In the comments on one of Ray’s Facebook posts, a woman said something about a dog who had attacked “out of the blue”. Canine aggression is a complex thing. But the only time I’ve ever heard of a dog attacking for no discernible reason, was a dog who had a brain tumor. I decided to do a little more reading on dog psychology, and biting behavior. Most dog experts agree that ALL DOGS can bite, regardless of breed, training or socialization. If the right stressors present themselves, a dog will react by biting. Almost all biting behavior has at its root fear and anxiety. Aggression is also a complex subject…a dog can be animal aggressive and great with humans. Or great with dogs and aggressive with humans. One form of aggression does not necessarily transfer to other areas. The reports and studies I read identified several different types of aggression:
* Fear aggression – a dog is frightened and feelthreatened by something, even if we aren’t not aware of what it is. If he feels threatened enough, he will lash out. Ray is frightened of other dogs because of his past. If they ignore him, he’s fine, but if they act at all interested in him, he will act out. This is fear based aggression.
*Medical issues – some conditions, like the brain tumor I mentioned, can cause a dog to react without warning.
*Protective aggression – this happens when a dog sees a threat to one of his family members (human or animal). When you see a story where a family dog bit a child who was running after the family child…this is protective aggression at work. The dog doesn’t know the child’s intent.
*Territorial aggression. Dog who are reactive when they are in the car, or at your door or fence are acting territorial. This is a natural instinct that dates back to wolf behavior. It is our job to teach our dogs more acceptable behaviors.
*Resource guarding – this was the trigger that most of us were concerned about regarding the video. Dogs can become protective of toys, food, beds, and even people. The dog is saying “this is mine, and I’m not sharing”.
*Predatory aggression – the urge to hunt is present in many dogs. Squirrels, cats, lizards and even small children can trigger a predatory response.
*Frustration – a dog becomes so worked up by a stressor (such as the doorbell, or a dog walking past the house) that he turns and bites the dog or person closest. This is known as redirecting…..or “bite the one you’re with”.
*Pain aggression – a dog in pain will bite. When I worked at a vet clinic we often had owners who’s dogs were in accidents. When the owner ran to help, the dog bit when he was moved. When something hurts that badly, it can be natural to lash out.
*Learned aggression – this is behavior that a dog has figured out for himself. If I bark at the mailman, he goes away. If I growl, people leave me alone. Learned aggression is also the behavior that some K-9 Police demonstrate. They have been taught to be aggressive in certain situations.
*Neglectful aggression – most dogs, unless there is something chemically wrong with their brain, want to bond with people. But what happens if the dog is abused, beaten, starved or isolated at the end of a chain? He does not have the opportunity to form that bond. He doesn’t have the usual inhibition about biting people. These are the dogs that jump the fence and attack people or other dogs.
But the main thing I learned is that no dog attacks without warning. The signs may be subtle…but they are there. The way the dog is holding his head, ears, tail, body…all telegraph what a dog is feeling. A sideways glance with a lot of the white of the eye showing, licking the lips, yawning, weight distributed over the front of the body. Ears back and down, tail held stiff and up like a banner. These are all signals that the dog is very uncomfortable, and will react if pushed. Dogs tell us exactly what they are feeling. Unfortunately, we don’t always listen.