be referred to a behaviorist.
When seeing a behaviorist, you should be ready to spend a couple hours in a session. It’s a good idea to keep a written document of details about your pet’s behavior. It’s important to give the behaviorist as many accurate specifics as possible. You should make a note of:
- What causes the aggression
- How frequently it takes place
- Who it is directed at
- The exact behaviors
- The dog’s body language and posture
It’s very helpful to the behaviorist to make a video of the dog in the act of their aggressive behavior, however, always be very careful not to get hurt. This and accurately answered questions about the behavior will assist them in their personalized treatment for your pet. They will also let you know their personal and professional opinion of the risk.
Aggression is influenced by several factors, including: genetic predisposition, early experience, maturation, sex, age, size, hormonal status, physiological state and external stimuli. Behaviorists use a classification system based on patterns of behavior and the circumstances in which they occur. This is done to determine the dog’s motivation and the cause of the behavior. The classification is as follows:
- Dominance-related aggression is a very common type of canine aggression that behaviorists see. The aggressive action is directed towards other family members or pets. Since dogs are pack animals, they relate even us humans as members of their own species and pack and feel they need to establish an order to it.
- Territorial aggression is seen in defense of a dog’s area (home, yard, room), property (toys, food), and even other pack members. It is usually directed towards those animals or people that exist outside of their pack.
- Inter-male and inter-female aggression occurs more frequently when there are two or more adults of the same sex living in one household. It usually involves dominance or territorial quarrels.
- Predatory aggression is usually directed towards other species, but sometimes can be cause by fast-moving stimulus like a bike or car. It’s caused by an instinctual need to hunt prey.
- Pain-induced aggression is caused and directed towards a person or animal that causes pain. It frequently comes about when someone touches or even tries to touch a painful area on the dog.
- Fear-induced aggression occurs when a frightened dog is approached. When a dog feels like it can’t escape, or has been exposed to severe punishment, it may resort to fear biting. This aggression can also be stimulated by active, unpredictable children.
- Maternal aggression can occur when a female with a new litter or even in false pregnancy feels threatened.
- Redirected aggression basically means that a dog will be aggressively motivated by one thing, then turn around and take it out on another. For example, if a dog on a leash is lunging and barking, it may turn on the owner that is attempting to pull it away from the stimuli. Dogs that are dominant will often redirect aggression to those in the pack they feel are inferior.
Each case of aggressive behavior in dogs in different. The treatment will vary depending on the diagnosis, your capability, compliance, and even your schedule. It may involve one or a combination of drug therapy, surgery (for instance spaying/neutering), avoidance and management (such as a head halter), and behavior modification techniques (like desensitization and counter-conditioning).
Always be aware of the risk that, even with successful treatment, the aggressive behavior may return. The best to hope for is the reduction of the probability of aggression. There are benefits and risks you must weigh when keeping a dog that has shown signs of aggression.
If your dog’s behavior is erratic it may be a good idea to purchase a basket style muzzle until you are able to get professional help. Physical punishment is NOT a good way to train your dog in ANY case. This can increase the intensity of your dog’s aggression and may result in serious injury. Avoid all interactions that you know trigger your dog’s aggression. Evading problems may involve:
- Keeping your dog in a separate room when children or visitors are present
- Housing and feeding them away from each other if they are fighting
- Removing anything your dog may be defensive of, like toys or bones
Do not permit children to have contact with your dog unsupervised. Kids should be taught to avoid bothering dogs that are resting, chewing on a bone, or eating. They should never be allowed to hurt or tease dogs.
An easy strategy is to keep your dog on a leash all the time. At home, you might want to attach a thin nylon leash to their collar that your dog can comfortably drag. That way you will be able to get control of them safer. Indoor leashes can even be attached to head collars for even greater control. Do not try to get in the middle if your dogs end up fighting with each other. Interrupt the aggression using water, a loud noise, a blanket or spray.