Aggressive behaviour in dogs is just an outcome of the way a dog is feeling. When any dog feels a threat to their survival in any way they will go into ‘Survival’ mode where they will choose to either Flight (run away), Fight, Avoid or Submit. Therefore with any aggressive cases the important thing is to work out what is motivating a dog to show aggression.
Typical Body Language signs of aggression include:
- Freezing when approached
- Turning away
- Lifting of the lips
Fear: A majority of dogs show aggressive behaviour because they are insecure or fearful in a certain situation eg meeting other dogs or strangers. Sometimes if a dog is startled by something possibly disturbed whilst sleeping or if they are confronted with a situation or object they have not encountered before, they can respond with a bite.
Possessiveness: Dogs may have learned to protect what they consider their property which can be either a Toy, Food, Territory or a Human Being. Some breeds are more heightened to exhibiting this behaviour, particularly Guarding or Herding breeds. Teaching a dog early on by corrections to ‘Leave’ or ‘Wait’ is the key to preventing any dog from feeling that they are in charge.
Medical reason: Just like humans, a dogs behaviour can change if they are in pain. Therefore it is important to get them checked at your Vet to rule out any medical issues that may be causing them to be grumpy.
Maternal Instincts: A bitch can become very protective over her puppies so be aware of the maternal instinct of your dog with her puppies. Try to ensure that the mother and puppies have an area that is quiet and teach everyone handling the litter to be cautious. This can also apply to Bitches who are prone to ‘Phantom Pregnancies’.
Prey Drive: It is natural for a dog to ‘hunt’ and part of the hunt behaviour is to chase. Unfortunately some dogs can go into a Prey Drive and chase everything that moves eg bikes, joggers, cars, small animals, children. Once they have caught up with the object it can result in a bite. So be observant of your dog around things that move quickly and correct any instinct to chase immediately or ensure they are on a lead. Dogs who are playing together and chasing each other can very quickly switch into Prey Drive behaviour, so always correct and bring the play level down as soon as you see them starting to ‘nip’.
Sometimes a dog will be aggressive because it just simply has not been shown how to deal with a situation in a balanced way. Although the majority of dogs exhibiting aggressive behaviour can be rehabilitated it’s important in the rehabilitation process to understand the instinctual behaviour of the breed, which can also contribute to their behaviour. Start early training with your dog: Give them enough Exercise, Teach them basic training including respecting the rules of playing (not playing ‘Tug’ with them) and socialise them with everything and anything so that they become confident with objects and in a variety of situations.
The following cases are some of the dogs that I have rehabilitated who have shown aggression towards either dogs or people.