An aggressive dog is not a “bad dog”. The concepts of “good” and “evil” of human morality are not present in the canine community and if Fido is aggressive it is simply because this aggressiveness is useful to him. It is, in fact, an effective interaction between two or more individuals.
Indeed, it can allow him to stop a stressful situation or to keep a territory, an object, etc. When a dog is aggressive, it is urgent to consult a dog educator so that the reasons for the aggression can be identified to put in place an appropriate intervention plan.
Victims and aggressors are often confused and even participate separately in the intensification of aggressive acts.
Aggression is often the result of a profound lack of communication:
The caressed dog wants the end of a contact he doesn’t like. He will try to express his discomfort in canine language (signals of appeasement) and then escape. Frustrated or frightened, he will therefore use the last solution he knows: intimidate, attack. The master, shocked, could come to punish the animal, which could escalate the intensity of the attacks – on both sides. Basically, the two people simply do not know how to communicate properly, which has the effect of sabotaging the existing relationship. This is just one example among many.
Although the risks associated with the presence of an aggressive dog must be taken seriously, euthanasia is not a solution and appropriate behavioural therapy can make your dog an excellent companion.
Why is a dog aggressive?
The first thing to do when a dog is aggressive is to take him to the vet for a check for pain or any other medical cause that may explain the aggression:
> Hormonal disorders
> Senile dementia
Fear and anxiety
The vast majority of aggressive dogs are simply fearful or anxious dogs who do not know other ways to deal with a situation that worries them:
> A stranger is trying to break into his territory.
> Someone is trying to steal food or an object from your dog.
> Your dog growls, because they want to get him off the couch or bed.
> The dog is frustrated because he is not handled in a way that he finds pleasant.
Fido quickly understands that aggressiveness is an effective tool (the last one he has left):
> When he barks and shows the postman his teeth from the window, he always ends up leaving.
> When he “snatches” the one who tries to steal his bone, he leaves him in peace.
> When he bites while being stroked, we remove our hand.
Understanding your dog’s language
Before attacking, biting or grunting, your dog has probably tried to communicate his discomfort with the situation that makes him anxious and uncomfortable. Since his signals were not heard, he had to communicate his discomfort in a more explicit way: rumbling, showing his teeth, snapping. If your dog bit, but you didn’t go to the hospital, it means he checked his bite to give you one last chance. Real bites are rare, fortunately.
By following this reasoning, you will be able to understand that a growling dog is not “aggressive”: on the contrary, he tries to avoid this aggressiveness!
Even if your dog has bitten, it is possible to rehabilitate him by changing his perceptions of the situations that bother him.
Here is a list of the most commonly used calming signals/communication methods – they are universal and used by all dogs:
> Look away/head away
> To have a fixed gaze
> Have a closed mouth and a tight facial expression
> Lick your lips/nose truffle
You will also have to take into account all the postures used by Toutou in order to get a true idea of his emotions. In this sense, we advise you to be under the supervision of a canine behaviourist in order to avoid mistakes.
To punish or not a dog that growls or bites?
It is counterproductive to punish a dog for its aggressive behaviour. Indeed, this will worsen the crisis situation or inhibit certain behaviours related to aggression. If certain behaviours are inhibited, the dog’s emotion does not change: if he is angry, frustrated, anxious or scared, he will remain so. He will simply stop communicating with us in this way because he will fear our retaliation. Are you interested in training methods? See our articles on dog training methods and the training method to choose for an aggressive dog.
In some cases, punishing an aggressive dog can cause:
> The redirection of aggressiveness towards something else within its reach
> Stopping communication attempts before moving on to the attack
> Spontaneous, impulsive, unpredictable attacks
> Generalized panic disorders
> Acquired impotence syndrome
Solutions for a reactive or aggressive dog
Conventional and operative conditioning methods provide the most effective and safe solutions for the treatment of canine aggression. Gradual exposure to stimuli that frighten the dog by controlling the level of anxiety so that it remains “manageable” will also be appropriate. Gradually, it will be necessary to teach the reactive, aggressive or stressed dog that anxiety-provoking situations are, on balance, positive and synonymous with pleasure.
Thereafter, it will also be possible to teach him an alternative behaviour to aggression in case of exposure: walking beside us and watching us is a very practical alternative behaviour in the case of dogs that are aggressive during walks.
We will also teach the dog that we understand him, and we will make sure that the anxiety situation stops when he shows signs of stress. He will no longer need to go on to aggression to make us understand that he is concerned about a situation.
Physical exercise and mental stimulation will be an important part of the intervention plan. It has been proven that sport significantly reduces stress and anxiety levels by activating the production of serotonin, a natural antidepressant.
It is important to be advised by a canine behaviourist to enable you to implement an appropriate intervention.
A connection between race and gender
Some breeds selected for their ability to protect and attack will be more likely to show signs of aggression, although genetics never explains 100% of our dog’s behaviour. However, it should be noted that scientific studies do not allow us to affirm that one breed of dog attacks more than another.
However, regardless of size, a dog can seriously injure adults and children alike, and aggressive behaviours must always be addressed seriously.
Bite prevention in dogs
The puppy’s socialization will be the key: a dog that has learned at an early age to interact in a healthy way with its environment will be less stressed. In addition, species that have been successfully socialized are less likely to be considered potential prey for them (predation – a dog that hunts and pursues cats and squirrels).
In addition, learning to understand and communicate with your dog in his language is one of the most effective ways to prevent it.