The Difference Between Normal and Abnormal Aggression with dogs.
Some of the issues that bother owners may simply be part of a dog’s normal behavior repertoire. In these cases, the perception of the “problem” is in the eye of the beholder. Even if a behavior is normal for an animal, it may be unwanted or inappropriate for humans. It is also dangerous in the case of aggression.
Behavior issues, on the other hand, can be abnormal or atypical. Animals may bite when they are sick or in pain, for example. Aggressive behavior can appear in a variety of ways.
So, how do you know what is normal and what is abnormal behavior?
Growling, snapping, and biting are important parts of a dog’s normal behavior repertoire, and they are used to communicate with people and other dogs in social situations. Growling, with or without an inhibited bite (snapping, or biting with little resulting injury), for example, serves as a warning that if the trigger is not removed, more aggression will follow.
Here are a few scenarios in which, while aggression is undesirable, it is within the normal range of dog behavior:
Maxine is in her owners’ bed, and they are all sound asleep. One of the owners gets up and goes to the bathroom. Maxine growls at him when he returns and begins to get back into bed. This is resource guarding, with the bed or proximity to the owner as a valuable resource.
Howard, a freshly rescued Beagle, gets drenched in the yard after getting caught in a rainstorm. His owner bares his fangs at her as he raises his foreleg to dry his foot. If the paw is wounded, this is pain-related aggressiveness, or fear-related aggression when confined and touched.
As passersby pass by, Bonnie and Clyde are barking wildly at the fence and rushing back and forth. Bonnie leaps atop Clyde, and the two dogs battle it out. This is territorial aggressiveness, with the animosity being diverted towards the other dog since the dogs can’t get to the main target directly.
A dinner guest spends many minutes caressing the host’s Golden Retriever.
He leans in to give the dog a kiss on the head and gets bitten on the mouth.
This is fear-related aggressiveness; the visitor prolonged an unpleasant engagement with the dog.
Aggression may come from practically any condition, apart from its role in normal canine behavior. Furthermore, agitation and, as a result, biting may be exacerbated by fever, nausea, joint discomfort, and other health issues.
Some aggressive conduct, on the other hand, seems to be overdone and maybe unprovoked and does not fit into the typical canine behavior pattern. In reaction to the trigger, dogs with aberrant aggressiveness may act in an unexpected and excessive manner.
This kind of reaction is frequently referred to as “anger syndrome” or “impulsivity disorder,” terms that are commonly used by dog owners and even trainers but are not accepted by behavior experts.
While a “regular” aggressive dog will attack if her owner pushes her off the couch (a well-known provocation for dogs), an “abnormal” dog will bite even if the provocation is as little as a touch on the head.
These aberrant canines are less likely to growl as a warning and are more prone to get emotionally aroused, exhibiting shaking, dilated pupils, and even confusion.
Dr. Ilana Reisner, the author of this chapter, discovered that aggressive dogs had lower levels of serotonin metabolites (brain neurotransmitters linked to mood) in their spinal fluid than non-aggressive dogs in research.
Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, has been linked to mood modulation and a delay or inhibition of potentially self-destructive behavior. Dogs and other creatures may be more inclined to behave impulsively and violently in the absence of disorder.
Serotonin deficiency is only one of the numerous physiological issues that may contribute to aggressive behavior. Because of improper operation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (the link between the brain and the adrenal glands), which leads in the production of corticosteroids, the fight-or-flight body hormones, highly stressed or nervous dogs are physiologically on edge.
Behavioral arousal is high in this condition, and dogs are more inclined to attack defensively without a “logical” warning or restricted action. As a result, aggressive behavior by stressed dogs often seems unnatural. Such conduct is ultimately maladaptive and even self-destructive, and it does not assist the dog to enjoy a normal canine life.
Always Begin with a visit to the veterinarian.
Changes in behavior should always be seen as a red warning that the dog is unwell or in discomfort. Make an appointment with your dog’s veterinarian for an examination and health evaluation if your dog’s behavior is new, different, or just doesn’t make sense, including activity level, any unusual aggressiveness, anxiousness, social behavior, or change in appetite. Biting dogs are often discovered to have joint discomfort, ear infections, or other health issues.
In fact, a change in behavior is virtually always a sign of sickness. You can only concentrate on the behavioral modifications once your dog’s physical health has been handled.
Infections, tumors, and even trauma may all influence the brain and alter an animal’s behavior.
