Ash Veterinary Clinic


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When Aggression is an Issue

We often value protection (aggression) against intruders, and expect our dogs to make judgments beyond their experience, training or ability. Since a dog that bites humans may go months between bites, people tend to downplay the significance of aggression. The fear of losing your dog can also contribute to denial and failure to deal with the problem. It is impossible to list every behavior or situation that may be reason for concern, but if something does arise, be sure to consult your veterinarian. When indicated, your veterinarian can help you with behavior issues or find a veterinary behavior specialist for an expert evaluation of the dog and the situation. This precaution can save lives, and should be taken sooner rather than later. Do not wait for someone to be bitten. If your dog exhibits any of the following behaviors, it is time to look for expert help in person. Watch if your dog growls, barks, snarls, snaps or lunges at people on walks or shows aggression toward visitors to your home. You could have an issue also if your dog shows aggressive behaviors in your back yard, including aggression towards the mailman or the meter reader. Aggressively guarding food or toys is an unacceptable behavior, also.

Much of the time you can save your dog by early intervention. Sometimes you will save a human from a serious injury. Either way, it is essential to act on the warning signals of aggression by getting the right help in a timely manner. Experts are aware of several risk factors for dog aggression that most people do not know to watch for. Knowing when to be careful can prevent a good dog from getting caught in a bad situation.

                A female dog with young puppies goes through a hormonal stage of serious protectiveness. One day the family children handle the puppies in the nest, and suddenly the next day the mother dog cannot tolerate this intrusion. Do not allow anyone free access to a mother with pups. Male dogs commonly become overprotective of female dogs, especially if the female is in heat or just generally neurotic. You reduce the risk of your male dog biting people by neutering him, preferably by the time he is a year old. Spaying the female reduces the risk of her inflicting injuries since heat cycles and puppies in the nest are the times she poses highest risks of biting.

Dogs need human help to learn to inhibit their bite with people. Normal play between two dogs involves mouthing that will injure a person. Dogs have no hands, so it is normal for them to grasp and otherwise act with their teeth. It is up to humans to teach dogs to inhibit the bite with people, and this training needs to start in puppyhood. A dog new to the home can pose special risks. It is impossible to thoroughly evaluate a dog’s temperament in one test, or even over a period of a couple of weeks in foster care. The dog’s behavior will change with maturity and also will be different with your family than in some other situation. Be observant and careful with any new dog.

                Dogs in pain are at increased risk of injuring someone when the person approaches in a way that causes the dog to fear being hurt. Dogs tend to hide signs of pain as a survival instinct (showing weakness in the wild could get an animal killed), so it is essential to be watchful for pain. Protect your dog from being hurt so the dog will not feel the need to self-protect. Dogs are often labeled “fear biters.” This is an unfair label that makes it seem fearfulness automatically makes a dog dangerous. It is true, though, that dogs that bite in fear often bite people who act in ways that can frighten dogs, even if the actions were reasonable from a human point of view. Protecting dogs from situations in which their fear provokes a bite is important.

Thankfully fatalities from dog attacks are rare, but injuries are common. Everyone with a dog must take seriously the responsibility of protecting people from being hurt by the dog. Whenever there is reason for concern, pick up the phone and make the appointment, starting with your veterinarian and then following through on veterinary advice. It is the best way to protect your dog as well as the people you love. If you have questions on how your dog is behaving or need to schedule an appointment, please call Ash Veterinary Clinic at 734-782-2827.

[4:06:25 PM] Dianne Raftopoulos: