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What’s Behind Your Dog’s Aggressive Episodes

September 1 2014

Your adopted golden retriever Marty should have been an actor, since he switches personalities at the drop of a hat. Marty has been with your family for several years, and most of the time he’s a happy-go-lucky dog who’s a great playmate and jogging buddy. When Marty feels threatened or backed into a corner, though, he adopts his alternate personality, showing signs of aggression that are downright scary. You’re concerned about Marty’s behavior, so you’ve asked your Myrtle Beach veterinarian to evaluate Marty and give him some much-needed behavior counseling.

Textbook Aggressive Behavior

Marty follows the aggressive dog script, displaying classic symptoms dogs have shown for many years. Marty stops wagging his tail and bouncing around, and stands completely still like he’s welded to the ground. Marty’s head and tail are also motionless, and he stares coldly at you without any hint of recognition or friendliness. Of course, even though Marty doesn’t move a muscle, he can still curl up his lips and show his teeth, looking like he’s sizing you up for a convenient meal.

Poor Puppyhood Socialization

Marty’s aggressive tactics might have developed during his puppy days. From about 3 weeks to 14 weeks of age, Marty’s breeder should have given him lots of structured socialization. When Marty reached 14 weeks, he likely morphed into an easily annoyed adolescent who started to exhibit protective behaviors, frequently barking at strangers. Hopefully Marty got his socialization before he became an irritable teenager. If not, Marty might not be entirely trustworthy around other dogs or people.

Undesirable Living Conditions

Even though Marty lives in the lap of luxury now, you suspect his former homes weren’t especially nice. Maybe Marty didn’t have much human contact and/or was often chained outside. Perhaps Marty was constantly harassed by children; or maybe another aggressive dog viciously nailed Marty. It’s even possible that Marty’s owner handled him roughly or physically abused him. Any of these circumstances, or a combination of them, might have set the stage for Marty’s aggressive behavior.

Breed-Based Aggression

Not surprisingly, dogs bred for protective work tend to be naturally aggressive. Think Akitas, Rottweilers, and Doberman Pinschers, for example. You probably think a cute little Cairn or West Highland White Terrier could never bother anybody; however, these angelic-looking little pooches were first bred to hunt small game. A female dog in heat or nursing her puppies, or an intact male who’s convinced he’s the boss, can also show aggressive behavior. Clearly, your Myrtle Beach vet has some work to do. After he studies Marty’s current behavior, and looks at the available information on Marty’s background, he’ll develop a strategy to replace Marty’s aggression with a safer, more socially acceptable behavior.

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