Tag Archives: aggression

SERIES: When The Bite’s Bigger Than The Bark: Aggression in Dogs Part 3

Dogs are complicated animals with distinct personalities and therefore temperaments based on their individual genetic makeup, environmental factors and breed history. Just like humans, dogs have faults and behaviors that need correcting. And one of those common issues is aggression. While we’ve established in Part One of this series that training an aggressive dog takes time, patience and consistency, before choosing and committing to a training plan, the first step is identifying the various types of aggression and the respective motives and triggers for each. In this final part to our special series, we hold a microscope to four additional classifications of aggression.

Redirected Aggression

Consider this situation: In the midst of a scuffle between two dogs, one of the owners jumps into the middle attempting to stop the fight. Instead, the dog suddenly turns and bites the owner. This scenario describes a dog redirecting aggression towards an interfering party. Or, if two dogs are standing behind a fence together and one becomes aroused by something or someone on the other side of the fence, he may have no other way to take out his aggression than by turning to his furry companion and biting him.

Training approach: The remedy for redirected aggression is often to remove the dog from volatile situations which may trigger these feelings. For example, in the fence scenario, a responsible owner should not allow the dog to be outside unsupervised. Reward-based obedience training is also always a good idea.

Pain-Elicited Aggression

When a dog is in pain, a common reaction is aggression. Therefore, it’s crucial to handle an injured dog with care or to defer to a professional in order to prevent a pain-related attack. Even the most gentle, friendly dogs can react aggressively when they feel pain. And remember, while serious injuries are obviously quite painful, a dog can also react aggressively from something as minor as a pinched neck from a collar, stepping on a sharp object or getting stung by a bee.

Training approach: This particular case of aggression may be the easiest to treat and remedy, simply by making sure your pup receives proper veterinary attention. By getting to the root of the pain, once you obtain a diagnosis and medically treat the problem, your pup’s pain-related aggression may simply go away.

Sex-Related Aggression

Dogs who are not neutered or spayed will demonstrate aggression in order to attract the attention of the opposite sex dog for breeding purposes. Fighting can also occur between two male dogs (even if no female dogs are present) in an effort to compete for female attention. In the wild, the strongest dogs are the first to gain access to the female they’re vying for – so this is a natural, evolutionary practice. While it’s possible for females to also fight amongst each other as well, it’s less common. If a dog is fixed later in life, he may still demonstrate aggressive tendencies until the sexual urges wear off.

Training approach: Dog-on-dog aggression is typically remedied with behavior modification programs designed to de-sensitize and counter-condition. Basic dog training commands such as “stay” and “sit” will be reinforced to encourage self-control. After all, a dog who is passively standing still in one position cannot act out on aggressive tendencies.

Predatory Aggression

Classic predatory behavior includes chasing after fast-moving prey. And oftentimes, domesticated pups will chase other pets, wildlife (such as rabbits or squirrels), or even running people, bikers or skaters. Sometimes, a dog will bite his “prey” if they manage to catch the object of desire. While predatory aggression towards people or even human babies is possible, it is rare in pet dogs. That said, this type of aggression can be especially worrisome as there is often no warning before the attack.

Training approach: Those most effective treatment for predatory aggression will be intensive obedience training with a focus on the recall and “and down” commands. If a dog is chasing something, the owner must demonstrate control to retrieve the object. Developing control is a process, but can be practiced with repetitive fetch play and exercises.

In conclusion, while aggressive behavior in canines can be difficult to break, positive change is certainly possible and the behavior should be addressed immediately for optimal results. Through regimented training and therapy, aggressive dogs can recover to become the sweet and loving furry friends they’re meant to be.

SERIES: When The Bite’s Bigger Than The Bark: Aggression in Dogs Part 2

Dog aggression is a serious problem that can cause high anxiety, anger and heartbreak for owners, ultimately result in dangerous injuries (for both dogs and humans) and end in potentially fatal consequences, not to mention lead to cases of homeless and abandoned dogs. To better equip you with information and tools for how to rehabilitate an aggressive dog, in the second part of our three part series, we explore four additional types of aggression, the respective motives and recommended training approaches.

