Learning ‘ABC’ of Aggression Basics in Canines

For a professional dog trainer, it is really important to build a connection. It takes years of experience and of course expertise to understand what your pet might be going through. Here is how and why pet dogs become aggressive and as a pet parent what can be done to control it. –by Prateek Kashyap

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An aggressive dog refers to a dog’s range of behaviours that can result in physical or non-physical harm. Dogs get aggressive in situations that are unpleasant or it can be a cocktail of emotions that leads to aggressive behaviour. Most commonly dogs get aggressive when provoked but the pre-aggression state is also something that needs to be understood.

Factors including aggression in dogs
It’s all in the genes – biological factors: Aggression is influenced by hormones, genetics, injury or any underlying health issues. In most cases, aggression is influenced by testosterone, which is present in both male and female dogs, but it is higher in male dogs and that’s the reason male dogs are more aggressive. Age also plays an important role in deciding how aggressive your pet will be. For example. one-and-a-half-year-old pet is more aggressive than a seven-year-old pet because testosterone production decreases over time.

Psyche power – psychological factors: Anything that a dog doesn’t like can cause frustration and stress which can lead to aggression. Things like physical pain, strange noises, past experiences, strangers or a temperature rise are some of the things that can cause aggression.
Surroundings make a huge difference – social factors: If dogs don’t know how to react in a situation, they pick up cues from others. Some dogs tend to act more aggressively in a group compared to how they would react if they were just by themselves. Pups who grow up witnessing aggression from other dogs are more likely to believe that aggressionis acceptable.

Respecting individuality to deal with aggression
Aggression in dogs ranges far and wide. And it won’t be right to apply just one method to deal with all aggression related problems. We should respect and understand every pet’s individual behavioural and temporal problems.

Many pet parents don’t understand the responsibility that comes with bringing home a pet, which leads to a lot of pets being given up for adoption or put to sleep. It is important to understand dogs are for life. Before bringing home a pet ask yourself a couple of questions – Am I ready to take this full-time responsibility? Am I ready for this level of commitment?
Find a suitable breed who matches your lifestyle and surroundings.Try to adopt a pup from a professional breeder after meeting the parents of the pup or a shelter.

Start training your pup from an early age for a good start. The communication and bond starts to develop the moment you bring him to your home. Give the pup a few days to adjust to the new environment and you can also asses his behavior in the meantime.

Positives and negatives of anger
Anger is an emotion; it can be used positively or negatively but you can’t get rid of it completely. Be fair and become aware of what provokes your pet and identify from where is it coming – is it really aggression or anxiety. Once you understand the root cause, the training can be designed accordingly.

Aggression releases adrenaline (hormone) in blood stream which triggers fight-flight-freeze response—it’s dog’s natural reaction to danger. When adrenaline gets released it is very difficult for a dog to understand logics and follow rules. The goal is to prevent adrenaline released by limiting your pet’s exposure to provocations. Training methods shouldbe chosen on severity of aggression.

Cheeku’s story of channelising his aggression
Cheeku was one of my clients. He was a three-year-old Labrador Mix. Happy and playful, that’s how we could describe him. But with a trigger she got really aggressive. The aggression grew to a point that over time he had bitten more than 20 people, including his pet parents. After trying many trainers and behaviourists the family asked me for consultation. Cheeku has bitten Deepa (his pet parent) and she got 20 stitches. A meeting was fixed!

Before entering their house, I decided to meet Cheeku outside in the garden, so that I could understand him. At first glance, he looked cute and docile; when I started walking with him he started pulling with lot of force directing me to places he wanted to go. I felt no aggression towards me outside his territory. Then I asked the family to keep Cheeku inside and so that I can have peaceful conversation with all of them in the garden.

My primary concern was – why did he bite Deepa and not any other family member? If a pet is aggressive towards strangers it suggests lack of discipline, socialisation and obedience. But attacking family member is not at all normal and it’s a deep psychological issue. After series of questions I found out Riya (elder daughter), Shweta (younger daughter) and Rakesh (father) were blaming Deepa.

Rakesh’s observation was that Cheeku had bitten Deepa because he is possessive for Rakesh. The daughters also seemed to agree with this.

Solutions to this problem – I asked Riya and Rakesh to be polite to Deepa in front of Cheeku so that he should start respecting Deepa and understand Deepa’s place in hierarchy which means she is above Cheeku, not below. Neutering Cheeku as soon as possible because the way he was pulling me indicated he was looking for a mate. This can be a major reason for his frustration and aggression.

After following up with Rakesh after a week they said Cheeku understands the new rules of the house and aggression is declining towards Deepa gradually. Just like you cannot build a behaviour in a day, similarly you cannot get rid of it overnight. Encourage your pet to do the right thing, help him understand, and make sure all this is done with lots of love and affection.

(Prateek Kashyap is a fulltime dog trainer and behaviour specialist at Dogs on Weed (DOW), Delhi)