Tag Archives: aggressive behaviour

Dogs’ ag­gress­ive be­ha­viour to­wards humans is of­ten caused by fear

A study encompassing some 9,000 dogs conducted at the University of Helsinki demonstrated that fearfulness, age, breed, the company of other members of the same species and the owner’s previous experience of dogs were associated with aggressive behaviour towards humans. The findings can potentially provide tools for understanding and preventing aggressive behaviour.

Photo by Shutterstock

Aggressive behaviour in dogs can include growling, barking, snapping and biting. These gestures are part of normal canine communication, and they also occur in non-aggressive situations, such as during play. However, aggressive behaviour can be excessive, making the dog a health threat to both humans and other animals.

“Understanding the factors underlying aggressive behaviour is important. In what kinds of circumstances does aggressive behaviour occur and what is the dog’s motive for such behaviour? In normal family dogs, aggressive behaviour is often unwanted, while some dogs with official duties are expected to have the capacity for aggressiveness. At the same time, aggressiveness can be caused by welfare issues, such as chronic pain,” says doctoral researcher Salla Mikkola from the University of Helsinki.

The canine gene research group active at the University of Helsinki surveyed connections between aggressive behaviour and several potential risk factors with the help of a dataset encompassing more than 9,000 dogs, a sample from a larger dataset from a behavioural survey dataset of nearly 14,000 dogs. The study investigated aggressiveness towards both dog owners and unfamiliar human beings. Dogs were classified as aggressive if they growled often and/or had attempted to snap at or bite a human at least occasionally in the situations described in the survey.

“Dogs’ fearfulness had a strong link to aggressive behaviour, with fearful dogs many times more likely to behave aggressively. Moreover, older dogs were more likely to behave aggressively than younger ones. One of the potential reasons behind this can be pain caused by a disease. Impairment of the senses can contribute to making it more difficult to notice people approaching, and dogs’ responses to sudden situations can be aggressive,” Mikkola adds.

Small dogs are more likely to behave aggressively than mid-sized and large dogs, but their aggressive behaviour is not necessarily considered as threatening as that of large dogs. Consequently, their behaviour is not addressed. In addition, the study found that male dogs were more aggressive than females. However, sterilisation had no effect on aggressive behaviour.

The first dogs of dog owners were more likely to behave aggressively compared to dogs whose owners had previous experience of dogs. The study also indicated that dogs that spend time in the company of other dogs behave less aggressively than dogs that live without other dogs in the household. While this phenomenon has been observed in prior research, the causality remains unclear.

“In the case of dogs prone to aggressive behaviour in the first instance, owners may not necessarily wish to take a risk of conflicts with another dog,” Mikkola muses.

Sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­en­ces in ag­gress­ive be­ha­viour between breeds

Differences in the aggressiveness of various dog breeds can point to a genetic cause.

“In our dataset, the Long-Haired Collie, Poodle (Toy, Miniature and Medium) and Miniature Schnauzer were the most aggressive breeds. Previous studies have shown fearfulness in Long-Haired Collies, while the other two breeds have been found to express aggressive behaviour towards unfamiliar people. As expected, the popular breeds of Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever were at the other extreme. People who are considering getting a dog should familiarise themselves with the background and needs of the breed. As for breeders, they should also pay attention to the character of dam candidates, since both fearfulness and aggressive behaviour are inherited,” says Professor Hannes Lohi from the University of Helsinki.

This study is part of a wider Academy of Finland project that investigates the epidemiology of canine behaviour, as well as related environmental and genetic factors and metabolic changes. Professor Hannes Lohi’s research group conducts research at the Faculties of Veterinary Medicine and Medicine, University of Helsinki, as well as the Folkhälsan Research Center. This study was supported, among others, by the Academy of Finland (308887), the European Research Council (Starting Grant), the ERA-NET NEURON funding platform and the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation.

Ori­ginal art­icle:

Salla Mikkola, Milla Salonen, Jenni Puurunen, Emma Hakanen, Sini Sulkama, César Araujo, Hannes Lohi. Aggressive behaviour is affected by demographic, environmental and behavioural factors in purebred dogs. Scientific Reports. doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-88793-5

Source: University of Helsinki

Promises to my dog

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Promises I make to my dog

  1. I promise to have realistic expectations of the role my dog will play in my life. I will remember that she is a dog, not a furry little human; she cannot satisfy all my emotional needs.
  2. I promise to protect my dog from dangers, such as traffic and other creatures who might want to hurt her.
  3. I promise to keep her well dressed with a collar containing up-to-date I.D.
  4. I promise to learn kind and gentle training methods so that she can understand what I am trying to say.
  5. I promise to be consistent with my training, since dogs feel secure when daily life is predictable, with fair rules and structure.
  6. I promise to match her loyalty and patience with my own.
  7. I promise that my dog will be part of my family. I will make a commitment to schedule time every day to interact with her so that she will feel loved and will not develop behavior problems from a lack of stimulation and socialization.
  8. I promise to seek professional help if my dog develops behavior problems that become unmanageable.
  9. I promise that my dog will have opportunities to exercise and honor some of her instincts. She’ll have walks and runs outside of her daily territory, so she can sniff and explore.
  10. I promise to provide veterinary care for her entire life. I will keep her healthy and watch her weight.
  11. I promise that if I move, marry, have a baby, or get divorced, she will continue to share my life, since she is a beloved family member.
  12. I promise that if I absolutely must give her up, I will find an appropriate home for her that is as good as or better than my home.

