How to reduce the risk of your dog developing an aggression problem

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jack russell dog barking aggression

If a dog has bitten someone, euthanasia ensures s/he is no longer a risk. However, it is often an untimely death and a heartbreaking situation.

Some aggressive dogs may never adapt happily to life, and euthanasia may be a kindness for them and a sadly necessary safety precaution. However, aggression can have different causes, and euthanasia is not necessarily the best or only solution for all aggressive dogs.

An expert assessment will help you decide what’s best for your dog

Each case of aggression is different and, like with any decision about what’s best for your dog and for you, you need full information first. woman trains retriever dog That means getting an assessment by a qualified and accredited expert right away. This page from the RSPCA gives details and links for finding accredited behaviourists.

3 tips for reducing the risk of your dog developing an aggression problem

#1: Know the Ladder of Aggression and teach it to your children.

The Ladder is a simple guide that shows if your dog may be getting worked up, and how s/he shows it. Snapping and biting are typically a last resort for dogs; but they may reach that point in seconds. If you’ve ignored or misread earlier signs, the bite may seem out of the blue. For simple illustrations and more information:

#2: Notice your dog’s behaviours around people or other dogs.

If s/he seems to be showing similar behaviours to the Ladder of Aggression, video them if you can do that safely. And make an appointment with your vet to get your dog checked over. The vet can rule out physical causes of aggression, and advise you. If your dog has bitten, use Dr Yin’s poster to help you gauge the level.

vet examines white dog

#3: Ask your vet for a referral, if necessary

Some vets have greater knowledge and interest in canine aggression than others.Otherwise, they should be able to refer you to a qualified and accredited behaviourist. The two accrediting bodies are: The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, and The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Details on this page from the RSPCA.

dog chasing ballWhen our dogs threaten or bite us, it is a form of communication. Typically, many will have given us other warnings, but we can easily overlook or misinterpret those. Let’s learn their lingo better and get qualified help sooner than later. But always stay safe.

To borrow from the poet Mary Oliver, we need to be kind yet resolute, not foolish. More on her next time.

Over to you. We can’t advise on individual cases, but we’d like to hear from you on our Facebook page.
What is your experience of aggressive dogs?
What do you make of the graphics and websites we’ve listed here?

Caroline Hewson


Author: Caroline Hewson MRCVS
Caroline Hewson is a vet and has a PhD in animal behaviour. She writes and gives talks that translate research relevant to pets’ end of life into points to keep in mind. 


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