Category Archives: Behaviour and Training

Aggressive Behavior

Characteristics of Dogs That Bite: Age and Sex The etiology of aggressive behavior presents considerable variation from dog to dog. Aggressive behavior is most frequently exhibited by socially mature and intact male dogs (), but young puppies can have serious precocious aggression problems, as well. Mugford (1984) reported that among 50 English cocker spaniels the mean average age of dogs with dominance-related aggression was 7.4 months (range, 3 to 24 months). In another group of golden retrievers treated by Mugford (1987), 24 with aggression problems averaged 2.9 years of age (range, 0.7 to 8.0 years). Of the 24 dogs treated by Mugford, 19 were males, two of which had been castrated. Beaver (1983) found that of 120 dogs with aggression problems (various diagnoses) the mean age was 3 years (range, 9 weeks to 11 years). She reported that 60.1% of the dogs were intact males (14% castrated), with 15.4% intact females (10.5% spayed). Wright (1985) found that the average age of dogs involved in severe attacks was 3 years (range, 0.67 to 10.5 years). All 16 dogs were males. These statistics suggest that considerable variation exists with respect to the time of onset associated with aggression problems. Although most dogs Read more […]

Classifying Aggression: Motivational Considerations

Significant debate surrounds the question of how to organize and classify the dog’s aggressive behavior into functionally discrete and logically coherent categories. Most trainers and counselors have adopted some variation of Moyer’s classification system () — a system that has resulted in a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding (). Other authorities have argued with varying degrees of cogency for a more simple classification system. O’Farrell (1986), for instance, has proposed a bipartite system, suggesting that canine aggression can be divided into two broad functional categories: dominance aggression and predatory behavior. This scheme places fear-elicited aggression under the same heading with dominance aggression: “‘Fear-biting’ is commonly distinguished from dominance aggression, possibly because it is felt to be understandable and excusable in a way that dominance aggression is not. It is, however, a variant of dominance aggression” (). Although simplicity is often desirable, this arrangement is not very edifying or useful when one considers the numerous motivational assumptions it takes for granted and the equally numerous distinctions that it blurs for the sake of Ockham’s razor. Further, the scheme Read more […]

A Nomenclature of Aggressive Behavior

Functionally speaking, aggressive behavior, not stemming from idiopathic or pathological causes, can be viewed as an adaptive effort to establish control over some vital resource or situation that cannot be effectively controlled through other means. A variety of motivational and functional factors are presumed to influence the expression of aggressive behavior in dogs (Table Descriptive and functional characteristics of aggression). Obviously, these types of aggression exhibit a great deal of functional overlap. Although useful as a descriptive inventory, the list fails to provide a consistent functional framework for analyzing aggressive behavior. Instead, like other similar lists in the dog behavior literature, it brings together various forms of aggression under the discordant rubric of species-typical elicitors, physiological causes, and functional purposes. As a classification system, such discordance precludes productive analysis and the extraction of general principles. TABLE Descriptive and functional characteristics of aggression Behavior Etiological factors Description-function Avoidance-motivated: Often socially insecure and incompetent. Fear Anxiety Control Learning Socialization Occurs Read more […]

Hormones and Aggressive Behavior

Increased competitiveness and aggressive behavior are often associated with hormonal changes occurring around puberty, a biological change that may lower the threshold for several significant sex-related behavior patterns, including intermale and interfemale aggression. While lowering the threshold for general activity, urine marking, and aggressive behavior, the threshold for pain and fear may be elevated under the influence of these various hormones. Stress Hormones and Aggression The effects of endogenous hormones on aggressive behavior are evident in wild canids. A lower threshold for aggressive behavior is exhibited by both male and female wolves during the annual mating season, when both sexes show an increased tendency to engage in sex-related aggressive behavior (). This sharp increase in aggressive behavior is probably mediated by a number of interacting hormonal systems. The alpha female can be particularly intolerant and hostile toward her female subordinates. McLeod et al. (1995) have shown that the upsurge of aggressive activity among captive wolves is especially stressful (by cortisol measures) on the lowest-ranking female and the second-ranking male. Increased corticosteroid levels may play an indirect Read more […]

Aggressive Behavior: Role of Integrated Compliance and Obedience Training

Most treatment programs for aggression problems incorporate some element of obedience training () or nonconfrontational compliance training (). According to Tortora (1983), the benefits of obedience training depend on treated dogs learning that safety can always be obtained by engaging in cooperative behavior. Similarly, Clark and Boyer (1993) have argued that obedience training promotes a “feeling of security” as the result of establishing clear lines of communication and social boundaries by selectively and consistently applying incentives and appropriate deterrents to guide and shape dog behavior. The efficacy of obedience training as a therapeutic tool has been confirmed by Blackshaw (1991), who reported a high success rate involving dominance and territorial aggression by introducing proper restraint techniques and obedience training as her primary form of behavioral intervention. Even those individuals who appear to discount the preventative value of obedience training as & placebo, exerting “neither positive nor negative effects on the incidence of behavior problems” (), may nonetheless recommend such training because “obedience training provides tools for owners to use in modifying pet behavior” (). Finally, Read more […]