Fearful Aggression

You may have heard the saying “fight or flight” in relation to an evolutionary reaction to fear. In relation to dogs, while flight response is the most common reaction to fear; in situations where dogs cannot run away (on a leash, in close quarters in a home), they will switch to a fight response. Snapping, biting, and lunging are all symptoms of fear in this case, and show themselves as the ultimate defense mechanisms when unable to escape. Dissimilar to other forms of aggression, when a dog is afraid, signs may show (such as cowering in a corner or retreating before attack), but often do not. Common in both puppies and adult dogs, this behavior affects males and females equally.

Training approach: Training sessions will focus on building feelings of confidence and security. Methods could include coaxing the dog to take food from strangers, or socializing the dog within a controlled environment. The most timid dogs will require both obedience training and heavy socialization.

Defensive Aggression

Not unlike fear-related aggression, defensively aggressive dogs are afraid, but instead of retreating or showing timid behavior prior to attack, they simply go on the offense and take the first strike on the victim, whether that shows itself by charging, biting, barking or growling. Defensive aggression is more common in adult dogs than puppies as this attack strategy requires more confidence built over time.

Training approach: Defensive aggressive dogs would benefit strongly from heavy socialization training. The key is for the owner to continuously provide positive experiences to thereby encourage positive associations with other dogs.

Social Aggression

Socially aggressive dogs are typically happy-go-lucky and friendly, until someone in their “pack,” be it a human family member, or another dog, oversteps their boundaries, thereby becoming a threat. These dogs consider themselves high in the hierarchal order and want to remind everyone else that they are for lack of better words, “king of the castle.” Also often described as “dominance aggression,” socially aggressive dogs may be triggered by simple social interactions such as grooming, unwanted displays of affection, lifting or picking up the dog or even entering a doorway at the same time as the dog.

Training approach: A dominant dog requires not only obedience training, but also overarching control by his owner. An animal behaviorist would likely recommend that the owner start controlling every aspect of the dog’s life and establishing strict and consistent ground rules. Prime examples include breaking the habit of the dog sleeping in bed with the owner, not allowing the dog to interact with other dogs at the park, or keeping a leash on the dog at all times if worried about them charging ahead without permission.

Frustration-Elicited Aggression

Dogs who become frustrated often can’t contain their emotions and lash out with aggression. Feelings of frustration might arise when a dog is excited by an object which then gets taken away or when the dog is restrained with a leash when he wants to run free or approach something or someone at his own pace. This type of aggression occurs in both puppies and adult dogs and doesn’t favor one gender over the other.

Training approach: Frustrated dogs may benefit from a “reactive socialization class,” where the dog is introduced to other dogs in a highly supervised setting. Through systematic interaction, the dog will be exposed to friendly, confident adult dogs under the watchful eye of a trainer. A focus will also be placed on redirecting the dog’s focus onto something that doesn’t elicit frustration, such as a game of fetch or obedience training with treat rewards.

To read about additional types of dog aggression, go to Part Three of our three-part series.

SERIES: When The Bite’s Bigger Than The Bark: Aggression in Dogs Part 1

Aggression in dogs is a scary, yet complex behavioral pattern, but is common and treatable with an intensive training plan. It’s important to accept at the onset of dog ownership that most dogs will exhibit some form of aggression at some point, typically when guarding their territories or protecting themselves or their puppies. Dogs also often demonstrate aggression to keep the peace or exchange social interaction with other dogs and humans. Thus, if you watch for the signs early on and address them, aggression issues can be overcome.

