Monday, November 2, 2015

DOG AGGRESSION


Any dog of any breed, provided with a certain set of circumstances, can display aggression towards humans, other dogs, or other animals.  When they are guarding their territory or food, protecting themselves from a perceived threat, or are defending their young, dogs will use aggressive displays much like any other animal or human.  Determining the reasons for, or the causative circumstances surrounding, the aggression are important when dealing with any aggressive animal.

First, it must be determined that the animal is not reacting because of pain or a medical condition.  Any disease that causes pain or increases irritability, such as dental disease, arthritis, or trauma, can lead to aggression.  Certain tumors, central nervous system disorders and various organ dysfunctions can also contribute to irritability and cause the dog to become aggressive when it is handled or even if it anticipates handling.  Therefore, it is imperative that you first consult with a veterinarian to rule out any possible medical cause, and provide treatment as necessary.  Additionally, the use of training devices that inflict pain on animals are discouraged because they can lead the animal to become aggressive to stop the pain received. 

Protective, territorial, and possessive types of aggression are similar.  If the dog perceives a threat, whether real or imagined, to itself or its “family” it may become protectively aggressive.  A perfect example is a mother protecting her young pups.  “Resource guarding” is when dogs become possessively aggressive when defending their food, toys, or some other highly valued object.  When guarding their valued object, they may growl, snap, or even bite to maintain control over it.  Territorial aggression occurs when the dog is in a yard, home, car, etc., and is approached by another animal or human and attempts to defend what it considers its territory.

Fear is the underlying cause of most forms of canine aggression.  Fear-motivated aggression is a defensive reaction and occurs when a dog believes he is in danger of being harmed.  It is exceedingly important to remember that the threat is from the dog’s perspective and it can be real or imagined.  Fearful dogs will try to avoid what is causing the fear, but can become aggressive if they feel trapped, like when they are leashed, cornered, or physically confined.  For example, you go for a walk with your dog and happen to encounter another dog running loose. Your own dog might perceive a threat and react aggressively to it, especially since it is confined by the leash.  It is also important to note that if the dog is unable to attack the perceived threat, he may redirect his aggression onto someone or something else.  One example is when a person tries to break up a dogfight and one of the dogs turns and bites the interfering person.

Aggressive play is a normal puppy behavior.  When puppies play with other puppies, they may nip and bite but will generally resolve any disagreements among themselves.  Puppies playing with their guardians may bark, growl, and impulsively attack.  Sometimes, though, it becomes too exuberant.  One effective way to handle a rambunctious pup is to provide a distraction, like a toy.  The puppy can then transfer its attention to it.  If the puppy is biting hard, yell “Ouch!” and turn away, stopping play with the animal.  Also, consider giving the pup a time out.  If the pup will not stop bad behavior, put it in its kennel with until he calms down.  Never use any physical punishment, like shaking or hitting, which could result in fear-motivated aggression.

Any social group, whether human or canine, typically abides by a certain hierarchical order of leaders and followers to avoid conflict.  Like humans, if more than one individual wants to be the leader a fight can break out. In addition, intact males may vie for females in heat, and females may compete for access to a male.  Spaying and neutering, along with training, may help reduce both these aggressions. 

Early socialization is key in helping to prevent aggressive tendencies.  Puppies that learn how to interact, play and communicate with people, other canines and other species are less likely to show aggressive behavior when they become adults.  If your dog has shown aggression toward a person or other animals, seek help from a qualified professional who can evaluate the animal and provide the necessary assistance.  Normal canine aggression not tempered can become a serious problem.  It is up to us, as responsible guardians to provide the necessary care, training, and supervision to ensure that our dogs and those around them are safe.  


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