Aggression in dogs is very rarely unpredictable. To prevent it, it is essential to know how it works.
What is Aggression In Dogs?
Always keep in mind that aggression is part of the way dogs communicate. All dogs can bite one day or the other. One who has never bitten may one day do so and another who has already bitten may never bite again, as he might do again.
The reason why some dogs are very aggressive, while others do not seem to be at all aggressive, is explained, in particular, by what is called the threshold of tolerance. It is a question of what the dog can bear, in absolute terms, but also from the point of view of questioning his hierarchical rank. For example, a dog with a low temperament will turn to aggression after being pushed 50 times, while a dog with a high temperament will use aggression at the first annoyance.
Aggression is not inconsistent with sociability. Very sociable dogs can be very aggressive. Sociability is defined as the ability to communicate, and since aggression is an integral part of communication in this species, an aggressive dog is not an anti-social dog.
Aggression is not an end in itself, but a means. A means of maintaining or acquiring social status. As such, aggression has a social function, that of maintaining cohesion within the pack. It is used to defend against fear or when a dog is injured or feeling diminished. It is used to catch prey, which is called predation instinct. This instinct is present in all dogs, but more or less strongly. Aggression is also used to defend its territory.
Aggression is used to settle hierarchical conflict, defend oneself, defend one’s territory and control or kill one’s prey.
Who Is Attacked By a Dog, And Why?
A large part of the assaults is directed towards the family and the close entourage, these are the assaults related to the hierarchical status that has been granted to the dog or the place to which it wants to access. A dog will use aggression to control what gives it power, and power remains its main quest, especially since it no longer needs to worry about its meals, which in the wild took a lot of energy, and it had to keep it to hunt. A dog will bite to defend its status or to take a new one.
After their first heat, the females suddenly enter an adult hierarchy. They will therefore start to defend the hierarchical status they think they have acquired or to assault to gain a new status. There is a maximum level of aggression in females after the first heats. In males, attempts to assert are much more progressive. They happen at several times that correspond to rises in testosterone. And at social maturity between one and two years, the dog will defend with more relentlessness the status he has acquired. This status is defined by the places he occupies in the territory, by the place and the order he occupies to eat, by the initiative he takes or not of physical contacts and by sexuality.
In your home, visitors who enter or passers-by may be victims of your dog’s aggression, because your dog defends its territory. The people your pet will pass on the way, especially joggers, cyclists due to their fast movements, tend to awaken the dog’s instinct for predation. Yours could chase them and even bite them to catch what it considers prey.
Children are often victims of dog bites at two sensitive times. The first, when the child moves alone, and the second at puberty. A study conducted by the Canadian Hospital Injury Information and Prevention Research System clearly shows this. All ages combined, bites directed at children under one year of age represent 6.5% of bites, and this percentage rises to 22.1% for the 2-4 age group. For those aged 10-14, this percentage is roughly similar, at 23.6%, but falls to 5.3% for those aged 15-19.
Children who acquire motor skills explore the universe they have been able to observe for many months, and the dog is one of them. They seize the objects and want to seize the dog and even climb on it in a burst of discovery. The dog could then be aggressive to repel unpleasant contact or to subdue a child. The animal with a strong temperament will not always accept, for hierarchical reasons, a contact initiated by a puppy or the puppy putting a part of its body above one of its own (which is perceived as domination) and use aggression to impose limits. A dog’s attitude is the same whether it’s a puppy or a child.
Fights are common in the canine species. Two dogs seeking domination will fight until one of them submits, which can sometimes lead quite far. However, as soon as a dog submits, the fight must stop immediately. A dominant will attack a subordinate to call him to order. A dominated dog will attack a dominant to take his place. Puberty in dogs is a critical age from the point of view of aggression. This is an age when the puppy that has grown up will have to position itself vis-à-vis its congeners, and aggressiveness is the main way.
Aggression In Dogs As a Pathology
This chapter is purely informative and will not be studied in depth, since dogs that attack pathologically often have unpredictable and difficult to control reactions. But rest assured, I have met very few dogs of this kind, apart from the fearful dogs.
