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Dog Aggression

In light of the recent incident at the dog park, I thought it would be a good time to talk about dog aggression. Aggression isn’t just a random behavior; it is a defense mechanism, a competitive instinct, and a hunting behavior. Domestication and breeding have toned down many aggressive responses in dogs, but they still exist.

Aggressive behaviors can include:

  • Barking at other animals or humans
  • Herding
  • Food guarding
  • Fence fighting — when a dog cannot get to an animal on the other side of the fence or window, he may turn on other pets
  • Growling and snarling
  • Snapping and lunging

Most encounters are intended to frighten but not maim or kill. Things like growling or certain postures can intimidate a potential rival away without any contact at all. When a dog is in an unfamiliar or frightening situation, he will be motivated to put distance between the strange thing and himself — either by running away (like my Lally did) or by behaving aggressively (like Tuffy the wheaten terrier did).

There are different kinds of aggression, including aggression towards strangers, aggression towards family members (like food guarding), and aggression towards other dogs.

Many aggression problems can be prevented by fully socializing your dog. This mean exposing your dog to a variety of people and situations — and making sure they are positive experiences through treats and praise. Socialization is best done when an animal is young; you may have a harder time trying to socialize an adult dog. Making sure your pet welcomes handling all over from strangers and family members alike will also help prevent aggression problems. Teach your pet to accept and enjoy handling with lots of treats and praise to help desensitize your dog to having sensitive areas (like mouths and feet) handled.

Learning to recognize the signs of aggression can help protect you and your family from an incident where a person or pet gets frightened or injured.