8 min read
“Don’t go near that dog. He might bite you!”
Growing up, this was a warning I would hear every time I was around a dog. And as an animal lover, it always made me wonder if the sentence held true in every situation.
Today, after learning from canine behaviourists and observing and hearing of multiple dog’s journey with aggression, I’m glad and certain to know these 3 things:
So if you have a dog who you believe is aggressive or shows signs of aggression, here’s a guide on how you can understand them better and help them on this journey!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Harmful, hostile and unfriendly, dog aggression is described as threatening behaviour towards other animals or humans. However, the more we look into it, this definition is incomplete.
Dog aggression is a natural reaction, a defence mechanism and/or a dog’s response to something unpleasant. It’s a dog’s way to protect themselves from harm and create distance from the perceived threat.
Think of it this way - have you ever had a moment when you were talking to someone and they behaved in a manner that pushed your buttons the wrong way? How many times did the conversation turn into a heated argument?
Disagreement and discomfort are natural. While we humans can communicate to express our feelings, the story is different with our pets. Dogs can’t speak our human languages but they do communicate with us through their body language. And when our dogs feel cornered, scared or displeased, they express it through behaviours which are aggressive.
This is one of the most common questions asked each time we hold an adoption drive or post adoption appeals through @headsupfortailsfoundation. And there’s only one answer to that question - none.
Large dog breeds such as Indies, Pitbull, Rottweilers and German Shepherds have a reputation for being aggressive. However, this is a MYTH!
If you’re looking for one, dog breeds aren’t the right criteria to distinguish a dog’s aggressiveness. The answer is much more layered and nuanced. Each dog is unique and they have their own personalities and temperament. From the day they’re born to the way they’re socialised with different environments and people, each dog’s individual journey defines the way they react in certain situations.
If a dog’s emotional trigger (something that evokes a negative emotion) is exposed to them over and over again, it’s very natural they’ll constantly stay guarded and shall do everything in their power to protect themselves.
Dear Pet Parent: I believe that it’s a shame when we term certain dog breeds as “aggressive”. Due to this misconception, people miss out on opening their hearts and homes to certain wonderful furry companions. I hope that the next time anyone asks you this question, you’ll help spread the word!
There can be many different behavioural causes for aggression in dogs and each depends on the dog’s personal experiences. Here are three that are believed to be extremely crucial:
Every animal (including humans), has a fight and flight response when we feel threatened or scared. Flight is the natural response to flee or avoid the situation while fighting is to defend yourself against any threat.
Dogs may fear unfamiliar environments, certain individuals or pets and perceive them as a threat. Due to this fear, they might try to escape the situation or react aggressively.
It’s crucial that when we try to understand our dog’s behaviour, we think from our pet’s perspective. Even if we believe and understand there’s no real threat, our dogs might not. And that’s okay.
“Tough love” should never be our approach while understanding an aggressive dog. It’s important to respect the boundaries our dogs have set for themselves and believe in their choices as the right ones.
Dear Pet Parent: Incorporating this thought process has helped me be more cautious while approaching dogs who have certain triggers. And this approach has always helped dogs trust me back!
2. Resource Guarding
Dogs originated more than 20,000 years ago in the wild. They are territorial beings. Rightly so as they are descendants of the wolves. Our dogs believe it’s their duty to protect and guard their pack, prey and territory. And this survival instinct was passed down to our furry family members as well.
Food, toys, specific areas and even certain family members - these constitute the most important part of our dog’s whole world. If our dogs perceive any of these being under threat, they will believe it their duty to protect what’s theirs. Which in situations can make them aggressive.
In such a situation, it is always a good idea to let your dog be. Do not scold them or try to snatch their food or toy away. If they’re being protective over something that’s unwanted like a slipper or a sock, here’s a simple trick that works for us. Pick a long-lasting dog chew like Yakies or an interactive dog toy and walk in the opposite direction of where your dog is, while calling out their name. They’ll drop the unwanted item and the treat and toy will help remove their pent up energy!
