Are all Mean Dogs Really Mean?
The leading reason people bring their dogs to a shelter to give up, or worse present to a veterinarian for euthanasia is for aggression and biting people. A beloved pet dog biting someone, especially a child, is every dog owner's worst fear. I will take some time to explain what some of the reasons for this biting are.
The most available and effective way a dog can say "Stop that" is to use their body. Growling, baring teeth, hiding, cowering, and standing tense are all ways that a dog will first say "I am not okay with this." When those warnings are not followed by whatever is making the dog afraid or unhappy, the dog has to give a bigger message. This is when they will attempt to bite or actually bite because no one listened to them at first. The teeth are always there, and always available. Some dogs have more tolerance to fearful, painful, or confusing situations and may be much slower to possibly go to a bite. Other dogs have had bad experiences increasing their fear, or pain making it much faster to go to a bite.
There are approximately 24 different types of aggression in the dog. Most all are related to pain, fear, or a medical/health condition. Only 5% at most of aggressive incidences? with dogs are due to a truly genetically aggressive temperament. Some of these different types of aggression include, guarding food or toys, pain from the body to avoid handling, fear of what is going on around them including children and loud noises, displaced to human when breaking up a fight, improper socialization, hormonal (unneutered dogs or mother dogs), chemical imbalance ,to name a few. These triggers for aggression need to be identified, and then a plan needs to be made to help change the behavior of the dog.
At least 50% of the time, aggression has a pain or other medical basis that is the cause or making it worse. Any kind of plan to lesson aggression must have a physical check up and evaluation for possible pain. If a dog has a chronic ear infection, the stress of the pain and the hormones in the body from the stress interfere with ways for him to learn to be less aggressive. The plan will not work as well unless all of the pets is checked out. Now this can be the hard part- how does the veterinarian or I handle my biting or almost biting dog in the office? This is where the approaches of using muzzles with treats, tranquilizers sent home before the exam, and other ways to examine the pet to reduce pain or fear at the veterinary office allow these exams to happen without everyone getting bit.
Prevention of dogs learning how powerful their teeth are is the best approach. Early socialization is important. Biting always increases over time. Force methods of training (choke collars, roll overs and shake downs) increase aggression overtime. Talk to a veterinarian who offers behavioral services on helping you with an aggressive pet before the big bites happen. There are not any quick fixes for these problems but there are some good solutions for many pets.
If your dog or cat shows any of aggression, please call us to set up an appointment. Early diagnosis and treatment of aggression is best. Contact Dr. Foote to set up a behavior consult.
- written by Dr. Sally J. Foote