Source:  Best Friends Animal Society

Behavioural problems in pet store dogs

Dogs purchased from pet stores are more likely to have a range of behavior problems than those purchased from small, non-commercial breeders, says a study by researchers at the Best Friends Animal Society and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The study involved 413 dogs purchased from pet stores.  Psychological and behavioral characteristics of these dogs were compared to the same characteristics in 5,657 dogs obtained from small-scale, private breeders.  (Most puppies sold in pet stores in the USA are sourced from large-scale, puppy mill type commercial breeders).

Results show that dogs obtained as puppies from pet stores showed significantly more aggression toward human family members, unfamiliar people and other dogs. Dogs purchased from pet stores were almost twice as likely to exhibit aggression directed toward unfamiliar dogs than dogs purchased from small non-commercial breeders.

The pet store dogs also a displayed greater fear of other dogs and typical events in pet dogs’ lives, had more behavior problems when left alone at home, and experienced more problems with house-soiling.  These behaviors in young adult dogs are reasons typically cited by people who surrender their pets to animal shelters.

“The results were so one-sided that in the wide range of behavior problems we included in our analysis, pet store dogs failed in every single case to even obtain one more favorable score than the comparison group of dogs” says Dr Frank McMillan of Best Friends Animal Society.

The research team acknowledges that the exact causes of the behavioral problems observed are not known; until these causes are understood, they recommend avoiding purchasing puppies from pet stores.

Source:  BusinessWire media release

See my related post about the ASPCA’s No Pet Store Puppies initiative

 

 

 

Short dog syndrome

You’ve probably heard about Short Man Syndrome.  (In fact, many of us (including me) have experienced it firsthand!)

Did you know that there is growing evidence of Short Dog Syndrome?

Researchers at the University of Sydney have published their research into this topic in the online journal PLoS One.  Professor Paul McGreevy is the lead author of the study and says, “the shorter the dogs the less controllable their behaviour is for their owners.”

Dachshunds and other short breed dogs may be more difficult to train and control

Dachshunds and other short breed dogs may be more difficult to control

The study used owners’ reports on the behaviour of over 8,000 dogs from across 80 breeds and related them to the shape of 960 dogs of those breeds, revealing strong relationships between height, bodyweight, skull proportions (relative width and length) and behaviour.

33 out of 36 undesirable behaviours were associated with height, bodyweight and skull shape

As a breed’s average height decreased, the likelihood of behaviors such as mounting humans or objects (humping), owner-directed aggression, begging for food and attention-seeking increased.

“The only behavioral trait associated with increasing height was ‘trainability’. When average bodyweight decreased, excitability and hyperactivity increased,” said Professor McGreevy.

The researchers admit that there is an aspect here of nature vs nurture.  If aggressive and ‘bad’ behaviours were present in larger dogs, the results could be more dangerous.  Poor behaviour in small dogs is likely to be tolerated more.  Over time, breeding has resulted in the patterns observed by the research team.

Source:  University of Sydney media release

May I pet your dog?

I love walking Daisy in our neighbourhood and taking her to local parks, particularly our dog parks.  And what I really appreciate is when a child or adult approaches us and asks, “May I pet your dog?”

I always praise a child who asks me before touching Daisy, “Thanks for asking and yes – she’s very friendly.”  Teaching children how to approach a dog is a very important life skill.  A dog who isn’t friendly, or who has sore spots, may bite someone who touches it.  In addition, a child is on eye-level with a dog and so they can inadvertently challenge the dog with direct eye contact and – in the dog’s view – a too aggressive approach.

Daisy loves being petted anywhere on her body but,  generally, it is useful to teach children to pet a dog over its shoulder area and then with long, slow strokes down the body.  An approach to the head (at least initially) can be too much for some dogs.

Other key points:

#1 – Allow the dog to approach you, not the other way around.  Stand still and look down (away from the dog) which is less challenging to the dog. Let your hands fall loosely to the sides of your body with open palms and relaxed fingers.

#2 –  Let the dog sniff you.  This is its way of taking in information about you (remember that a dog has 250 million scent receptors in its nose and it can take in scents from a greater distance than we can).

#3 – Don’t reach for the dog or bend over it.  These motions are too aggressive for most dogs and even reserved or shy dogs may react.

#4 Respect the dog’s wishes if it doesn’t approach to interact with you or your child or shows signs of stress.

#5 For small dog owners, I generally advise  against holding your dog in your lap.  The dog will naturally have more of a protective instinct in this position, guarding you against harm, and feeling also that it is ‘trapped’ if it doesn’t like the person that is approaching.

#6  Watch the mouth!  A dog who licks its lips, pants a lot or yawns a lot is showing signs of discomfort.

#7  If your dog is going to have small children in its life, you can de-sensitise it by getting it used to having its ears, face and tail touched.  Regardless of how much we train people to avoid these areas with ‘strange’ dogs, these are naturally parts of the dog’s body that people are attracted to.

#8  Be prepared to accept a ‘no’ answer from the dog’s owner.  The owner knows their dog the best and there may be reasons for their refusal – some dog owners are more willing to share these reasons with others as part of saying no, others not.

If you have a child in your life that is simply dog-crazy, then here’s a picture book that will teach them the essential skills in approaching a new dog.  It’s May I Pet Your Dog?  The How-To Guide for Kids Meeting Dogs (and Dogs Meeting Kids) by Stephanie Calmenson.  Another book to add to your Christmas shopping list!

Using Harry the Dachshund, this book shows your child the ‘right’ way to approach a dog.