What Is Aggression?
This term alludes to a range of behaviours occurring for a range of reasons, in varying circumstances. Typically, all wild animals display aggression when they feel threatened with regard to territory, or offspring, or themselves – aggressive behaviour is used as a protection mechanism. Even humans and dogs use aggressive behaviour to counteract social situations/interactions and when peace is threatened.
As per Caesar Milan, a world renowned dog expert and trainer, aggression in dogs is a manifestation of an underlying problem. When a dog is termed as “aggressive” it can mean a whole range of things, and the aggression could include a range of behaviours, including a warning of attack. Listed below are a range of behaviours that could form part of a sequence of aggressiveness towards people-
- Lower pitched bark with growls meant to sound as a threat
- Staying still and rigid
- Charging or lunging at a person, without actually attacking
- Butting the person with the muzzle, almost like a punch
- Growling continuously Baring teeth
- Snarling – growling and baring teeth
- Quick bite leaving no mark
- Quick bite tearing skin
- Bite that causes wounds
- Biting fast and repeatedly
- Biting a part of the human, holding and shaking it violently
Dogs do not necessarily follow the sequence, but they do exhibit these behaviors to express aggression. As a pet parent, it is necessary to watch out for warning signs, in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises by way of ‘perceived sudden’ aggression. Dogs rarely bite without first giving a ‘warning’. The pet’s aggressive behaviour toward the human family may be shocking, especially for first time pet parents. Living with an aggressive pet becomes dangerous, tough, and frustrating for a human family, and it would be necessary to take precautions and preventive measures against bites. This is essential not just from the perspective of safety, but also to begin the process of behaviour modification and correction for the pet dog.
Experts provide some simple tips to deal with dog aggression:
- Identify situations that seem to lead to aggressive behaviour
- Prevent access and occurrence of such situations (confining, muzzling, or controlling such environment)
- Controlling the dog in the event such a situation arises with a leash, harness, or even tying down
- Use a head collar or muzzle and leash to prevent more incidents of aggression in the home
Before calling on an expert, it is recommended that one must keep a list of ‘incidents’ and history ready, to enable proper diagnosis of reasons for aggressive behaviour and suitable training and treatment. Some of the behavioral modification training could include:
- Avoiding triggers
- Instructing new responses
- Positive reinforcement for displaying desirable behaviour
- Controlling with head halter and leash, without harshness or cruelty
- Instating desired responses through response substitution training
- Training to teach the dog to obey commands such as sit, stay, leave, get off the couch/bed
Once controlling is in place, behaviour modification can begin. Be sure to include your veterinarian as well, since some aggressive behaviours could be the result of underlying medical conditions. Hence, dogs suffering from chronic pain, thyroid issues, or other conditions, are sure to exhibit changes in behaviour and become irritable and aggressive. Incorrect diet and food have also been known as contributors towards aggression. Your veterinarian would be able to rule out any medical issues, which if not addressed, can worsen the aggressive behaviour.
Professional Behaviorist/Training Expert
Unaltered aggressive behaviour can prove to be dangerous, especially given the fact that the reasons are tough to decipher and treatment is complex. Any attempts at behaviour modification should only be done by an expert behaviorist, since badly executed training can escalate the issue, beyond repair. Even the most qualified and experienced behaviorists are at risk too, due to aggressive behaviour, hence you and your family could be at much higher risk. An expert will be able to put together a treatment and training plan customised for your aggressive pooch, while keeping your family’s unique circumstances at the fore.
Aggressive behaviour on the part of your precious pet baby can be unnerving and scary. The question often asked is whether aggression can be completely ‘cured’. Experts say that some types of aggression can be reduced and even possibly eliminated, but there is no guarantee that aggression would completely be ‘cured’. There is always an element risk with an aggressive dog, but the best way is to manage and limit trigger situations. Pet parents would need to manage their aggressive pet baby, such that it does not harm anyone. Experts say that even a previously calm dog, can turn to an aggressive one and it is the responsibility of pet parents to monitor their pet’s behaviour.
It is important as a pet parent to keep your dog calm. If your dog seems too excitable (to the point of aggression) in a particular situation, it is best to avoid it. Pet parenting is not easy – it takes time, concerted effort, and total commitment. We wish you the very best with your pet baby!