Warning Signs of a Potentially Aggressive Dog

Attacking Dogs Many times dogs owners are faced with behaviors from their canine friends that are a bit far from what would be expected from “man’s best friend.” Such behavior issues are often ignored or excused with phrases such as “he will grow out of it,” “it’s just a phase,” or “he only does it every now and then.” But sugar coating such issues does not help at all, rather in many cases, unwanted behaviors are more likely than not to escalate and get worse if left untreated.

It is very important to first have a veterinarian rule out any physical conditions, especially if the unwanted behavior appears to be out of the norm and appears suddenly. Sometimes even the most docile dogs can turn aggressive if they are in pain. A common scenario is a very well-tempered dog that suddenly snaps when its head is touched because of a painful ear condition. Another issue that may cause behavior changes is a condition called hypothyroidism. It is certainly worth talking to the vet about the possibility of the dog having this condition. All it takes to rule it out is a thyroid blood panel.Hormones may at times play a role in aggressiveness. Owners of an intact male dog may deal with aggressive behaviors, especially when their dog detects a female in heat nearby. While neutering may help a male dog have a better disposition, it is not really a cure-all for major behavioral problems that are not hormone related.

Signs of Potential Problems That Should Not Be Ignored

  • Growling

    Growling is a warning sign that should not be ignored. While growling should be appreciated because it indicates the dog will issue a warning before biting, a growl should not be underestimated, because it could indicate that the dog has a low level of threshold and requires help.
  • Biting

    Biting is of course the most obvious act of aggression a dog can express. It does not have to break the skin to be considered a significant event. Often owners start seeking help once the dog has bitten someone. However, in many cases, there have been warning signs of increased aggressive behaviors that have been ignored or were too subtle to be noticed by the inexperienced eye.

Situations and Behavior Most Likely to Lead to Aggression

Related to Feeding

  • Dogs that growl when they are eating.
  • Dogs that lift their lip and snarl while eating.
  • Dogs that get tense and tend to stop eating as you approach.
  • Dogs that growl when they are chewing a bone.
  • Dogs that steal food and get aggressive when anyone tries to retrieve it.
  • Dogs that respond aggressively when they are found scavenging the trash.

 Related to Sleeping

  • Dogs that growl if they’re forced off of a bed or couch.
  • Dogs that growl if they’re allowed on the bed and the owner moves too much.
  • Dogs that growl if they are awakened.
  • Dogs that growl if they’re touched while sleeping.

Related to Being Touched

  • Dogs that do not allow children to touch them.
  • Dogs that growl when they’re groomed or when having their nails clipped.
  • Dogs that dislike being touched on the head/shoulder area.
  • Dogs that do not like to be touched from above and being picked up.
  • Dogs that do not allow themselves to be medicated.

Related to Being Disciplined

  • Dogs that react aggressively to being reprimanded.

Related to Being Exposed to the Outdoors

  • Dogs that chase cars, small animals, joggers, bikers, etc.
  • Dogs that lunge towards other dogs or people.
  • Dogs that act aggressively towards strangers.
  • Dogs that growl if the owner touches another person (for example, shaking hands or hugging).

As seen, the signs are all out there. It is very harmful to ignore them altogether in the hopes that they will disappear. Unfortunately, many times, they will come back sooner than later and grow in intensity if they are not nipped in the bud. If your dog displays any of these signs please don’t try to solve them on their own; instead, consult with a veterinary behaviorist (DACVB), a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB) or a dog trainer well versed in understanding dog behavior.

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