Aggressiveness becomes disproportionate and unpredictable when the puppy has been poorly socialized, socialized and impregnated. When dogs are in a group, there is a pack effect that does not stop the aggression of an individual, even submissive.
When a dog has been impregnated, that is to say that its living environment at the farm has deprived it of solicitations and stimulations, it will present fearful behaviors in multiple situations. This is called sensory deprivation syndrome. The fearful dog has a strong tendency to bite to defend itself. He will feel attacked in multiple situations. Although this attitude is natural, the bite no longer belongs to a ritual, as the animal no longer controls the pressure exerted by its jaw. In other words, there are no more inhibited bites, only bites that can often cause very serious injuries.
When a dog has not learned canine codes, because it has been deprived of contact with its congeners from an early age, its propensity to be aggressive increases greatly. However, studies have shown that for a dog deprived of contact with its species that would develop in a sociable group, but of another species, this dog could later socialize with its congeners. I met only one dog that wasn’t sociable. It was a male who assaulted females for no reason and who bites them all the time when they submit. This dog also wanted to attack humans for no reason.
There are dogs that attack because of biological dysfunction, which makes bites perfectly unpredictable. If there is no cure, euthanasia seems inevitable.
How To Prevent Aggression
Dominating Your Dog
To control and channel your dog, it is essential to dominate it. Letting him dominate you would give him the heavy responsibility for the survival of the group. He would be responsible for managing everything that is vital to you, and one of the ways he has to do it, and will use it, is aggression. Dominating your dog discharges him of group management. This significantly lowers the risk of aggression, which then becomes almost nil for the family, unless the dominated dog tries to assert itself. As a general rule, attempts to seize power from a dominated dog, if taken correctly, are not problematic. They manifest rather when one wants to assert oneself in front of a dog that dominates in adulthood. It becomes very difficult if the animal has a lot of temperament, and almost impossible if it threatens you and has more physical strength than you.
One of my clients was trying to get her dog, a two-year golden retriever, back on track. She was made aware too late of the hierarchical rules to be imposed on him, for he was already aware of his physical superiority. That dog had already bitten her twice when she was trying to stop her from doing something. With an animal of this type, when it uses aggression to try to subdue you, you should, at this very moment, physically dominate it by putting it on the ground, otherwise it will always have the upper hand over you and you will never master it properly. If the whole family dominates the dog, the risks of bites become extremely limited for the members who constitute it.
On the other hand, this does not in any way remove his instinct of guard, of predation, his aggressive reactions in case of fear and his willingness to assert himself outside the family circle, although for some of the dogs, this tendency to want to dominate may diminish if everyone does not consider himself the dominant one at home. But to control your dog in its aggressions directed towards the outside, excellent obedience is essential. This obedience cannot be acquired without a domination of your dog. If the latter dominates you, it is perfectly incoherent for him to have to obey. If he has a strong temperament, you will have only the brutality to make you obey, and you will never obtain the same degree of obedience as if you dominate your dog.
So How Can You Dominate Your Dog?
Dominating your dog doesn’t mean you’re stronger than him. In fact, in wild dog packs, a very small dog can dominate the dogs. It’s more about strength of character, intelligence and your ability to be more stubborn than he is. To dominate a dog, you have to control what is vital to it. So you have to show them that you manage food, territory, contact, sexuality, movement, and to some extent, play.
Dominating your dog does not necessarily require physical force, however, in some situations this physical force serves to signify and confirm your dominant status. If you give in to a physical duel that engages, it will encourage your dog to use aggression in a subsequent conflict.
Making him obey
Making your dog obey will be necessary to prevent aggression towards outsiders. You will never take away a dog’s predation instinct. However, you can prevent him from leaving after a prey or remind him if he is already running after it. To prevent him from defending the territory represented by the house, you will force him to stay in a specific place, for example on his basket. It will relieve him of having to decide who can come in or out of your house. If a dog has a very strong temperament, it must remain in its place when strangers come and go in different places of the house. Obedience will also help you remember your dog during tense interactions with his congeners. It will also help you channel him when he is afraid. When you physically heckle with other people, you need to keep your dog away, as it could defend or attack one of them. It is also important to keep a dog away from a group, person or dog, as this central position will give it the power to manage interactions between individuals.
