Aggressive behavior in dogs

Why do some dogs turn aggressive; what can be done about their behavior?


The headlines are becoming all too common

– dogs attacking people, causing horrific injuries, sometimes even death.

The dog, then, is not always man’s best friend. So what is it that makes some dog’s aggressive while others of the same breed remain placid?

When it comes to dogs there are three indisputable facts. The first is that nearly all dogs have a protective instinct and the second is that a dog is born with a set temperament but this can be changed and moulded by training and environment. The third fact is that a special bond soon develops between dog and master which almost gives the dog a sixth sense – including the ability to know what pleases or displeases his master. So it is that calm, even tempered people tend to have dogs of a similar temperament whereas a nervous or bad tempered person will have a dog that mirrors his moods. It has even been shown that owners who have a prejudice against a certain race or social class can relay such feelings to their dog.

Dogs, like humans, are prone to making mistakes. It may misinterpret an action or momentarily not recognise a person and spring to the attack. This has been evidenced on many occasions when dogs have suddenly and without warning struck out at their owners.

The ancestry of the dog, which is believed to go back to the wolves of the wild, is another possible explanation for the aggressive streak which is evident in dogs. Some breeds also appear to be more aggressive than others. One dog which has a reputation as a natural born killer is the pit bull. According to Randall Lockwood, a Humane Society expert,    “These dogs can be canine crocodiles. They have a dark and bloody history.” The facts bear this out. 72 percent of all deaths by dogs in the United States are attributed to pit bulls.

The dog has a squat muscular body, offset by vice like jaws that can exert pressure to the tune of 1,800 pounds per square inch. The pit bull is known to attack without provocation. Yet, as mentioned earlier, the problem may lie more with the owner than with the dog. Says Samuel McLean, a former investigator for the SPCA, “There is a new type of pit bull coming about – wild, savage, uncontrollable. You can tell by the names – Homicide, Switchblade, Crazy Pete. They breed what we call wacky dogs, father and daughter, mother and son.”

Gang members and street thugs have taken the pit bull as their dog of choice. They have been used as weapons and, of course, make good watchdogs. They are purposefully treated badly to increase their aggressiveness. Harsh treatment obviously increases natural aggressiveness and can also break the spirit of a mildly disposed dog. It follows, then, that gentle treatment will soften aggressiveness and reinforce mildness. But the basic nature of the dog will remain forever. Under certain conditions, that inherent nature may surface. When put under stress the dog may flare up.

If you are attacked by a dog what should you do? Above all do not panic. A dog will chase anything that moves. Talk casually to the dog as if it were your own. Back away slowly. Don’t use any sudden movements. Keep any thing you have in your hands between you and the dog.

If you are bitten by a dog, get yourself to a doctor immediately. You should also advise the police, giving a description of the dog. Identification of the dog by the police will let you know if you will need to take rabies shots.