Canine Aggression

08/30/2010

Never assume a dog that wags his tail is just being friendly.

Possible signs of aggression by a dog include rigid stance, up on toes, growling, hair on back standing up, ears erect or back, lip lifting and snarling, snapping and biting, baring teeth and wagging tail.

Aggression in dogs is defined as a threatening, intimidating or harmful behavior directed toward a human or another animal.  This behavior is displayed when the dog's threshold for fear, pain or territory has been met and his attempts to avoid an undesirable situation fail.

At the first sign of an aggressive act in a normally friendly dog, take him to a veterinarian for an examination to determine if there is a medical program causing the aggressiveness.   A number of medical conditions such as hydrocephalus, encephalitis, head trauma, brain tumors and epilepsy could affect a dog's judgment, and inappropriate aggressive behavior.  Once a medical problem is ruled out, the next step requires in-home help from an animal behavior specialist, as a dog's behavior at home is likely to be more natural than in a clinical sitting.

Aside from medical issues, what causes aggression and what is the best way to proceed when a dog displays aggressive behavior?  Fear is recognized as the most common cause of canine aggression and is much more common than dominance aggression in dogs. When owners or trainers apply dominance-based training methods, overtime it can cause a fearful dog to become more aggressive.   Dominance aggression is a manifestation of inappropriate responses to specific situations related to control and usually develops in dogs between 18 and 36 months of age.

If you have a male dog, the first thing you should do is have him neutered. Statistics bear out that most dogs involved in attacks are young, unneutered males. Testosterone acts as a behavior modulator that makes dogs react more intensely, quickly and for a longer protracted time period.

The single most important feature contributing to the success of rehabilitating an aggressive dog is owner compliance to a treatment program and the extent of the effort involved. And, one of the best ways to keep dog training and rehab on track is to find a support program that works for you and your dog.  It's a good idea to make sure to exercise a dog regularly when he displays aggressive tendencies, as exercise boosts serotonin levels, which offset stress hormones such as cortisol, and can complement a behavior modification program.

Breeds that were overrepresented at behavioral clinics for aggressive conduct include Chows, Cocker Spaniels, Dalmatians, and English Springer Spaniels. And interestingly, purebred dogs were overrepresented when compared with mixed breeds for dominance aggression.

Get assistance and support to handle this disease. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer or behaviorist with experience in aggressive dogs. Keep in mind that aggression is a disease that's sometimes not curable.   The sooner you obtain help for a dog with aggression, the easier it will be to help your dog live a more harmonious life with you. Ignoring the symptoms of canine aggressiveness definitely won't help and will likely make matters worse.

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