When Your Dog
Understanding And Correcting Aggressive Behavior
Ron Hines DVM PhD
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The most common non-medical problem that dog owners ask me about is aggression toward people and other dogs. There is enormous variation in aggressiveness or assertiveness among dogs. Certain breeds such as chows are famous for this quality; but there is wide variation within any breed as well. Experiences in puppyhood influence aggressiveness as adults but genetics also plays a key role in this problem. Owner temperament is also a very important factor. The size of the dog involved determines the seriousness of this problem. Toy dogs can be almost cute when they growl and posture but large dogs are quite dangerous.
The dynamics of dog bites is not well understood by the public. Few people realize that the dogs involved tend to be family pets and not strays. Also, more than two-thirds of dog bites happen to people who are acquainted with the dog. More than half the dog bites occur to the very young and the very old and almost half of all bites to children are on areas of the face. Almost half of the claims made against homeowner’s insurance policies are due to dog bites.
mature dogs do not normally become aggressive. I can detect predisposition
to aggressiveness in puppies as early as seven weeks of age. When
I do detect signs that a pup will be an aggressive biter or a fear
biter I caution the breeder or new owner that this particular puppy
will need special care and training.
brought to their new home at ten to twelve weeks of age may be more
fearful and slower to bond with their new family. If the socialization
process is delayed until the puppy is twelve weeks old or older
the dog may never be relaxed or interactive with people or other
aggressive dogs are overly protective of their possessions and status.
This is the most common form of aggression. These dogs tend to snarl
and growl or snap when a family member approaches them near their
food bowl. They attack other dogs as well as cats and farm yard
animals. They often attempt to sexually mount people’s legs.
When petted, groomed or detained in any way they will growl and
snap. They often chase cars and bicycles. They love to wander and
escape and will ignore commands that they return or heel.
Dogs as part of the family see humans as members of their pack and attempt to establish their place in the social hierarchy by challenging more submissive family members, especially children. When dogs show dominant gestures like growling while guarding their food dish, and they aren’t scolded for this behavior, they inch up in dominance surpassing certain family members. Subtle signs of dominance can go unnoticed. Because we love them we explained these faults away until the dog finally bites a human who infringed on its alpha position. Owners often do not realize what occurred and think the dog bit for no reason." These dogs are often surrendered to animal shelters and are killed because their owners did not understand how aggressive behavior comes about.
General Rules For Preventing Aggression
The first step goes back to before you purchase or accept a pup. Be sure that the breed and the individual puppy you choose are the right for your family. Sit alone in a room with the entire litter and observe them for a while. The more dominant pups will soon take charge of play activities and seek out strangers in the room. The fearful pups will be the ones that sit by themselves in the corner looking downcast. If you want a well behaved pet, do not choose the most dominant or the most fearful puppy. Breeds such as German Shepherds, Akitas and Rottweilers are not good breeds for timid owners. They need a family in which all members are willing to exert their authority. Lap dogs are wonderful pets but they do not like rowdy active children. If you choose a shy puppy you must be willing to spend extra time coaxing its courage in new situations. Realize that it will never become a confident dog.
All puppies need to be handled gently, firmly and frequently between the ages of six and eighteen weeks. They should be hand-fed by all members of the family and taught to accept food slowly and daintily without snapping or lunging. They should be verbally scolded or affection denied when they jump up on people, chase running joggers and children, ride legs or growl for any reason. Aggression-prone dogs should not be rough housed with, wrestled with or engaged in tug of war. Instead of physically punishing them one should speak to with a sharp “No” when they break the rules and then deny them affection and interaction for ten minutes. When they begin to understand what you consider objectionable actions reward them with a food treat.
Puppies learn good behavior from other dogs. It is good to expose them to well trained, people-friendly, non-aggressive dogs as playmates. It is amazing how quickly good behavior rubs off on misbehaving pets.
can try to alter triggers in your home that lead to outbursts of
dominance aggression. For instance, if a dog growls when you approach
it on the sofa make the sofa off limits to the dog.
Always reward these pets when they show signs of submission. These signs include laying their ears back on their heads, licking their lips, rolling over, sitting, avoiding eye contact and curling in their tails. Once a dog is displaying some of these activities begin slowly counter conditioning the dog to submission. This is done by getting the dog to allow you to handle its paws, hold it in a sitting or laying position and holding its head still. Make the dog lay down before it is allowed to fetch. Praise him and give him a food treat when he cooperates and gradually increase the length of his lessons.
Dogs that are severely dominant aggressive often stubbornly resist change to their status in the family. There are professional dog trainers who will attempt to modify your behavior toward the dog and the dog’s behavior toward you. But they are not always successful or they may only be moderately successful. Rather than martyr you and your family to a long term, unhappy situation I suggest that families in this situation find another home for their pet. It is amazing how much better a dog’s behavior can be in a new home.
Fear Biting Dogs
find that a small dose of Acepromazine tranquilizer is extremely
helpful in starting these dogs in their education. Valium seems
to have little effect on dogs. I give acepromazine at 0.38mg/pound.
You can pick it up at your veterinarians and give it in a food treat
thirty minutes before lessons.
Territorially Aggressive Dogs
Territorial aggression is a prized attribute in guard dog breeds such as German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Akitas. If you do not want an aggressive guard dog do not purchase these type of breeds. Some dogs readily learn to differentiate between welcome guests and intruders but others do not. They are very good at sensing your attitude toward strangers. If you are fearful, these dogs know it and will become protective.
Obedience training by every member of the family – especially the children helps correct this problem. These dogs are basically loving. They just have a very strong natural urge to boss and herd. This can be overcome if you make the dog aware that it is a problem. A sharp reprimand and a “no” is usually sufficient. You have to occasionally remind them of the rules. Dogs will usually not express this behavior when they are on a short leash.
A recent issue of Veterinary Practice News mentions studies on aggression in dogs that responded to suplementation with 5-hydroxytriptophan or 5-HTP as well as to 5-HTP given in conjuction with a low protein diet. . This ammino acid derivative of tryptophan is important in the production of seritonin in the brain. Brain seritonin levels have been linked to mood, agression and obsessive-compulsive behavior, in humans, dogs and primates. Neutraceutical grade 5-HTP is available online. A dose was not given.
You might also consider a trial period on a home cooked, all meat diet similar to this one.
Contact Dr. Hines
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