Dog Aggression Should Not Be Taken Lightly

January 12, 2019

“My dog is aggressive” is a term that dog trainers hear frequently. More often than not, the trainer learns that a dog’s undesirable behavior was not identified and dealt with timely and appropriately, and it has escalated to the point where the owner is unable to deal with it any longer. There are varying degrees of aggression. Identifying the trigger and learning how to deal with it humanely and effectively is an integral part of the process, and one where it is recommended you seek the guidance of a professional. My beautiful Cairn Terrier Whitney. What a challenge that girl was! If I said I could control Whit at all times I would be telling you an outright lie. There were times when that girl had the upper paw, for sure. Whitney was large and in charge, bold and brazen. It was Whitney’s world, and I was in it. Often the best way to deal with Whitney was to make her think it was her idea and not deal with the backlash. Whitney was wonderful with people, and she loved everyone. Even a trip to the vet’s was party time for that girl, and she would get all of the dogs riled up in the waiting room. Whitney did not like other dogs. She would never intentionally try to attack any dog without provocation. But she did not want a dog in her face. And most people would not hesitate to let their dog charge up to Whitney to say hello, which would result in a snarl and snap. Whitney had space requirements, and much of the time it was not respected. I learned the true reason for Whitney’s reactivity when I boarded her. She was not reacting defensively in a show of dominance but rather out of insecurity. Whitney was not comfortable or trusting with strange dogs, and her way of dealing with this was to keep them at bay. I could control Whitney’s reactivity by asking others not to let their dog charge up to her. Whitney could totally focus on me and be happy and content in the presence of other dogs in a controlled environment where she did not feel threatened by an overzealous unfamiliar Fido. Whitney was excellent at the veterinarian’s and groomer’s. She was sweet and accepting of being handled. At home was another story, and as Whitney got older and arthritis set in, she became more ornery and disagreeable. Whitney would happily swallow a pill pocket, but when the time came for me to put drops in her infected ear the battle began. She would go under the kitchen table, growl and bare her teeth. Scary as it might seem, it was a bluff. In the 14 ½ years Whitney and I had together, not once did she put a hole in me. Whitney always knew her limits, and it was never her intention to do me bodily harm. She did try to push me away in a valiant effort, but I would inevitably win the battle. Whitney was definitely more challenging than my male Cairns. But she was also the most confident and joyful dog I have ever owned. I used to think “if only I had a little of her confidence.” Whitney was the spark in the Endo household, telling us what to do and when to do it. She made me laugh every day with her demands, and I would say the boys would perish without her telling me when it was dinnertime or to fill the water bowl. Although it was all about Whitney, the boys did benefit. And she loved me, and vice versa. I knew that the household would never be the same without this firecracker, but little did I know the pain I would suffer with her absence. Whitney was not perfect, but she was perfect for me. I recognized, addressed, and controlled her outbursts. Many bad behaviors will never be eliminated, but through education, patience, and redirection they can be controlled in a way that both owner and dog co-habitate happily and peacefully, as in the case of my girl Whitney and me. I loved her to the moon and back and miss her every day. Dominance, fear, or predatory aggression in dogs: While some consider aggression to be normal behavior in dogs, it can be impulsive, unpredictable, and even dangerous. Aggressive behavior includes growling, lip lifting, barking, snapping, lunging, and biting. With aggression directed toward family members or other people familiar to the dog, treatment is currently aimed at controlling the issue, as there is no known cure. Symptoms and types: It can be challenging to determine whether a dog is demonstrating abnormal aggression. Aggression is often exhibited near the dog’s food bowl, toys, and times when the dog is being handled. This type of aggression is shown to familiar people, most often their handlers or household members. Aggression can be seen often and it may not even be toward the same person regularly. Aggression is often displayed as: ears tucked back, snarling, eye aversion, biting, and lunging. While most aggression toward familiar people is a sign of a serious problem, there are some instances where an animal will be aggressive following a painful medical procedure or if they are in pain regularly. Causes: Some breeds are more aggressive than others. These breeds include Spaniels, Terriers, and Lhasa Apsos, among others, but aggression can appear in any breed. Dogs will normally demonstrate signs of aggression between the ages of 12 and 36 months, and is seen more in male than female dogs. Medical conditions and the after-effects of medical procedures can also cause an animal to exhibit aggression toward familiar people. In addition, inconsistent or harsh punishment from the dog’s owner can contribute to the animal’s aggression. Diagnosis: During a medical examination, your veterinarian will look for fear-based aggression, anxiety conditions, and pathological disease. Typically, however, a traditional blood test will not find any abnormalities. Treatment: Animals exhibiting aggression toward familiar people require strict behavior modification therapy, and possibly medication. Behavior therapy involves eliminating or controlling situations that may trigger aggression. Veterinarians will help the owner identify the triggers and behaviors, so they can work to correct them. Some dogs will require a muzzle until the behavior is under control. Affection control (working to make the animal obey a command before they receive any treats) is also effective for behavior modification. In addition, desensitization can decrease the animal’s responsiveness to anxiety and fear, as I did with Whitney in the presence of other dogs. In some cases, physical activity can help reduce feelings of aggression in dogs. A low-protein/high-tryptophan diet has had success in reducing aggression. There currently are no approved medications to treat canine aggression, but surgically neutering aggressive male dogs is a common recommendation. Living and management: The treatment recommendations given to reduce aggression are designed to be lifelong and should be strictly and consistently followed by the dog’s owner. As stated previously, there is currently no cure for aggression. Prevention: One of the best preventative measures is to not breed aggressive animals, and to begin socialization and hierarchy training at an early age. Dog bless, Judy Endo judyendo@outlook.com Resource: PetMD In memory of Cairnacre’s firecracker, my beloved “Whitney,” who made me laugh every day with her antics.

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