Why Dog Aggression is SO Hard

Shepherd type dog barking

Navigating dog aggression can be quite difficult. Many of my clients are in tears during our consultations, and with good reason. With emotions and safety on the line for both our furry friends and us, it can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders.

After working with thousands of dogs and their humans, I am sharing some common challenges that often come into play.

The Stakes Are High

When we have dogs that bite, and dogs that cause damage when they bite, we have a very serious issue. Dogs that bite humans often don't have a long life-span. For a safe society, dogs that bite people, no matter the reason, often are euthanized. This is a very sad, but real, fact.

Children are often the recipients of dog bites. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur in the United States each year, and children are more likely than adults to be bitten. Furthermore, a study published in the journal Pediatrics reported that over half of all dog bite victims are children, with the majority of incidents involving familiar dogs.

No one wants to have to make a decision between keeping their dog or the safety of their children or the general public. No one wins in these situations.

Human-Animal Bond

We love dogs. We've loved them for thousands of years, between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago.

In January of 2022, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) reported that around 63.4 million U.S. households owned a dog in the 2019-2020 period.

We've grown so accustomed to dogs living with us and sharing our lives that we value them as trusted family members. Sometimes we forget, they aren't humans. Their behaviour can be unsettling to us when we don't understand the differences between humans and canids.

So, when a dog bites, or becomes aggressive, humans go through a range of emotions such as disappointment, shame, embarrassment and distrust. The bond between dog and human can become compromised. Realizing that having animals in our homes means we are living with a completely different species. The more we can understand that our animals behaviour is not the same as ours, then we can better live together. Aggressive behaviour is often based in fear, feeling threatened or being in pain. Others will use aggressive behaviour as a result of a genetic component or poor socialization during that development period prior to 14 weeks of age.

Confusing Advice

With the onslaught of social media we are now seeing an unregulated industry (dog training) become an opportunistic avenue for uneducated and financially motivated people. There are zero repercussions for someone spouting off about what you and your dog should and should not do. The dramatic before and after videos of dogs reacting one minute and "calm" (aka suppressed as a result of punishment) is rife online. It's tempting when you are desperate for help. You may buy into anything when you are vulnerable. It will be up to the general public to seek out qualified behaviour advice from educated and credentialed professionals. Otherwise, dogs will continue to suffer and so will their humans. The wrong advice results in an increase in aggressive behaviour.

If you're struggling, please reach out.

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Dog behaviourist, North Vancouver and Vancouver dog trainer and behaviour consultant