Dog Aggression: Anything New?

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    Sep 07, 2013
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Dog Aggression: Anything New? Photo by Raquel Cervera

I am quite sure you have either seen, read or be exposed to dog aggression of some sort sometime in your life. As I said, it must not necessarily have taken place on a personal level. There are all kinds of stories either on books, magazines, TV news or programs and even movies to give us more than enough information regarding the topic of dog aggression. One does not have to be personally exposed to know something about it.

So then, why write any more about it? Well, maybe the information here will not be completely new, although maybe yes to some, but still, I believe it is very important for everyone to have the basics about dog aggression in order not to get confused and interpret as such a behavior that has nothing to do with it.

We humans communicate using different means to do so: speech, signs, written language, pictures, etc. Sometimes we understand each other quite well, but there are others when, even if we believe we are using the clearest means of transmitting our thoughts, we simply do not. Frustration may crawl in then and we may express ourselves using other ways that may be interpreted as aggression. Does that mean we are aggressive? I think you know the answer to that.

Animals, and we are specifically talking here about dogs, also have their ways of communication. We may be right about most of our interpretations of these, but then again, we are not dogs.

Growling, baring teeth, snarling, snapping, and biting are all signals of behaviors classified as those of dog aggression. By whom? Of course, by us humans, since to us, these signals are not acceptable in our world.

I am going to point out here the most common types of dog aggression and even ask you to think if we humans, when in those same situations, do not behave very similarly, although our aggression is definitely expressed in many other different forms.

Aggression motivated by fear is only a reaction the dog has in a defensive manner when it  believes it is in some sort of danger or gets the feeling it is about to be harmed.

Think of the following example. our intentions or belief of what we are demonstrating to our dog may not be interpreted the same way by it. You may have approached a dog trying to caress it or lift your hand to throw a ball or toy for it to fetch, but the dog may interpret that gesture as an aggressive act on your part and react to it the same way. The dog believes it is defending itself and you will most likely feel you are being attacked.

We have all heard about dogs being territorial. The reactions dogs have when trying to defend what they consider important to them are just the same, that is being protective and show some kind of possessiveness. All they are doing is trying to guard what they consider to be valuable resources.
If we already have a dog, for example, and bring a new one home to serve our own purposes, our original pet may feel its territory is being invaded and may react with what we consider to be dog aggressive behavior.

If you are married, engaged or simply in love with someone, and another person tries to take your spouse, girl or boyfriend away, do you just allow them to do so easily, or will you try to “defend’ what you consider “yours? Although our responses may not be or showing our teeth, growling or even biting, if we interpret them, there is not so much difference after all. We are all trying to be defensive.

Another very common behavior we have seen in our dogs in the territorial classification is that associated with the defense of either his or his owner’s property or “territory”. When we take our dog  walking , for example, we  have all seen him or her “marking the territory” urinating frequently over other dogs’ smell. To the dog, this may mean all of that territory marked by him is his.

A dog belonging to a pack or family is usually protective of these. He may perceive strange movements coming from others he does not know or recognize as threats to them, and therefore, manifest dog protective aggression.

The most common dog aggression behavior shown by these animals is the one directly related to their food, toys or anything else they may consider of value. I have seen dogs even defend a single bunch of leaves on the patio because they considered them as part of their things to play with.

Another type of dog aggression commonly misunderstood by dog owners is that of redirected aggression.  What is this? It happens when a dog which has been provoked either by a person or another dog cannot express its aggression directly towards these. What it does then, in order to express what it feels, is direct the behavior towards someone or something else. If you have more than one dog a home and something like the above happens, you may see they become engaged in a fight with each other because they cannot show their frustration any other way.

.This other type of “aggression” has one purpose and one purpose alone: to obtain food and has been classified as predation aggression.

If you have ever seen in the news when a country has been devastated by a catastrophe, for example, as help arrives in the form of food, do humans behave in an orderly manner, or do they try to be the first in line pushing, hitting and whatever other measures they consider necessary to obtain that food? Well….

All dogs do not respond to particular situations the same way, just as we do not either. The difference in the threshold prompting aggressive behavior is influenced by both environmental and genetic factors. When the threshold is low, the reaction may be quite fast. On the other hand, when this one is high, a lot of negative stimulation may be required for the animal to show aggressive behavior. In our everyday language we call this “tolerance”.

There is also the learned dog aggression behavior. What is this?   Remember we are talking here about learned behavior. What usually happens, especially if you own a very smart dog, is that it will display what we may consider to be dog aggression simply as a means to obtain what it wants. Don’t our children do the same?

As mentioned before, there may be not much more that is really new in dog aggression issues, but the important thing here is to remember that when we identify and classify a dog’s behavior as aggressive, we may not be following the complete route to the truth.

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