Visible signs of aggression include but are not limited to a threatening bark, charging forward at another person or dog, “muzzle punching” also known as a punch with the dog’s snout, growling, showing teeth, snapping, nipping, biting, snarling or mouthing. These behaviors could occur simultaneously, individually or in sequence. The intensity of the behavior does not necessarily define aggression. For example, even a quick nip that leaves no mark is still a form of aggressive conduct that needs immediate attention.

Before beginning a tailored training program to combat your dog’s specific type of aggression, it’s crucial to understand the root of why it’s happening, motives and signs associated with your dog’s aggression classification. By reviewing the breakdown below, you’ll come to learn how to address each type individually.

Territorial Aggression-What is it?: This type of aggression is a result of the desire to protect an area from intruders. If another dog or animal encroaches on a territorial dog’s turf, he will attack or bite in retaliation. Dogs who charge human guests or visitors in the home would also be classified as territorial aggressors. Territorial aggression is mostly experienced by adult dogs or adolescent dogs from 1-3 years of age, rather than puppies.

Training approach: The appropriate training plan should focus on establishing the owner as the “pack leader” in order to teach the dog where their territory is. The owner will then set ground rules of engagement such as that the backyard is not the dog’s territory, but rather a shared family space.

Protective Aggression: Some dogs show aggressive tendencies when they believe one of their own puppies, their owner or someone they love is in danger. Protective aggression is likely to show when the so-called “victim” is particularly vulnerable, such as a new baby brought into the home. If a dog believes a stranger is a threat to the newborn baby’s safety for example, he may attack. This is another type of aggression normally displayed by adult or maturing dogs. Puppies rarely become protective aggressors.

Training approach: Dogs who suffer from protective aggression would benefit from socialization training (controlled exposure to other dogs and humans) as well as desensitization, which essentially is introducing the aggression triggers in extremely small, controlled doses so as to manage the dog’s reaction.

Possessive Aggression: Possessive aggressive dogs demonstrate aggression when a human or other dog is in control of something highly desirable, or when fiercely guarding their own possessions such as food or toys. Protecting territory and possessions is a natural, instinctual behavior that was necessary for survival in the wild; however it’s a behavior that must be broken in domestic animals. Resource guarding is especially common in puppies, who recently had to compete with litter-mates for food.

Training approach: Teaching the dog to tolerate the presence of people and other animals around his possessions is key. Sample techniques may include trading good things for better things, removing potential triggers such as a favorite toy or implementing an earned rewards program, where the dog doesn’t receive any food or treats until good behavior is shown.

To learn about the other types of dog aggression, read Part Two of our dedicated series.

The Argument: Cats vs. Dogs

It is sometimes said that there are two types of people: cat people and dog people. Each will try to argue why their pet is best, yet a consensus is never reached. Here’s what we have to say about the two furry creatures—and by the end of this article, you can reach a conclusion on your own.

While felines have the cute and cuddly appeal of dogs, the similarities between the two domesticated animals pretty much stop there. Cats and dogs are said to have almost opposite personalities. For cats, the stereotype is that of an aloof, amusingly self-centered creature who offers limited affection. However, depending on the individual cat, felines can be very affectionate creatures who will show their love when and with whom they trust.

While cats are cool, dogs are our favorite for many reasons. Their loyalty, humanlike gazes and unconditional love towards their owners make them irresistible companions, while their playfulness and energy give them an apparent zest for life. Though personality varies between breeds and individual dogs, canines tend to express enthusiasm towards being around their owners, while a cat’s relationship with humans looks more like indifference.

When it comes to housetraining, cats require almost no prompting to use the litterbox; the act is purely instinctual. Yet whether out of lack of skill or just mere disinterest, cats won’t do tricks or follow the commands that dogs do, nor can they be trained for service jobs. Despite this, cats are very intelligent and are believed to have much longer memories than dogs. Cats also have extraordinary night vision, and their speed rivals that of dogs.

