I want to touch basis on Aggression this month. I get more calls about this issue from owners frustrated and want me to help re-home their dog or ones who have bought from other breeders. Shih Tzus are not known to be aggressive but once in a while we will come across one that does. The term “aggression” can refer to a wide variety of behaviors that can occur for a multiple of reasons for different types of circumstances. In the wild, dogs can be aggressive for many reasons such as guarding their territories, defending their offspring and protecting themselves. Pack animals like dogs can also use aggression and the threat of aggression to keep the peace and to negotiate social interactions.
“Aggressive” can mean different things. Aggression can be a range of different behaviors. Usually aggressive behavior starts with warnings and can escalate into an attack. A dog that shows aggression to people will usually show some of the behaviors below and will increase with intensity, if not corrected early:
Becoming very still and rigid
Guttural bark that sounds threatening
Lunging forward or charging at the person with no contact
Mouthing, as though to move or control the person, without applying significant pressure
“Muzzle punch” (the dog literally punches the person with her nose)
Snarl / growling while showing teeth
Quick nip that leaves no mark
Quick bite that tears the skin
Bite with enough pressure to cause a bruise
Bite that leaves punctures
Repeated bites in rapid succession
Bite and shake
Dogs don’t always follow all these behaviors or in this order.However, most owners don’t recognize the warning signs and think that their dog has gone off the deep end, out of nowhere.This isn’t the case. Dogs almost never bite without giving some type of warning behavior. It can be just milliseconds between a warning and a bite, but dogs rarely bite without giving some type of warning beforehand.
Finding Out Why?
If your dog is being aggressive or looks like they are going to become aggressive remove them from the situation.
If your dog has been aggressive in the past, take time to evaluate the situations that have upset them.
Who were they aggressive to?
When and where did it happen?
What else was going on at the time?
What had just happened or was about to happen to your dog?
What seemed to stop their aggression?
Learning the answers to these questions can provide insight into the reasons for their behavior. If you can determine what motivates your dog to behave aggressively and identify what they hope to gain from their behavior you have a better chance of correcting the behavior. You need to know their triggers and reason for the aggression before you can hope to help your dog.
Here are some interesting facts to keep in mind:
90% of dog bites happen to people who know the dogs
Most of the dogs that bite are the family pets
60% to 70% of dog bites are to children or the elderly
40% of the bites to children result in loss of facial tissue (lips, cheek etc.)
1/2 of the claims made on homeowners insurance are dog bites claims
Over aggressiveness in dogs has a number of different causes that all can be traced back to
2 different areas: poor breeding or poor socializing.
An over aggressive dog does not just rear its ugly head one day and become a monster. A dog will show signs that it's not a normal friendly pet. As a pup it may have acted timid and wanted nothing to do with strangers or strange places. This behavior can tu
rn them into a bully after growling at people (getting a reaction) who came near its toys or food dish. This is why it is so important to get your puppies from good breeders who socialize them from birth with people, other dogs and different situations. It is also important as the owner to keep the socialization up while they are developing. Exposing them to new people, different situations and reassuring them they are safe and keeping them calm at a young age will help develop a mentally healthy dog.
We can't really blame the average pet owner for missing many of the early warning signs. If someone has never raised a dog before, they had enough problems teaching a puppy not to pee in the house. But this same pet owner still has the responsibility to recognize and correct the problem as their dog becomes overly aggressive at inappropriate times.
There are several different categories of Aggressive Behavior:
Frustration – Elicited Aggression
Pain – Elicited Aggression
Breeding – Related Aggression
People (Strangers or Family) or Animal Aggression
An aggressive response is usually provoked by things that a dog perceives as threatening or unpleasant, a few are:
Taking food away
Taking a chew bone, toy or stolen object away
Disturbing the dog while she’s sleeping
Physically moving the dog while she’s resting
Hugging or kissing the dog
Bending or reaching over the dog
Manipulating the dog into a submissive posture (a down or a belly-up position)
Lifting or trying to pick up the dog
Holding the dog back from something she wants
Grooming, bathing, toweling or wiping the dog’s face
Touching the dog’s ears or feet
Trimming the dog’s nails
Jerking or pulling on the dog’s leash, handling her collar or putting on a harness
Verbally scolding the dog
Threatening the dog with a pointed finger or rolled-up newspaper
Hitting or trying to hit the dog
Going through a door at same time as the dog or bumping into the dog
If you’re deciding whether to live with and treat your aggressive dog, there are several factors to consider because you, as the owner, 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:
Illness / Pain
Owners always ask whether their dog can be “cured or fixed.” The key is recognizing the problem early on and stopping the behavior before it escalates into a dangerous aggressive situation. It’s complex to diagnose and can be tricky. Many behavior modification techniques have an opposite effect if misapplied, by working hard with your veterinarian and trainer on behavior modification techniques and being aware of your dog’s triggers can reduce and sometimes eliminate them. However, there’s no guarantee that an aggressive dog can be completely cured. In some cases the only solution is to take the dog away from the situations, people or things that trigger the behavior. There’s always risk and owners are responsible for their dogs’ behavior and must take precautions. Dogs that have a severe history can regress to aggression as a strategy, so owners should never let down their guard.
What to Do?
Step 1: See Your Veterinarian
Some dogs become aggressive because of a medical condition. Acute pain from orthopedic problems and arthritis can be a huge factor of aggressive behavior. Just remember how snappy you can get when you are in pain. Other issues to look out for are thyroid abnormality, adrenal dysfunction, cognitive dysfunction, seizure disorders and sensory deficits. Certain medications can alter mood and affect your dog’s susceptibility to aggression. Even diet can play a role in aggressive behavior. If you have a stomachache because of something you ate, you can get grumpy, too. So the best advice I can give is see your veterinarian before behavior modification to rule out a medical condition. If the veterinarian discovers a medical problem, you’ll need to work closely with her to give your dog the best chance at improving.
Step 2: Training Behavior Expert
After fully ruling out medical conditions, it is important to get to a trainer as soon as possible, because aggression can be a dangerous behavior problem. Try not to handle it yourself because modification techniques have opposite effects if misapplied. Even highly experienced professionals get bitten from time to time, so trying to treat an aggressive dog is risky and dangerous. A qualified professional can develop a treatment plan customized to your dog’s temperament and your family’s unique situation, and they can coach you through its implementation. They can monitor your dog’s progress and make modifications to the plan as required. Shih Tzus aren’t known to be overly aggressive. Most of their aggressive behaviors can be corrected by a professional, but is important that you seek help right away. You must be fully committed to correcting the behavior problem and able to follow the trainer’s treatment plan. Trainers can also advise if your dog might be better suited with another family that is able to conform to the treatment plan. My advice is to reach out to your breeder, veterinarian, and trainer as soon as you see signs.