Dog aggression, aggressive dog behavior, and reactive dogs
What is the proper term for describing undesirable dog aggression? At this time I now use the terms undesirable aggression or agonistic aggression. I will also sometimes use the term active and passive defense response when describing aggression. Traditionally agonistic aggression has been used to describe aggression between the same species.
Agonistic aggression includes threatening, avoidance, and appeasement. For appeasement to occur does not there also need to be a socially acceptable threat? The idea of aggression stemming from dog vs. dog and dog vs. human as two different types of aggression raises the whole question of, do dogs display dominance towards people? Or is it even possible for dogs to display dominance towards people? I can see threatening and avoidance with another species but the appeasement part of a dog’s behavior always makes me wonder.
Since aggression is a big component of normal social interaction, I feel we need a term to describe agonistic types of aggression in the context of human and dog encounters as well as dog on dog encounters. It appears to me that aggression between a totally wild dog with not socialization to people is different than a pet dog showing signs of aggression toward people.
My working definition of aggression is threatening to engage in or actually engaging in fight and bite behavior, or a strong predisposition to engage in this kind of behavior. Aggressive threats and/or biting are often associated with fearful or threatening body postures in response to a perceived threat. We can use the dog’s body posture and other signs such as dilated pupil, stiffness, tucked or raised tail, and growling as indicators of an active defensive or offensive emotional state.
My true definition of aggression is broader and more inclusive, but this is a good working definition.
Is my dog aggressive?
Many people I deal with upon first encounter do not want to admit their dog has an aggression problem. I often here excuses for biting or descriptions that hide the behavior in euphemisms, such as, he’s doing a little nipping. Or he prefers not being around new people. If a dog is defensively or offensive threatening, which could include grabbing with the mouth, it’s probably aggressive behavior. This is not always the case, but it usually is.
Before a person can deal with their dog’s aggression problem they need to admit and realize they have a dog with aggressive tendencies. Dog bites often occur because the owner did not take the proper precautions that are needed when owning an aggressive dog. I don’t think aggression places undo responsibility on the dog, but I do believe it places a great deal of responsibility on the owner.
If you do own an aggressive dog there are some precautions you can take to avoid tragedy.
The first is to teach your dog to accept wearing a muzzle. I feel this is a skill all pet dogs should have. Even friendly dogs should become comfortable with a muzzle. If your dog should ever be in great pain it may bite. A dog who can wear a muzzle will be easier for professionals and first responders to care for in emergencies.
I used to have a very aggressive antisocial dog and to protect the public I always kept him behind three gates. If you own an aggressive dog have at least one extra layer of security between your dog and the public. You may need to install an entrance gate within your current yard gate. It may also be necessary to put up a secure enclosure preventing access to the front door of the house. If you have company a dog run and security doors inside may also be necessary. Often temporary measures can be taken while going through a dog training program.