Dogs are complex social animals, so their behavior isn't always predictable. This wouldn't be such a big issue if they didn't also happen to have a sharp set of teeth on them that can do some serious damage. Dog owners must learn to interact safely with their pups and take precautions, including setting boundaries with children and signing puppies up for socialization classes. After all, dog bites from pets are more common than those from unfamiliar or stray dogs.
Breed-specific legislation (BSL) restricts or bans certain dog breeds in various places. In some parts of the U.S., the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier are the subject of BSL due to perceived viciousness from a history of dog fighting and the idea that aggressive behavior is inherited. But breed discrimination is often unfair, and many pit bull owners will attest to owning softies.
A University of Helsinki study considered thousands of Finnish pets and found that small dogs tend to behave more aggressively than their medium and large counterparts. Mini schnauzers and mini poodles did more barking, growling, snapping, and biting than labrador retrievers while the research was being conducted.
Smaller breeds may be more fearful, which leads to defensive aggression. Because owners don't see their tiny pooches as real threats even when they're baring their teeth, aggression in small breeds is less likely to lead to corrective behavior classes.
This might not come as much of a surprise, but male dogs tend to be more aggressive than females. Of the dogs that show up for treatment at behaviorists' doorsteps, the majority are dudes. Males also account for most dog bite incidents. Female aggression often appears when the dog has pups to protect or when a female dog feels possessive over food, a treasured item, or a favorite person.
In addition, the Helsinki study found that older dogs are generally more aggressive than young ones. Pain and compromised senses are often underlying factors in aggression, which would explain the difference in behavior.
Spaying or neutering can prevent aggression. Neutered male dogs are less likely to be involved in bite incidents, but early neutering makes a difference. If a dog figures out that aggression is a means to an end, neutering the animal afterwards might not have the desired effect.
In some instances, neutering makes aggressive behavior worse. As for females, spaying may only solve an aggression problem if the aggression was driven by hormones, such as during pregnancy. or recently after giving birth. Speak to an expert if you're unsure which route to take.
There are more than a dozen types of canine aggression linked to various causes, such as the side effects of medication or feeling territorial. Dogs usually become aggressive when they detect threats to their safety or prized possessions. They may also get frustrated and lash out when there's an obstacle between them and something they want. As with humans, every dog has the potential to be aggressive.
Learn more about canine aggression: 15 Types of Aggression in Dogs
Never leave an infant alone with a dog because a baby's movements may trigger hunting instincts. Having a dog and a baby at the same time is generally safe, but you do have to supervise interactions and understand that your canine buddy may feel a bit frustrated if you're suddenly unable to dedicate as much time to exercise and play or are moodier than usual.
Yes, it's like having another kid to worry about. You can ease the transition by making your dog more familiar with baby-related paraphernalia and crying sounds before the arrival. When the baby comes home, introduce the dog and let it get used to the baby's scent.
The concept of asserting dominance needs to be updated as it suggests a harshness that behaviorists don't believe is helpful in the long term. Yelling, shaking by the scruff of the neck, slapping, pinning down, or other forms of punishment may worsen aggressive behavior and lead to a bite, so avoid using these tactics.
You can learn to control your dog using less severe methods. Sometimes bites occur because of trauma experienced at the hands of previous owners.
Dogs will often give you warning signs before they resort to biting. At first, they may walk away or turn their heads to de-escalate a contentious situation. Staring, standing with head up, tail wagging, raising the hair on their back, snarling, and snapping are all suggestions to back off if you don't want more force. If the threat persists, bites may occur.
If a dog moves towards you, remain still even if it goes against your instincts, or you'll come across as more of a threat. Don't stare it in the eyes, but turn your head slightly downward and speak evenly to inform it you're leaving. Walk slowly backward or sideways and try to place an obstacle like a trash can between you and the dog, but don't run.
If the dog launches itself at you, it's vital that you remain calm and don't kick or hit it. Instead, stay on your feet, protect your body as much as possible, and the dog will see that you aren't fighting. Call for help.
If your dog has bitten you or other household members, consult a vet or behaviorist to see whether your dog would benefit from professional training. Sometimes, the law may force an owner to put a dog down. If you're not legally obligated to put your dog to sleep, know that most dog bites are explainable, and you can make expert-guided changes to prevent a repeat occurrence.
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