The display of aggression from your dog is not only embarrassing, but can escalate into a dangerous situation. The need to prevent or correct aggression is growing. Experts say “the better you understand why your dog is behaving this way, the better results we can have in rectifying the behaviour.”
Owners don’t always realise that their dog is acting aggressively, so any display of hostile or violent behaviour or attitudes toward another, or readiness to attack or confront is a display of aggression.
At Akela, a dog training facility mentions the types of aggressions dogs can display. “Protective/possessive, territorial, predatory, handler induced, pain induced, dominance related and sexual activity related.”
“Remember, that even though we cannot see the cause of the aggression ourselves, it does not mean that it is not significant enough to warrant a reaction from your dog”.
What causes aggression?
“The majority of dog aggression stems from fear. If a dog is feeling unsure of a situation he has only two options – either to flee or stay and fight in order to protect itself”, says animal behaviourist Lynne O’Malley. This reaction would depend on whether the dog has a choice to stay or not.
Genetic influence is another factor in making a dog more aggressive. Certain breeds, like a Pitball would be more inclined to bite, than a Labrador. The dog’s background, experiences or lack of, and learning can also influence aggression in your dog.
Julie Hancox explains “Aggression is in part, a product of genetics and as such, some dogs will not develop aggressions despite extreme provocations, whilst others will do so with little cause. The other part involves the environment and experiences that the dog has. These are most critical during development (socialisation period), and can have a profound effect on the dog’s behaviour in later life.”
Aggression is usually man-made. “There a various factors that can contribute to that … the first few months being of vital importance,” states Bob Kerridge, SPCA Director.
Aggression can be related to an underlying health problem. It is important for your canine to undergo a thorough medical check to make sure that their physical or mental health is not affecting their behaviour. “Diagnosis of a behavioural cause can only be made after all medical factors have been ruled out”. Secondly, a change in their environment could be a trigger in aggressive behaviour, and again is amplified if they have a health problem.
Signs of Aggression
You need to be able to recognise the early signs of aggression, so you can get treatment for your pooch early on without the aggression escalating.
Growling, snarling, lifting of the lips, confronting by staring someone down and eventually biting, are all signs leading up to a harmful situation. Your dog’s body language can be an indicator to the mood he/she is in.
Take note to how they behave before, during and after an aggressive reaction.
Did you pooch emit a warning growl? Did it stiffen and hair rise? Did your pooch then attempt or was successful in biting the intruder? If so, how long did it take?
These questions are important to focus on as it can give a clear indication of the intent of your dog.
Two other questions need to be asked in order to access what triggers this aggressive behaviour. “In what situations does this behaviour happen?” and “What happens after the dog behaves aggressively?”
A dog companion to a 5-year-old Jack Russell responded, “I now know what could be causing this aggression. My dog always behaves aggressively when someone enters our house.
Although he does not actually attack, but barks excessively, it can be a deterrence to have visitors. Knowing that my dog is behaving in a protective manner encourages me to take a firmer stand and forces me to take the lead and not let my dog rule me. He is not necessarily aggressive, but needs the proper training to avoid the protectiveness escalating to aggression.”
What to do when your dog displays aggressive behaviour.
After you have learned about the problem and ruled out a medical condition, you need to take steps to rectify the problem.
“Owners of dogs with aggressive tendencies will often punish their dog … therefore the next time the dog is placed in the same situation he is likely to be even more aggressive”, O’Malley says.
A dog that has aggressive tendencies, and as had the opportunity to display aggression often, will have this behaviour ingrained. Even though rehabilitation can be successful in aggressive dogs, “the ‘potential’ to revert back to old ways is still present.
Your dog needs to be taught self-control and new behaviours instead of aggressive behaviours. This can be done by getting your dog to sit and focus on you in situations your dog would normally show aggression.
As fear can be one of the leading influences in aggressive behaviour, it is important to create a positive experience for your dog when it is in that situation.
Change your dog’s perception by providing a favourite reward, such as a food treat, whenever he/she comes into contact with men. So in time, favourite reward = men are nice!
Who is the best to help?
Although vets and well-meaning friends are eager to give out advice, nothing can compare to have an animal behaviourist, or preferably a dog behaviourist to access your dog’s behaviour. They will give the right training on methods to reduce the problem.
There are a large variety of animal behaviourists and dog trainers, but many of them are not sufficiently trained in aggression.
Try to find a dog behaviourist or psychologist that fully understands the causes of aggression, and how to interact with aggressive dogs. These psychologists will have a deeper understanding on behaviour.
They are not only trained to deal with the physical aspects of behaviour, but are also trained to deal with the psychological aspects. This is the underlying cause to any type of problem behaviour.
How can I prevent my dog becoming aggressive?
As mentioned earlier, all types of aggression stems from the dog perceiving some sort of threat and acting on it.
Julie Hancox says “… we believe that a behaviour becomes an uncontrolled aggression at the point in which the handler/owner is unable to effectively control the dog’s behaviour …”
When an “intruder” enters their territory, make sure that everyone is relaxed and not anticipating a reaction. If you feel unsure how your dog is going to react, have him/her on a collar and lead. Get the person to slowly, but confidently approach with a treat in hand. Hand over the lead to the other person and get that person to lead your pooch, tell the dog to sit and get the person to give the dog a treat. Introducing new people to your canine this way will make him/her feel more comfortable with that person and the dog will know its place.
If all else fails make sure you do not delay in contacting a dog behaviourist or psychologist, so they can implement strategies straight away, preventing further progression.