I smile every time I think of Jack. That sweet, fluffy Shih Tzu puppy came to live with our family when I was six years old. That first night, he kept us awake crying and scared because he missed his mother. But Jack had a problem that we didn’t notice until a few months after we got him. I remember that night, walking up to him after he had just had a bath. He was lying on a towel, and when I reached down to hug him, he growled and nipped my hand. I cried, not really because it hurt, but because my parents were considering getting rid of him because he bit me.
We did not get rid of him. In fact, we had him until he was eight years old. Throughout his life, he was a very interesting dog. He loved when I would sit beside him and pet him, but if I would attempt to pick him up, he would snap at me. He was never crazy about children and would often growl at my little cousin who wanted to play with him. Then suddenly, things changed. I guess the change was gradual, but I didn’t notice it right away. He became friendlier. Usually people say that if a dog is aggressive, his problems only get worse. For Jack, it was the opposite. Jack hated being held, but suddenly he began jumping up on the porch swing to sit in my lap. He never wanted to be lifted off the ground, but my sister was picking him up without being snapped at. He didn’t like children, but suddenly he began playing with my little cousin whom he used to growl at. So, what happened? I honestly have no idea. Perhaps it had to do with the new dog we got. Maybe Jack saw us picking her up, playing with her, and holding her. Jack decided that he liked that.
The question that came to mind was, why was he aggressive in the first place? We were always loving with him. I played with him, we took him for walks, and he was well-fed. That meant there had to be some sort of underlying feeling that made him act that way. Today, I want to look at some reasons why a dog might become aggressive and if there is any way to change this behavior.
You hear about dog attacks all the time. There are plenty of stories about dogs chasing children on bikes, joggers, or skateboarders. Dogs have also been known to turn on their own family. Let’s look at some reasons why a dog might be aggressive. Some dogs are aggressive because that’s all they know. Perhaps, for example, a dog lived in an abusive home. The abuse might put in the dog’s mind that everyone is out to hurt him, therefore he will act out in order to protect himself. Fear is probably one of the main reasons for aggression, but aggression can also stem from medical issues. If, for example, a dog is experiencing aggression along with loss of hair, increased body weight, and lethargy, he may be experiencing the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Seizures and tumors on the brain that can cause rapid mood change in a dog can also include aggression. For these types of issues, assistance from a veterinarian is necessary. Aggression can also be genetic for those who selected the aggressive characteristic when breeding. There are several different types of aggression. Some of these include fear-motivated, protective, territorial, predatory, and frustration aggression. Below is a short description of each type.
Fear-motivated aggression is likely to occur when a dog feels threatened. For example, when I wanted to pick Jack up, evidently he felt threatened by me putting my arms around him and lifting him off the ground, therefore he would snap at me. Protective aggression occurs when, for example, a mother is protecting her pups. This is not to be confused with territorial aggression in which a dog will act aggressively to guard their home or specific space. Within this is resource guarding. If a dog snaps at you for touching her bowl while she is eating, she is guarding her food resource. Predatory aggression happens when a dog has a hunting drive which may result in him chasing small animals or even children. And finally, frustration aggression is when a dog becomes aggressive when not allowed to do something he or she wants to do. For example, frustration aggression occurs when an owner holds onto the collar of a dog who wants to get somewhere but the owner won’t let him or her do so. It can also occur when a dog is being forced inside a kennel and doesn’t want to go in. All of these types of aggressions can be problematic, but if you have the time, there are things you can do to help your dog to stop this behavior.
Consulting a trainer that specializes in rehabilitation or behavioral training is the best route to take. Keep in mind, however, that aggression is not an easy thing to fix. It is known to be the worst type of behavior a dog can exhibit. Before you choose to get professional help from a behaviorist, be sure to have a checkup with a veterinarian to make sure there are no medical issues that could be causing the aggression. Finally, there is some hope. Aggression can be reduced and even eliminated with the right training. This is especially true for those dogs who thrive on praise and rewards. For example, a dog who is rewarded when not biting someone who sticks their hand in the dog dish may stop biting for good because of the praise or treat. Still, it is important to always pay attention because a dog who has previously been aggressive but has not shown aggressive signs in a long time may resort to his or her aggressive behavior when under a lot of stress. And, just one more tip. It is easier to prevent aggression than cure it. If you have a puppy, make sure to socialize him or her with other dogs and people. Aggression is not a fun behavior to deal with and can be detrimental. However, don’t lose hope. There are always techniques to handle and effectively alter those aggressive characteristics.