Children, Dogs, and Aggression

Children, Dogs, and Aggression: Preventing Problems Dog and Baby A common reason for dog owners to seek professional advice is to learn how to introduce a baby safely into a household with a resident dog. Expectant parents seeking such information are often concerned about how the dog might react to the presence of an infant, but they are often especially apprehensive about the possibility that the dog might actually bite or otherwise injure the child. These fears may be based on unfounded worries or express legitimate concerns about the dog’s behavior, based on previous overt displays of aggression toward family members, guests, or other animals. Even in those cases where no evidence of previous aggression exists, the expectant parent may still harbor reasonable fears about their dog’s potential behavior toward the baby, based on more subtle behavioral signs and temperament traits. Of course, the worst secret fear is that the dog might actually attack or kill the infant. Although this is a remote possibility, fatal dog attacks on babies are statistically rare and very unlikely if the owner takes the most basic precautions. Unfortunately, there exists an irrational and widespread exaggeration of the risks involved, Read more […]

Children, Dogs, and Aggression: Preventing Problems

Children are often implicated in the development of serious dog behavior problems, especially those involving hyperactivity and aggressiveness. Many consultants recommend that a family not acquire a dog until the children are at least 6 or 7 years of age. This recommendation is based on a widely held assumption that children under this age lack sufficient maturity to treat a dog properly and safely. However, a child’s age is not always a reliable marker of maturity. Older children may be more irresponsible and abusive toward a dog than their age would seem to indicate. In addition, younger children can be taught to interact with a canine companion safely and affectionately, often surpassing the ability of insensitive adults! Such matters depend on individual cases and on the parent’s willingness to explain and demonstrate acceptable ways of behaving around a dog. In addition, the parent must provide adequate incentives and deterrents to ensure compliance by the child. Sources of Conflict and Tension Between Children and Dogs In the case of difficult children of any age, teasing and abusing the family dog is a prescription for disaster. Such behavior is often employed as a manipulative attention-seeking ploy and annoyance Read more […]

Children, Dogs, and Aggression: Evaluating the Risk

The average dog owner is often unable to assess objectively their dog’s potential threat to the infant. Consequently, an important service rendered by dog behavior consultants is to provide an assessment of the various risks involved and to advise owners on how to minimize them. This can be a very uncomfortable and onerous responsibility, since a number of serious decisions have to be made that may dramatically affect a dog’s future, based largely on a consultant’s findings and recommendations. Furthermore, although many risk factors have been identified (), no evaluation procedure currently exists that provides a certain determination of risk. Ultimately, such assessments rely on available scientific information, a history of aggressive behavior, and, most importantly, gut feelings about the dog and the situation. The telephone interview provides valuable information about the dog and the family situation. An important goal of the initial interview is to develop a preliminary risk assessment of the immediate danger of bringing an infant into the home. The information obtained should include (at least) the following: the dog’s sex and status, age, breed or mix, general activity level, training history, past socialization Read more […]

Domestication Aspects, Behavior and Welfare of Dogs

Juliana Damasceno and Rachel Stopatto Righetti, 2013 The domestic dog (Canis familiaris) that we currently know is the species among the thirty-eight belonging to the family Canidae that has been fully domesticated and has been our companion far longer than our other favorite pet, the cat. Fossil evidence shows that since the Paleolithic age, dogs have been linked to humans. This mutual relation caused the selection of the ancestral Canis lupus (wolf) to occur artificially because of the wolf‘s proximity to man and because of some of the wolf‘s useful characteristics (hunting, guarding farm animals, companionship, etc.). Despite the great variety of breeds that morphologically diverge, the health, biological and psychological needs of dogs are common to all breeds, emphasizing one or another characteristic for each breed. Pet dogs generally live in restricted environments with their owners, who must ensure that their physical and psychological needs are satisfied. Thus the welfare of the animal depends on humans‘ knowledge of the behavior of the species. An understanding of dog behavior and the right tools can provide better care for these animals (environmental enrichment techniques), and various diseases Read more […]

Fundamental Behaviors of Dogs

The influence of human culture on the domestication of dogs evolved into man being the owner and the animal belonging to man, just like any object that can be bought, sold or even traded. This type of relation, even though replete with affection and positive interactions, began in the domestication stage and remains true today. The domestication process involves changes in morphologic characteristics and also drastically changes some aspects of behavior. When dogs (“wolf”) were wild, they had characteristics and needs that were suppressed and eliminated by human requirements to serve people. According to Hemmer (1990), the animal began to lose its original “perceptual world”. Behaviors such as rapid stress reactions for survival in the wild were overshadowed by characteristics such as docility, less fear and more tolerance of stress reactions. Domestication has led breeds to underdevelop certain important behavior traits such as intra- and inter-specific social behavior. The morphologic consequences are strictly related to the consequences of the behavior. Different physical traits exhibited in behavioral signaling among conspecifics were rendered impossible because of morphologic modification. An example is Read more […]