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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bites worse than barks

Even in play, this is too rough 

Recently I have been seeing  behavior cases of aggressive dogs with different types of aggression . Huh? Isn't all aggression the same - the dog bites right?  No - not all aggression is  the same. There are different types and any dog is capable of biting for some reason.   What I am realizing is that few dog owners seem to understand  that all dogs, no matter how sweet, calm, tolerant or affectionate are possible biters. For the dog, biting is just the final straw of aggression - not the whole expression of it. 

bed fighting - resource guarding
First of all, let's define aggression.  Aggression is  threatening behavior ( growling, lunging,snarling, biting) directed at an object commonly the dog perceives this object as a threat..  Did you notice that aggression includes lots of  behaviors beyond just biting and breaking skin?  Dogs that are barking combined with, growling, lip lifting and lunging are aggressing.  All of these actions are to warn the object - person or other animal that they had better stay away or worse is going to come.  Predatory aggression is the one form that lacks many warning signs.  This instinctive type aggression needs to be very focused and silent - hence the danger. 

This crouched posture is common with predatory aggression - beware!
All aggression is not the same.  There are many different diagnostic categories of aggression. Some of the most common but each an individual type of aggression are inter dog ,territorial, food (resource guarding), heirarchy (used to be called dominant) , pain induced, unknown people, unknown places, conflict,irritability, sleep,play, and redirected to name a few.  So the sweetest dog in the world may bite when in a lot of pain, or when a food dish is nearby.  If a dog is presented for aggression screening, it must take place in many situations with various stimuli to really screen for the various types.  An exam in a veterinary hospital or shelter is not a complete screen. It is a partial one, and important at that, but if a dog has growled, lunged, chased, attempted to bite at all the situation must be reviewed for in that lies the triggers for that dog.

reward your dog as they get shots
Many dog owners seem to think of the teeth as tools for eating only.  Few owners realize all dogs have their most effective tool handy 100% of the time, ready for use - the teeth.  Veterinary staff will acknowledge that any dog can bite at any time.   It is really impressive that dogs don't bite humans more often when you consider all the ways we confuse, stress and force our dogs into things.  Veterinary examinations and grooming are 2 places where it is really stressful for the dogs.  Especially in veterinary clinics, we have to use rewards and ways of handling the pet to make the experience good for the pet.  At my office we only use rewarding handling for patient care.  This has dramatically reduced bites and aggression at the office.  Most importantly it is a way to show the client how to handle their pet safely and positively.  I have videos on youtube to see this in action video

Bella hated nails before rewarding
If your dog is growling, avoiding a situation, barking harshly and lunging even on leash - your dog is aggressing to keep something away.  Biting is just the icing on the cake so to speak.  The dog is scared and is throwing out warning signs to try to get help for itself - get the scary thing away.  Often it is a number of things that is leading the dog to become aggressive in that situation.  It can be all of the place, sounds, people, children, food or toy items that is building up the anxiety leading to aggression.    Learn  how to change the experience to a more positive - pleasant one for your dog.    Be sure there is not any medical problem bringing out the aggression.  Partner with your veterinarian to help your pet.   Yes it is possible to manage aggression. This is much  easier before any biting has happened.

not all dogs like hugs much!
Always be careful and considerate around any dog.  Don't suddenly take a toy or food away.  Avoid suddenly hugging your dog awake or asleep - this is startling!  If your dog has had ear infections, skin problems, teeth problems or arthritis they may feel grouchy if their problems and pain are not taken care of regularly.  So if your dog's ear is sore, he may growl as you pull the leash to get out for a walk. It does not mean he is bad - it means he is in pain.

I will post more about specific types of aggression in the future.  At least for now if everyone realizes even the best dog can bite it will be a better world for us and our dogs.
Thanks and please share this post to prevent dog bites!
I love these 2 yet I still take care around other dogs, food and when Butter's arthritis flares