From The Book Wheel: Today’s post and dogs with an actively aggressive past is by Bryan Bailey, author of Embracing the Wild In Your Dog. It’s particularly appropriate because I have a rescue dog with a less-than-admirable past when it comes to dog-on-dog aggression. I love her to pieces and wouldn’t trade her for the world, but I asked Dr. Bailey to write about this issue because it’s more common than you may think and needs to be addressed!
Adopting a new dog from an animal shelter or a rescue group can be a bit of a risky acquisition at times. Some dogs come with a dark past that is unknown to those trying to re-home it and therefore, it’s the unsuspecting new owner that often discovers this dark past the hard way when either they, their family or friends, or another dog is attacked by their new dog. Unfortunately, unless you’re a psychic, preventing all such attacks from occurring is impossible. However, the following suggestions can help lessen both the number of occurrences and the consequences of any unforeseen acts of aggression on the part of your new dog:
- Try not to adopt in the blind. Before you let your emotions get the best of you and hasten your decision to adopt, try to find out as much information as possible about the dog you wish to bring into your home. Ask about any history the dog may have, i.e. how did it end up in the shelter or have there been any unsuccessful attempts at adoption before you? If there is no known history, ask the staff if they performed a behavioral evaluation on the dog and the results. If the answer is yes, ask when it was done and the qualifications of the person who performed the evaluation. Often times, such behavioral evaluations are performed too soon (within 72 hours) upon arrival and/or by an unqualified evaluator. For a more accurate assessment of possible aggressive reactions to alien people and dogs, all behavioral evaluations should be performed by an experienced behaviorist after the dog has had a minimum of three days to acclimate to its new surroundings. Dogs that demonstrate fearful behavior during the initial 72 hours should be given more time. Although it may be difficult when looking into the sad eyes of the dog you’re thinking about taking home, avoid adopting the dog if it has a known aggressive history or it failed the behavioral evaluation. Unless you are a trained expert in dog aggression, it is not your job or your duty to attempt to rehabilitate the dog. It is best to keep in mind that in such cases, not saving the dog could end up saving you.
- What to do when you didn’t see it coming. So, you did adopt in the blind and now the “dark past” has reared its ugly head and you find yourself apologizing to the other dog’s owner for your new dog’s shockingly, aggressive behavior. As long as the attack didn’t result in a severe injury to the other dog or it’s owner and you really want to give your dog a second chance at life with you, salvation could come in the form of training deactivation behaviors such as sit, or down. Nature gave wolves aggression as a way to safeguard ingestion, digestion and reproduction in a hostile and competitive world and this aggression was passed to our dogs. Although the selective pressures of domestication has raised the stimulus threshold for activation of aggression in domestic dogs compared to that of their wolf ancestors, it is still there and it is often evoked when dogs are approached by a perceived threat or an opponent. By making your dog sit or lie down when you sense your dog becoming uncomfortable with the approach of an alien dog or person, you will be taking control of the encounter and your leadership will serve as a natural deactivator of your dog’s aggression. In the wild, it’s the dominant wolves of the pack that deal with danger allowing the weaker wolves to escape.
- A pill a day can make aggression go away. Due to an ever weakening genetic baseline in our domestic dogs, aggression motivated by unwarranted and unprovoked fear of non-hostile alien dogs and people is on the rise. Dogs that suffer from this maladaptive condition perceive threats where threats realistically don’t exist and because of this, their threshold for an aggressive response is much lower and much more intense than that of a normalized dog causing the use of typical deactivation behaviors to be ineffective. However, the administration of psychotropic medications such as Fluoxetine, Busiprone, Clomipramine and Amtriptyline can help facilitate any behavioral modification by chemically favorably altering the dog’s perception of alien dogs and people and thus raising the threshold for aggressive response to a normal level. You may be adverse to administering medications to your dog, but your focus should not just be on aggression, but rather, on the quality of life of your fearful dog.
Dog aggression is a real danger that can drastically impact you, your family and friends, other people and dogs and your way of life. However, it shouldn’t be feared, it should simply be controlled. By following these suggestions, you will have a good chance at controlling the aggression in any dog you wish to adopt.
About the Book
Embracing the Wild in Your Dog, is a culmination of his experiences and expertise and will be soon followed by his second title, The Hammer – Understanding Canine Aggression. Bailey and his wife, Kira, reside in Memphis, TN, with their children, dogs, and cats. Together, they own ProTrain Memphis and Taming the Wild.
Learn more about Bailey at www.TamingtheWild.com.
Embracing the Wild in Your Dog is currently available on Amazon and Smashwords.