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Aggression in dogs

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Aggression in Dogs


by CHRISTINE EMERSON, dog behaviourist at Drove Veterinary Hospital


Oh No! the sound of this word can cause a riot of emotion in us, but let’s look at what it really means in the dog world.  How many times have you heard a dog owner say “my dog is not aggressive” ? All dogs have the potential to be aggressive but some have an amazing tolerance before they give a performance of their canine ‘skills’.


The definition of aggression is ‘a hostile act’ . The usual purpose of aggression is to add distance between the dog and what ever is bugging them.  When uncomfortable dogs usually display subtle postural movements such as blinking, licking lips, lifting a paw, in the hope that person or dog will stop what they are doing.  If that is not noticed or does not work, they step up the communication a notch and may grumble and use more obvious body language.  If that does not work and perhaps the threat continues they may feel they have no alternative but to lunge and bite.  Dogs usually choose to avoid conflict if at all possible – we simply need to get better at understanding how to tell when they are uncomfortable and do something about it. . (My DVD ‘What dogs REALLY say’ is a visual explanation of this)


If I asked you to never lose your temper again, for the rest of your life, you would not be able to agree.  As we exchange a few harsh words, so do dogs and sometimes, if trapped or fed up with you being aggressive to them, feel they have no alternative but to use their teeth!


Food bowl guarding can be caused by the owner ‘proving’ they can take the bowl away.  Stop! That is a wonderful way of teaching them they have a reason to guard it.  Instead, add to their bowl (after consultation with a Behaviourist of course).  Aggression towards other dogs often stems from lack of and inappropriate socialising added to by the owner getting cross. 

Of course, prevention is better than cure.  Introduce clear kind house rules from Day 1 and don’t relax them – even when you have flu!  Teach pups to tolerate being handled (even over their private parts) from a young age and to enjoy the company of children, tall men with hats on, wheelchair users and of course animals of all species – always make it a good experience.

However, for those adult dogs, it is possible to bury the memory that aggression works, very deeply so they stop using it so readily. It is possible to improve all dog behaviours but the hardest to solve is that between two bitches.  The root cause needs to be established by a qualified and recommended Dog Behaviourist as there are many types of aggression e.g. maternal, territorial and the most common, fear related.  Most unacceptable behaviour is learned, so the dog simply needs to learn something new.



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