To make matters even more complicated, illness-related aggressive behavior may linger long after the condition has been treated and resolved—especially if the conduct resulted in the dog receiving what she desires.
A dog with a severe ear infection, for example, may growl or attack if her ears are handled. Because this behavior is rewarded (growling relieves discomfort in the hands), it may continue long after the ear infection has cleaned up. Finally, aggressiveness as a behavior issue and as a medical manifestation are often intertwined, making it impractical to address them independently.
Signaling That Is Aggressive
We negotiate, talk, dispute, and manipulate vocally as humans, but we pay less attention to the nonverbal social cues we share in our daily encounters. Although our dogs are unable to communicate verbally, they have created a sophisticated vocabulary based on physical body postures, movements, vocalizations, and facial expressions.
Dogs are excellent at watching us, their human family members, and responding to even little changes in expression or movement. Unfortunately, we are not always as adept at reading our dogs as they are at reading us, which often leads to unwelcome reactions from our canine friends. We need to teach ourselves to pay attention to their body language, as well as their speech clues.
While there is a hereditary component to canine social signaling, learning is also involved. Socialization is the early foundation for the appropriate development of social behaviors. Puppies that are orphaned or separated from their littermates before they reach adulthood may have fewer opportunities to acquire the key “rules” of good social conduct, and they may misread or communicate ambiguously. These social deficiencies may persist, and these dogs may struggle in the dog park or in other forms of group play.
To reduce the risk of damage connected with fighting, dogs express (or warn) their aggressive intentions. Aggressive signals, it may be argued, are intended to increase the distance between the dog and the focus of the aggressiveness, reducing the possibility of an active and perhaps harmful encounter.
Growling, stiffening, snarling, and snapping are all effective ways to do this.
However, overt aggressiveness and biting do occur, owing to the fact that the target either did not detect or ignored the more subtle signs, or the incident transpired too rapidly for the dog to determine the consequence.
This may cause aggressive behavior in nervous and stressed dogs. Miscommunication is frequently the issue when individuals are the goal. When at least one of the dogs is uncomfortable or improper in her social interactions, fights between dogs might occur.
Fights Between Dogs
Dog fights may occur at any time and can be rather violent. Misreading social signals or resource guarding are common causes of disputes between domestic dogs. Excitement and crowded places are other triggers. Fights with other dogs, like attacks against people, are often motivated by fear and protection
Many bites during a dogfight are genuinely restricted, at least to some extent, notwithstanding exceptions. In other words, the fighters have the ability to cause greater damage while still being able to regulate how far they travel. However, such fights should be broken up since dogs may inflict serious injury to one another.
Interfering with a fight, on the other hand, is always a danger to one’s own safety. Instead of using your hands or legs, attempt to break up a fight by tossing a blanket or water on the opponents, or by placing a handheld baby gate or huge cushion between them.
After the battle has ended, carefully separate the dogs and get assistance from a competent behavior specialist on how to effectively handle the situation.
A Bigger Picture
We typically look at the large picture in life before getting into the specifics, and we can do the same with canine behavior. Before focusing on individual body components, such as the eyes, the position of the ears, or the tail, it’s crucial to study the dog’s general body language. You can miss other, equally crucial indications if you solely concentrate on the dog’s lips, ears, or tail.
Dogs use every aspect of their bodies to communicate, even their hair follicles.
The hair around the back of the neck and between the shoulders may stand up when a dog is on alert (raised hackles). This is part of a system that enlarges the dog’s outline, making her seem larger and more dangerous in order to deter a possible threat. Piloerection is a symptom of excitement, fear, or uncertainty, and it reveals something about the emotional side of the activity.
DOGS USE FACE EXPRESSION and body postures to communicate their internal drive and proclivity for violence. Even yet, picking up on the messages our pets attempt to send might be difficult. We may be unable to perceive signaling because it is too fast or subtle. Even a change in respiratory rhythm, for example, might signal dissatisfaction.
Furthermore, due to breed characteristics such as flattened faces or floppy ears, dogs may be physically incapable of transmitting their emotions or behavioral preferences (see “Breed Differences in Signaling”). As a result, you must pay attention to all of the indications, from the tip of the snout to the end of the tail (if the dog has one—if not, she will be far more difficult to read).
In addition to the dog’s behavior and signals, the context of aggressiveness must also be considered. Were the persons who were there or close while the dog was being aggressive? What happened just before the violence, and where did it happen?