It is not easy to make your dog obey in all these situations. To obtain this level of obedience, it must be submitted to you, and this goes through the rules of living at home. You will also need the help of a competent professional.
Controlling a dog’s interactions with others
Generally speaking, you should never initiate physical contact with a dog without having called it and never go to see a dog lying down, because you are bound to approach it higher than it is. This can be perceived as a posture of domination, especially as you will caress the high parts of the dog. When you caress a dog, you should always do it under the face or on the flanks. Again, placing your hand on your head, neck or back is a sign of domination.
What significantly reduces the risk of bites, even if they remain real, when you caress the high parts of a dog, is that it often associates the contact with the caresses, and these are pleasant to him. There are dangers with dogs with strong temperament. Never let someone initiate a brutal contact with your companion. Again, it’s best if people call a dog when they want to pet it. A dog is not a stuffed animal and should not be forced to a contact he does not wish. After being called, if he feels like it, he will come into contact, and if not, this will prevent him from using aggression to refuse. Although a large majority of dogs readily accept spontaneous human interactions, let’s not forget the hundreds of thousands of annual bites in Quebec. So it’s better to be too careful than not enough.
Never leave your dog unattended if he is with someone who does not know him. And if he is among your entourage, it is good, even if you think you have the sweetest of dogs, to recall some elementary rules. Do not remove a bone or toy from their mouth, do not disturb them when resting, always have physical contact with them after calling them, do not go to see an injured or weakened dog, do not step over them or grab them. Don’t let a dog come into a game that mimics pursuits and fights.
A very important rule to observe is that a fearful dog should never be cornered. If he does not have the opportunity to flee, he will attack to get out of this situation, and when a fearful dog bites, he no longer controls the pressure exerted by his jaw.
Never leave a dog alone with children. Let us not forget that according to this Canadian study, 71.2% of dog bites directed at a child are known to the child and live in their immediate environment.
In front of a dog that you pass and that you do not know, to avoid any risk of bite, it is better to adopt an attitude as neutral as possible. Before perceiving whether he is rather in a «friendly» attitude, ignoring him is the best solution.
All these rules would make sense if we perceived the dog as a wolf. So never forget that the dog is a domestic wolf.
The importance of breeding conditions
The breeder is almost entirely responsible for the sociability of the dogs and their balance, the future masters will only contribute to continue the work done to the breeding. There may be, or will be irrecoverable, failures within the livestock industry.
Two very important points to be observed by breeding
The first is that puppies should never be separated from their mother before leaving for their new masters. If for various reasons the mother cannot take care of the puppies, they must be in contact with adults. Indeed, it is the mother who will teach them the inhibited bite. Around the age of 5-6 weeks, puppy teeth burst in and during the game they will tend to hurt each other, but also during feeding. The pain felt by the mother and the cries caused by the puppies bitten too hard by a member of the siblings will provoke a reaction of the mother, who will scold the puppy who is biting him if he does not submit. When the bite is painful, the bitten puppy will also bite in turn, but stronger. These interactions will teach puppies to control the pressure of their jaw, but also that submission stops aggression. Without this training, the dog’s simple pinches would be severe bites. Unfortunately, many breeders separate puppies from their mothers. Either out of ignorance or not to damage the udders of mothers brought to participate in beauty contests.
The second very important point is what we call the period of impregnation. This period ranges from 3 weeks to 3 months. It will serve as a frame of reference for the dog’s entire life. During this, the puppies must be highly stimulated, independently for each sense, and often surprised. The longer they are in that period, the less they will be in adulthood. It is considered that a puppy raised in the countryside for up to 5 months in a low-stimulation setting will not be able to adapt to city life and changes. This period of impregnation is essential because it conditions the balance of the dog and its degree of fear in the absolute. We know that a fearful dog is often drawn to bite to defend itself, no longer moderating the pressure of its jaw. The more fearful a dog is, the more likely it is to bite, and the type of bite is then dramatic. It is therefore essential to choose the right stock.