What to do about aggression in dogs?

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Copyright: andreklopper / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: andreklopper / 123RF Stock Photo

Veterinary behaviour experts are often called on to assist in the training and management of dogs with behavioural problems, especially aggression.

Just what provokes this type of response and how best to manage it was the subject of a talk given by Dr Gaille Perry, a renowned Australian veterinary behaviour expert, who presented at last weekend’s state conference of the WA division of the Australian Veterinarian Association (AVA). The conference was titled Heads or Tails? How to make better decisions when diagnosing and treating those challenging cases.

“Dogs don’t want to engage in a physical encounter because it will likely result in injury, even for the winner,” Dr Perry said.

“So, instead they use clear signals to communicate their intent so that any conflict can be resolved through ritualised rather than actual aggression.”

Dr Perry further explained that the behavioural repertoire of dogs contains several well-defined signals of aggressive intent including:

  • change in body posture
  • raised body hair
  • fixed stare of darting eye movements
  • change in ear position
  • change in tail position
  • lips lifted or drawn back to expose teeth
  • vocal signals

For owners of aggressive dogs, Dr Perry outlined several options, “including tolerating the behaviour, rehoming the dog, training or managing the behaviour or euthanasia. The major factor influencing the path chosen is often the size of the dog. What is acceptable in a tiny dog could be considered dangerous in a larger animal.

“I would encourage owners who have aggressive dogs to undertake a combination of management and training. Punishment is not an effective way to control aggression,” she said.

“Instead, you should work with a qualified positive reinforcement trainer who’ll teach you management techniques and teach the dog cues for calm behaviour. However, even after training, there is still a very real possibility that the dog will become aggressive again so ongoing close monitoring is necessary.”

Based on a media release sourced from the AVA.

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