A dog’s famous sense of smell not only makes for a curious creature, but a dog’s nose has also proven useful for important tasks such as detecting bombs, drugs, missing people and even cancer. Dogs will do almost anything to please their humans. On the other hand, training them comes at a cost. The time and energy needed to housetrain, socialize and teach dogs obedience, especially to become “working dogs,” is intensive.

Because of their generally clean nature, cats do not require as much grooming as dogs. They like to lick themselves clean and typically do not need a bath unless they have gotten themselves especially dirty. Grooming and maintaining a dog’s health, on the other hand, can vary in price and time commitment, depending on the breed. However, both cats and dogs will need regular nail trims.

Statistics on cat aggression are quite slim, though because of their retractable claws which always stay sharp, a cat’s scratch can be comparable to a dog’s bite. However, instances of aggression in both cats and dogs often result from lack of training or poor parental supervision.

For better or for worse, cats are solitary creatures. They can thrive both indoors and outdoors, and are independent enough to survive without their owner for long periods of time, as long as there is food and water left for them. Dogs are largely pro-social creatures, which may make them more dependent on their owners, but it is just a result of their boundless love for our company.

Cats and dogs may be at opposite ends of the spectrum, but there are pros and cons for owning each. Our pet of choice is the loyal and fun-loving dog, but who says you can’t have both?

Who do you think wins the cat vs. dog contest? Comment below!

Bloat: A Serious Condition Every Dog Owner Should Know About

Bloat is a commonly used term to refer to a severe medical condition in dogs called “Gastric Dilatation Volvulus.” Bloat occurs when a dog’s stomach fills with gas, food, or fluid and causes the stomach to expand. This, in turn, increases pressure on other organs. In some cases, the stomach will rotate and twist, which hinders blood flow and prevents blood from flowing back to the heart and other important areas of the body.

Bloat usually comes on very quickly, so time is of the essence in treating the condition and preventing it from becoming life-threatening. Thus, as a responsible dog owner, it’s crucial to understand the warning signs as awareness and action could very well save your dog’s life.

Is My Dog at Risk?

While any dog can get bloat, the condition is more frequently seen in deep-chested, large dog breeds such as the following:

In addition to breed, age and gender may also play a factor in proclivity. It is widely believed that dogs older than seven years as well as males are more likely to get bloat than females. Dogs with an aggressive, anxious or fearful personality are also more likely to experience this issue, as stress and negative emotions seem to play a part in triggering the condition.

Causes & Prevention of Bloat

While the exact cause of bloat is not known, there are a variety of factors that raise a dog’s risk of getting bloat, so do your best to protect your dog from these possible causes:

  • Eating or drinking too quickly. Gulping large amounts of food or water at once often means the dog is gulping air, which can increase pressure in the stomach.
  •  Eating dry dog food that is too high in grain. Grain gets fermented in the stomach, which releases gas. Try grain-free food options to see if that makes a difference in your dog’s digestion.
  • Exercising during and especially immediately after eating. Give your dog an hour or more of rest time before and after eating to allow for proper digestion.
  • Experiencing extreme stress, such as mating, whelping, boarding, or due to a change in routine or new dog in the household.
  • Bloat may also be hereditary, especially if your dog has a first-degree relative who has suffered from the condition.

What to Look For: Signs & Symptoms

Nobody knows better than you what is normal behavior for your furry friend! Keep an eye on your pup, and if you notice any unusual behavior, get in touch with your vet as soon as possible. The most common symptoms are:

  • Repeated unsuccessful attempts to vomit (nothing comes up, or possibly just foam/mucus comes up).
  • Unusual behavior, such as asking to go outside in the middle of the night.
  •  Anxiousness and restlessness.
  •  Abdomen is bloated and tight.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing.

Your dog may also be pacing, whining, drooling, panting, or gagging, and may be standing or laying strangely. An accelerated heartbeat, weak pulse and collapse are indicators of a serious problem.

Keep in mind, not every dog will exhibit every symptom. If you’re not sure if your dog is experiencing bloat, contact your veterinarian. It’s of course better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your beloved pooch!

