Aggression in dogs develops for a number of reasons, and can quickly become a serious problem, requiring very careful handling. As such, we would always encourage anyone in this situation to seek help from a qualified animal behaviorist.
What makes dogs aggressive?
Dog aggression is defined as a threat to cause harm and can involve snarling, and growling, snapping and lunging towards his intended target. Any dog can become aggressive, however, the larger the dog, the more damage can result. But it should be borne in mind that an aggressive dog is, generally, not a happy dog. By understanding what has caused the aggression can often dictate the methods used to deal with it.
Dogs aggression can be the result of:
Fear or anxiety – if a dog feels unsure of a situation, or is scared, this can cause him to lash out. A prime example of this is when Thaiaga’s predecessor got tangled up in electric fencing whilst on a walk. He became terrified, in pain from the shocks he was receiving. As a result, he flew for his owner, biting her hand and arm so badly, stitches were necessary. He had never shown any aggression previously, but he was scared and in pain, and cannot be blamed for reacting this way – however bad the wounds were.
Pain – if your normally placid dog suddenly lashes out, it’s worth considering if he’s in pain or discomfort. See the example above.
Defense mechanism – if threatened, many dogs will consider the best form of defense if to be on the offense.
Guarding resources – a dog may snap if he thinks you’re too close to his favorite bone.
Protective behavior – while we want our dogs to protect us in an emergency situation, protective aggression can occur if he becomes hyper-vigilant to any perceived threat to the property he considers his, such as you, or another family member.
Leash aggression – when on the lead, your dog lunges for any passing dog. This can be the result of feeling restrained.
Redirected aggression – this can occur if your dog is prevented from doing something he enjoys, thus he lashes out at the nearest person or dog.
Sex-related issues – intact male dogs will fight to gain the attention of the bitch, while bitches may compete for males.
Predator related issues – although rare, some dogs will display classic predator behavior, chasing their target, and shaking it upon capture.
Some of these problems can be relatively easily dealt with, such as pain or fear. Remove the discomfort by visiting the vet, or place your dog in a calmer, less fearful environment.
However, the majority of aggressive tendencies can become worse without the correct training, so we would advise you to seek a qualified dog behaviorist who uses positive reinforcement methods, and not the outdated idea of dominance training – this can cause more problems than it solves.
The warning signals
In the majority of cases, there are several signs exhibited by the dog before he bites, and these should be respected. Most dogs don’t want to bite, and will only do so if you’ve ignored all his signals.
Showing tension or anxiety in his eyes. This can be very subtle but is nearly always the first sign.
The body posture is rigid or still.
Snarling, often with a wrinkled lip, and maybe a raised paw.
A threatening or guttural bark.
Lunging or charging in an individual.
Mouthing/light biting without using pressure.
Snapping or nipping without leaving a mark.
Biting that causes bruising or puncture wounds.
Repeated snapping and biting in rapid succession.
Make it your business, as a good owner to study your dog closely on a daily basis. Watch his eyes, how he reacts to certain situations, how he moves. Is he generally relaxed, or can he react adversely to unfamiliar things? Is he happy for you to take his toys away? Remember to give them back the moment he relaxes again, though, thus rewarding the good behavior.
How to prevent aggression development?
Obviously it is far easier not to allow aggression to develop than it is to try to cure the problem when it already exists. So, what can you do to prevent it from becoming an issue?
Join an obedience training class with your puppy or adult dog
These are great fun and very rewarding for both you and your dog. Find a qualified trainer who specializes in positive reinforcement training methods, sometimes called reward-based. Using his brain to learn is a great way to tire him out, but classes also allow him to socialize – critical for youngsters and gives you even more of a bond with your pup.
Ask your vet, pet store, or other local dog owners for recommendations.
Spay or neuter your dog
Spaying a bitch, or neutering a dog makes for a happier pet, as well as eliminating the risk of certain diseases, such as the potentially fatal pyometra in entire bitches, or testicular cancer in male dogs.
Ask friends and family to interact in a positive way with your pup
When friends or neighbors pop over for a coffee, ask them to ignore the puppy, no matter how much he begs, until they want to pay him attention. The best way to do this is by keeping the atmosphere calm, not interacting with the dog, and then, once he’s settled down, go and give him a gentle stroke and maybe a treat. Ask them not to allow the dog to become over-exuberant, but to be polite and wait until you want to reward him for his quiet behavior.
Alter your puppy’s environment
Provide your puppy with a ‘time-out’ zone, such as a crate, remembering, though, to take the time to crate train him before it becomes a necessity. Stair gates are another useful tool, especially if you have young children or other pets. Puppies need a lot of sleep, and he must be allowed to rest in peace and quiet. If children or other animals are constantly disturbing him, pulling him around or climbing all over him, can you really blame him for becoming tired, frustrated, and grumpy?
If your dog develops aggressive tendencies, speak to your veterinarian, dog trainer or behaviorist!
This video demonstrates how to deal effectively with an aggressive dog: