There are often no easy answers when it comes to deciding what to do about a seriously aggressive dog in your household.
Patricia McConnell, an applied animal behaviorist who has been working with and studying dogs for more than 25 years, advises owners of aggressive dogs to ask themselves these questions:
• If your dog has injured another person, what ongoing risk does your dog pose to others?
• What are the consequences? The possible legal risk if there is another incident? Can you defend yourself in a lawsuit? Are you willing to lose your homeowner’s insurance over the actions of a dog?
• Do you have the resources needed to work on a treatment plan for the dog or pay for medication that may help to normalize the canine’s chemistry? Medication is often used in conjunction with a behavioral modification plan.
McConnell defines “canine aggression” as an action in which a person is injured or at clear risk of being injured by a dog. Obviously, something must be done if this is happening. In many cases the dog’s owners have already tried some of the solutions mentioned here.
Another major factor for the owner of a hostile dog is to consider the dog’s history. How intense is the aggression and how long has it been going on? Depending on what happened, the dog owners must decide if they are willing to live with the reality that it could happen again.
The dog behaviorist also points out that one needs to think about the dog’s quality of life. For example, what if a dog is aggressive around all strangers? This may mean few, if any, outings and may mean the dog may have limited time spent in his own backyard as sometimes uninvited strangers enter the backyard of a home. The dog owner will have to be extra careful when anyone comes to the house whether it is an expected or unexpected visit. Will the restrictions the owner must impose on the dog seriously threaten his quality of life? This is another question the owner of an aggressive dog must answer.
Three Ways to Change Aggression
The website, K9aggresion.com, notes there are three main ways to change aggression in dogs:
• Behavior modification (Various types are explained on their website.) Dog owners are cautioned not to push their dog too far during training as they could risk making his behavior worse. It is also important not to ignore early signs of aggression so that you can get your dog’s attention as early as possible and start him working on behavior modification techniques.
• Changing the dog’s environment. This doesn’t necessarily mean a new home for the dog. It could be just changing where he is walked him so he has less opportunity to be aggressive, or changing what he plays with or even just changing his diet.
• Talking to your vet about medications which treat the underlying causes of aggression in dogs. It may be the dog is too anxious to properly learn behavior modification techniques so medication plus behavior modification is sometimes a successful combination.
Three primary options are suggested by another dog expert for dealing with all serious dog behavioral problems:
• Keep the dog and work with a trainer or behaviorist. First, get some idea of the expense that could entail. Also, ask your vet if he recommends muzzling the animal. There are behavior clinics such as the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine which have a high success rate with 90% of aggressive animals. Their patients often improve to the extent that their owners are pleased to have their animals come home with them.
• Provide another home for it, but only if this can be done safely. The new owner or organization (such as a rescue group, shelter or animal sanctuary) that accepts your aggressive dog must be told about the situation ahead of time. Many do not accept biting dogs. There are dogs who are only aggressive toward small children, for example. It may be possible to find a home with only adults who are responsible enough to keep the dog from any encounters with youngsters. (They must also realize the liability this could involve if the dog is exposed to a child.)
• Euthanizing the dog. This is the least attractive option, but often is a sad reality if the first two solutions are not viable and the dog is putting people at risk.
If the last option is chosen, the animal behaviorist warns pet owners not to be hard on themselves about making such a decision. Though others may comment, it is not their decision to make. McConnell compares having a dog with a serious behavioral problem that does not seem it can be remedied to a person facing a serious illness. It’s a time to shake off unhelpful advice and harsh judgments and to surround yourself with supportive friends, she urges.
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Seven Warning Signs To Be Concerned About
If you’re still not sure whether your dog is seriously aggressive, look for the following warning signs. They don’t always mean your dog is headed for the pound, but they may make you start thinking about your dog possibly hurting family members or others and your responsibility to do something about it.
Did your dog start by making small bites and is now making major bites?
If these major bites are breaking the skin, your dog could be sending you a message about how he sees his dominant role in the family. He should not be more dominant than the humans in the household. The biting can happen when you are reprimanding the dog or just playing with him. Even kissing the dog on the forehead could lead to a bite as it could be seen as a direct challenge—you are getting in his space!
Does your dog snap or show his teeth when you reprimand him?
This is not an actual bite but could be a precursor. You may even hear a growl. Again, the dog wants to dominate or at a minimum he is trying to scare you. It’s a warning to back off. He wants to be the dominant resident in the family and this usually does not work well.
Does your dog growl at you or actually bite when you move him?
Maybe your dog is relaxing on the bed and you attempt to pick him up or get him to move. He snaps, growls, or even bites you. This can also happen when he is awakened from sleep or a nap. If he tries to bite the owner at this point or actually does bite them, he is likely challenging your right to disturb him. If he is allowed everywhere in the house, he may start taking over and view himself as equal to the humans who live there or even exert dominance over them. This is not a scenario that should be allowed to continue.
Does your dog attack you if you get around his food or his toys?
This can be a sign your dog doesn’t trust you or respect you. He should not be challenging you. Some aggressive dogs will actually lunge at the owner or growl the entire time the dog is eating his food. Dogs can be territorial with their food, toys or other possessions, but this is aggressive action that goes beyond protecting his property.
Is your dog unpredictable around your guests or even your children?
The dog may be trying to establish dominance and may even pick on other pets in the household from time to time. If the dog owners feel they must walk on eggshells around their dog because they are not sure just what he may do, that is a sure sign of an aggressive dog who is trying to rule the household.
How does your dog act around other dogs that you own?
This is a more difficult one to call as some dogs just don’t like other dogs for whatever reason. But if your dogs start fighting with dogs you already own or start a fight at the sight of any dog outside their area whether the strange dog is acting aggressively or not, this can be a warning sign you have an aggressive dog on your hands. He not only wants to dominate your household, he wants to run the whole neighborhood!
Does your dog viciously lunge at people or other dogs?
Some dogs become so fixated on someone, another dog, or a cat, and do not respond to any of your orders or anything you say to try to get their attention. They block out everything but their own aggression and may bite you as you try to restrain them with a leash. They growl and snap and are defiant. They may bite their leash or your clothes and won’t let go. They may try to get the leash out of your grip and may even bite your hand in the process. Obviously, this is behavior that cannot be tolerated.
What To Do If Bitten By a Dog
If you or a loved one has been attacked and bitten by a dog, please contact us for a free consultation with one of our highly experienced Ohio dog bite attorneys. We handle dog bite cases throughout Ohio and we can help you too. To request a free consultation, please call 1-888-998-9101 at anytime including weekends, evenings and holidays, chat with one of our 24-hour live chat representatives or send us a website message.