By Nancy Cope
Genetics and the environment, nature and nurture, both contribute to canine aggression.
Genetic aggressiveness can be somewhat curbed through training, but its inherent nature always presents risk. Some dog breeds have for years been bred to enhance their aggressive characteristics for service as guard dogs and attack dogs.
Other dogs that suffer from psychosis are chronically aggressive, or worse, periodically aggressive without warning or apparent reason. The former group, when their working years are over, can be retrained with some success to be suitable family dogs. Some police and military dogs fall into this category. Unfortunately for the latter group, euthanasia is often the only solution.
With an otherwise normal dog, environmental conditions can bring out canine aggression. If a normally friendly dog is taunted or continuously poked by an untrained and unsupervised child, he will probably bite the child in self-defense. The dog’s aggression, in this case is justified, but unfortunately is considered unjustifiable especially by the bitten child’s parents. Dogs must be protected from this type of taunting and unintended abuse by keeping the dog in a safe and secure environment.
A single chain-link fence will prevent the dog from wandering about the neighborhood, and generally protect the dog from outsiders, but will not keep the dog safe from taunts, pokes, and improper snacks given by passers-by or children. A double fence, however, would be a perfect protective solution for both the dog and for passers-by. Another alternative to a double fence is to construct a good sized run well inside a fenced-in area to allow the dog to enjoy exercise and safety. Fence height can also be important in keeping adventurous children from climbing over to retrieve a lost ball or simply to satisfy their curiosity.
Regardless of which protective measures you choose, never let a stranger enter the secured area without you. That area is the dog’s territory. The dog may well feel threatened by an unaccompanied stranger and act aggressively.
When one finds a normally calm and friendly dog that suddenly becomes aggressive when approached or touched, injury should immediately come to mind. A dog that has suffered an injury does not understand the cause of the pain. He simply hurts. If your touch causes increased pain or your approach to the dog triggers the dog’s fear of injury, he will show signs of canine aggression in self-defense.
Take a page from your veterinarian’s playbook. When working with an injured dog, even one that is normally gentle, most veterinarians place a muzzle or restrictive rubber band around the dog’s snout to prevent biting. You’d be smart to do the same. Your dog does not want to hurt you, but has no other way to tell you that it hurts.
One common incidence of canine aggression is typical and understandable. Females who are caring for a new litter of puppies will truck no interference from strangers, and may even snap at a trusted owner who moves too quickly toward her charges.
With trusted family members who approach the mother slowly and gently to maintain her trust, she will permit touching and lifting her pups. Never let unattended children touch the puppies directly. If you want a child to experience the delight of holding a new puppy, you should be the person to remove the pup from the nest and place it in her hands, and return it to the nest when she is done.
Nancy Cope is the owner of four rescue dogs and Pampered Dog Gifts.