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Canine Bullies: When Their Bite is Bigger than Their Bark

Anyone who has been bitten by a dog or knows someone who has been bitten can attest to the emotional and physical scar that a bite can leave. Understanding the reasons for canine aggression and examining preventive methods can help not only owners but the pets themselves.

Canine Bullies:  When Their Bite is Bigger Than Their Bark

Aggression Obsession
Having an aggressive dog is a bit like having an errant child.  As the parent pet owner, it becomes laborious to bring your pet to dog parks or campgrounds.  You feel a lurch each time a delivery truck comes up the driveway and wonder whether you can call your dog inside before the driver exits his vehicle – or worse, refuses to deposit the package.

To say that a dog is “aggressive” can mean a whole host of things. Aggression encompasses a range of behaviors that usually begins with warnings (growling, lunging) and can culminate in an attack. Aggression in dogs is a very serious issue.

A dog that shows aggression to people or other dogs usually exhibits a sequence of increasingly intense and familiar behaviors.  Dogs may act out for a variety of reasons – fear, rivalry, illness; thus, understanding the aggression’s bottom denominator will aid in reconfiguring a solution to this problem. This can help a pet owner manage dog-on-dog or dog-on-person aggression and tighten the leash on all aggressive encounters once and for all.

Sick as a Dog
Occasionally, dogs suffering from a medical condition are more apt to act out aggressively.  Just as humans tend to lash out verbally at family members or strangers when not feeling well, so too can dogs strike out at others.  Certain conditions such as hypothyroidism, epilepsy, cancer, or trauma can precipitate an aggressive act.  Likewise, if a female has just given birth, she may very well act out in order to protect her puppies from either a real or perceived threat.  If your dog’s aggressive behavior is atypical or has emerged suddenly, a quick examination or visit to the veterinarian can help determine whether an unseen physical variable is responsible for causing your beloved friend distress.

Family History
There’s no way around it – apples don’t fall far from the tree.  Even canine apples.  Some dogs are genetically predisposed to aggressive behaviors and have thousands of years of dog breed history in their DNA that can lend itself to unfavorable temperaments.  Additionally and unfortunately, selective breeding for dog-to-dog aggression is frequently found in “protection” or “fighting” breeds (for example, pit bulls have received much negative media attention in relation to this topic). However, even if you own a strong protective breed, you are not excused from the consequences incurred by your dog’s aggression.  Knowing your dog’s breed tendencies and being proactive in reigning in those tendencies can save you a great deal of angst down the road.

Breeding Assurance
Cesar Milan, the renowned “Dog Whisperer” of television fame, has often asserted that dogs communicate via energy and react to non-verbal signals more than their owners realize.When around other dogs, many dog owners adopt an overly cautious, overly restrictive attitude with their furry friend.  Whether it’s constant leash tugging, overly repetitious commands, or a change in an owner’s tone of voice, a dog can read these subtle changes and interpret them as a sign that an oncoming threat is approaching.  Acting and reacting with a calm, comforting demeanor breeds calm and comfort to the dog and helps project confidence.

Tightening the Leash
The most effective and immediate remedy to help control an aggressive dog is a corrective leash and collar. It is beneficial to avoid face collars (easy to slip out of) and no-pull harnesses which allow for little  control over a dog’s head.  Many professionals recommend a Martingale Collar , which offers the security of a slip collar but with no choking potential. Muzzles can provide another good option for aggressive dogs and are especially useful when introducing the aggressor with a confident, friendly canine.  They can offer a quick and easy way to diffuse aggression and get the two socializing.  On the contrary, extendable leashes do not serve as a good option for an aggressive dog as they allow for a dog to roam out of reach and prohibit a quick response should an emergency situation arise.

Every Dog has its Day
As the idiom suggests, every dog, once in a while, may demonstrate some aggression whether it be from fatigue, hunger, illness or just periods of ostentation.  However, if your dog exhibits aggressive behavior on a consistent and concerning basis, s/he is a bully and it is time to seek help.

After trying some self-help methods (training, muzzles, curative collars/leashes), it is wise to call Long Island City Veterinary Center, located at 48-18 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, NY 11101., at (212) 751-5176 and set up an appointment with one of our veterinarians. Our veterinarians can rule out whether your dog has any sort of illness or injury. They may also help with additional tips designed specifically for your pet. If your dog’s problem requires additional help, we can suggest an animal behaviorist to get to the root of the aggressive behavior. This person will work with you and your dog to devise the best method to redirect your dog’s aggression and/or train him/her to overcome this undesirable trait.

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