Treating Bloat

There are a few ways bloat is treated, depending on the severity of the case including:

  • The vet may take x-rays to see if your dog’s stomach is twisted.
  •  If your dog’s stomach is not twisted, the vet can release the pressure inside it by putting a tube down the dog’s throat into the stomach.
  •  If the stomach is twisted, a tube may be unable to pass into the stomach, so the vet will insert a large needle through your pup’s belly to release the pressure that way.
  • If the stomach is twisted, it is likely your dog will need surgery to untwist it and put it back where it belongs. Often, the vet will secure the stomach in the right place to prevent your dog from getting bloat again.

A Stress-Free Guide to Pup Playdates

As a pup-parent, you’ve likely met other dog owners and have bonded over a shared love of your four-legged friends. Eventually, the idea for a playdate between your two dogs is likely to come up. The idea seems like a fun one at first, until you remember a few instances of your pup’s bad behavior. Even if your dog is generally well-mannered, you never know how he might act around a stranger, whether human or fur ball. Pup playdates are a good chance to socialize your dog to new experiences and individuals, but there is a right and wrong way to go about them. Avoid a meeting mishap between your dog and his pup-pal by reading this to-do list and ensuring your playdate is a success!

1. Pick a Playmate
Not every dog will be the right friend for your dog. Factors like age, size, sex and energy level should be taken into account to give this playdate the best chance at success. For example, it’s best to pair up dogs of opposite sexes, as dogs of the same sex may see each other as threatening and are more likely to get into fights. This is not to say that two female dogs or two male dogs can never get along, but it is not as encouraged as having a male and female dog play together for the first time. A playmate close in age to your pup is also ideal, as the energy levels of the pups will be more likely to match up, whereas a young, lively puppy might get on the nerves of an older, more tranquil dog. Likewise, it’s best not to have dogs of differing sizes playing together, as one may end up overpowering the other or injuring the other without intention. Finally, make sure your pup is up to date with his vaccinations, and aim to surround him with other vaccinated pups to reduce the chance of spreading illness.

2. Choose a Neutral, Secure Environment
Where the playdate takes place matters just as much as who your pup is spending it with. Like your pup’s playmate, the setting must also be a good match; not too cramped, but also not too spacious. Avoid having the first encounter at your or the other owner’s house, as the dog living there may feel like his territory is being infringed upon when an unfamiliar dog enters it.

3. Take it Slow
For your dog’s first introduction to his new playmate, you will want to maintain a cool, calm demeanor. Since our dogs can pick up on human feelings of stress, going into the meeting with bad feelings can set your dog up for a failed experience. Keep a lax grip on your dog’s leash and encourage him with a praising tone of voice. Most importantly, don’t force the interaction. Despite trying your best to pair your pup with what appears to be the right playmate for him, it still might not be a perfect match. Take it slow by allowing your dog sniff out his playmate and encourage the other owner to do the same. Pay attention to body language to see how both dogs feel about the experience. Tongue-out smiles and wagging tails are signs of a good time, while a stiff body, exposed teeth and growling might be signs to separate the two pooches. But if both pups look relaxed and eager to play with each other, then allow them to play off-leash under your supervision.

4. Break Time
Even if all is going well, your pup and his playmate are bound to get tired sooner or later, so interrupt the play about every five minutes to split up the dogs, allowing them both some time to take a breather. After refueling them with water and treats, you can send them on their way again while keeping a watchful eye.

5. In the Case of a Fight
You’ll know if the encounter turns into a fight if you hear a lot of angry noise or see the dogs tangled up or displaying signs of aggression. Although most dog fights are minor, a risky situation that involves two irritated dogs should be halted immediately to avoid injury or worse. To safely end the fight and avoid getting hurt yourself, spray the dogs with water from a hose or spray bottle to distract them away from the tussle. Alternatively, you can make a loud noise to startle the dogs into silence. Always keep your hands away from either dog’s face. Once the dogs are separated, document any injuries and keep both pups secured on leashes, where they can no longer interact. If you wish, you can give the playdate one last shot on another occasion, but depending on the severity of the fight, you may have to accept the fact that not all of “man’s best friends” are meant to be “best friends.”

