Aggression in Dogs
Family Members, Strangers or Other Animals continued...
Some dogs are aggressive only to a certain category of people. A dog might
be aggressive only with the veterinarian or groomer, or with the postal
carrier, or with people in wheelchairs or individuals using canes and walkers.
In some cases, it’s easy to limit a dog’s access to the people that upset her.
For instance, if your short-haired dog dislikes the groomer, you can just groom
her yourself at home. But in other cases, the targeted people are impossible to
avoid. For example, if you have a dog who dislikes children and you live in a
densely populated urban apartment building next to a preschool, it will be
difficult to avoid exposing your dog to children.
Aggression toward people, aggression toward dogs and aggression toward other
animals are relatively independent patterns of behavior. If your dog is
aggressive toward other dogs, for example, that doesn’t mean she’s any more or
less likely to be aggressive toward people.
If you’re deciding whether to live with and treat your aggressive dog, there
are several factors to consider because you, as the pet parent, are ultimately
responsible for your dog’s behavior. These factors involve the level of risk in
living with your dog and the likelihood of changing her behavior:
Regardless of other factors, large dogs are more frightening and can inflict
more damage than small dogs.
Young dogs with an aggression problem are believed to be more malleable and
easier to treat than older dogs.
Dogs who have already bitten are a known risk and an insurance
Dogs who stop their aggression at showing teeth, growling or snapping are
significantly safer to live and work with than dogs who bite. Likewise, dogs
who have delivered minor bruises, scratches and small punctures are less risky
than dogs who have inflicted serious wounds.
Dogs at the highest risk of being euthanized for aggression are those who
give little or no warning before they bite and who are inconsistently,
unpredictably aggressive. Dogs who give warning before they bite allow people
and other animals time to retreat and avoid getting hurt. As counterintuitive
as it might seem, it’s easier to live with a dog who always reacts aggressively
when, for instance, every time you push him off the bed than a dog who does so
How often your dog is exposed to the targets of her aggression can affect
how easy it is to manage and resolve her behavior. A dog who’s aggressive to
strangers is relatively easy to control if you live in a rural environment with
a securely fenced yard. A dog who’s aggressive to children can be managed if
her pet parents are childless and have no friends or relatives with children. A
dog who is aggressive to unfamiliar dogs poses little difficulty for pet
parents who dislike dog parks and prefer to exercise their dog on isolated
hiking trails. In contrast, living with a dog who has recurring ear infections
and bites family members when they try to medicate her can be stressful and