3. Lack of socialisation
Socialising means gradually exposing our puppies to different people, pets and places. However, between 8-12 weeks, puppies also go through ‘Fear Imprinting Phase’ which makes them extremely vulnerable to any stimuli. This phase will stay with your puppy and dog for the rest of their lives.
Abuse, neglect or any stressful experience during this phase can cause long-term effects and lead to aggressive behaviour. If your puppy is still in this age window, be vigilant and remove them from any situation that causes them anxiety.
If the age window has passed, don’t lose hope! While dogs are social animals, it’s not necessary that they’ll enjoy being around everyone. Just like us, our pets develop their likes and dislikes. And as responsible and loving pet parents, we should respect their choices.
Dear Pet Parent: We’re sure that the above mentioned causes may or may not fit to describe your dog’s unique circumstances. These are simply broad categories that can help you identify the source of your dog’s aggression. At HUFT, we recommend reaching out to a trusted and certified canine behaviourist. We’re positive they will be able to help you and your dog navigate this journey.
Read More: Why is dog training important?
Orhan Pamuk, novelist and Nobel Prize winner once said, “Dogs do speak but only to those who know how to listen.” Our dogs are always communicating with us.
Before a dog turns aggressive, there are a few distance creating signals that they shall convey as a way to say “Hey, please don’t come near me. I’d like some space please!”. If a dog is unable to escape, they may look for ways to defend themselves.
One should understand the following body language as signs of fear and discomfort. If these signs are ignored, they can cause a dog to become aggressive:
Here are few correct ways to approach a dog that’ll make you less of a threat:
1. Always ask for permission: Talk to the pet parent while approaching any dog. They’ll know their dog’s triggers and shall guide you on how to make them more comfortable.
2. Do not hover: We’re taller than our dogs. When we make sudden movements and approach a dog head-on, they perceive it as a threat. Instead, try approaching sideways and look at the dog using your peripheral vision. Crouching down can reduce your height and make the space more inviting for the dog.
3. Do not rush: Some dogs find it alarming when they see someone running towards them. Always approach them with a slow and relaxed walk.
Dogs aren’t inherently aggressive due to their breeds. Certain large breeds have a reputation for being aggressive (Indies, Pitbulls, Rottweilers and German Shepherds). However, this is a big myth! A dog’s behaviour is not influenced by breed but by many factors such as their socialisation, fears and unique experiences.
We recommend consulting a certified canine behaviourist when it comes to understanding aggression in dogs. They shall be able to help you identify your dog’s underlying behavioural issues and help you with them, every step of the way.
Yes, dog behaviour training is extremely important. It can help ensure your dog’s safety, provide mental enrichment and aid in a smoother socialisation process.
Aggression in dogs can be triggered by a variety of reasons. Each dog comes with their own triggers. However, a few common ones include invading their personal space, making them feel uncomfortable, taking away their food or toy amongst others.
If it’s your dog who’s being aggressive, then immediately remove them from the situation that’s causing them anxiety or stress. Be confident and talk to them in a calm voice. Do not yell. Try distracting them with their favourite treats or toys, as a way for them to ignore the stressor. Consult a certified canine behaviourist for your dog’s well-being.
Regular sleep, walks, exercising and proper socialisation can help remove your dog’s pent up frustration. Focussing on what your dog needs and understanding their past trauma and developed boundaries can help prevent your dog from turning aggressive.
Dogs do not enjoy being constantly touched or hugged - something that comes naturally to our children. High decibel voices can also cause our dogs to feel uncomfortable. While some dogs might tolerate it, some might not.
We advise gently introducing your kids to dogs. A good tip is to make them sit, relax and calm down. Let your dog approach them with curiosity. Hush tones can make your pet feel more comfortable. Ask your kid to always gently pet on the dog’s shoulder and never touch or pull on their head, fur or tail.
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