Dog playdates can be a fun socialization activity as well as provide a healthy means of exercise. As long as the encounter is kept safe, a pup playdate should be a positive experience for all involved.

Can You Read Your Dog’s Body Language?

Every pup parent wishes their dog could talk and wonders what their dog would say if she could. Humans are verbal creatures and it can be frustrating to communicate with non-verbal animals. The good news however is that your dog DOES communicate. You just need to understand how to interpret her non-verbal signs.

Just as some words can mean different things in different contexts, dog body language can vary from animal to animal and it takes a perceptive pup parent to get the right “feel” for how your dog communicates. Yet, to get a general sense of what your dog is trying to tell you, here are some common body language signs and their corresponding meanings. Take each with a grain of salt!

Language Signaling Nervousness or Anxiety

Wide eyes: Your dog is afraid or uncomfortable. Try to remove her from the situation she’s currently in as soon as possible.

Ears pulled back: This is a sign of nervousness or anxiety.

Bristled fur: A sign of aggression.

Yawning: Many believe this to mean a dog is tired; however it can also signal that your dog is overwhelmed or anxious. Consider the situation when deciding what your dog’s yawn means.

Rolling onto her back: She may be asking for belly rubs because she’s feeling playful, or she could be nervous and looking for comfort. In general, if she’s more stiff, she’s more likely to be anxious than happy.

Wagging tail: Tail wagging is a frequently misinterpreted sign. Most people believe a wagging tail only means a dog is happy, which of course is often true, but some dogs also wag their tails when aroused, overstimulated and frustrated. You can usually tell the difference by looking at what the rest of the body is doing.

Raising one front paw: Your pup is telling you she’s feeling uncertain. Some do this when they need more time in the backyard to go potty, too.

Bared teeth: Paired with other signs of nervousness, a dog showing her teeth is acting aggressively. Some dogs can show teeth when they are hot or happy though, as well. You can tell the difference if the rest of the dog’s signals are relaxed.

Lack of eye contact: If a dog refuses to look at something, chances are it’s frightening her. It’s pretty easy to tell when a dog is just scoping out the scene versus pointedly trying not to look at something. As you get to know your dog better, you’ll be able to tell the difference.

Sitting: If you didn’t ask your dog to sit, and she sits down in a hurry, she may be tense, especially if she freezes and shows other nervous signs, like staring straight ahead or lifting a paw.

Shaking: Is your dog cold? If not, she’s probably scared. If you’ve noticed your dog shaking during a thunderstorm or fireworks for example, you’ll be able to associate the sign with frightening situations.

Signs of Curiosity or Anticipation

Head cocked: When a dog cocks its head to one side or the other, they’re assessing the situation to better understand their surroundings and gain a sense of security.

Front paw lifted: Your dog is anticipating what will happen next and preparing her reaction.

Mouth closed: Similar to the front paw lifted, your dog is sizing up the situation to determine her next move.

Language Showing Relaxed Demeanor

A proud pup parent knows the true signs of a happy pooch, but here are a few reminders if for nothing else than a prime photo opp:

Mouth slightly open: Especially if the dog’s tongue is relaxed and lolling to one side, consider this a state of euphoric contentment.

Small body freezes during play: Your pooch is excited and joyful from the social interaction.

Turning over, inviting belly rub: This move demonstrates trust and the desire for affection.

Tail wagging fast: Depending on the length and look of the tail, some people call this move “helicopter tail,” which is a true sign of happiness

Squinty or blinking eyes: You may notice this expression when you’re giving your dog a head massage or back rub – it’s almost as if she could nod off at any moment – the true look of relaxation!