What Is Aggressive Behavior

The terms aggression and vicious are often used incorrectly for behaviors that aren't true aggression. Eberhard Trumler, the noted German behaviorist, defines true aggression as "unpredictable and unprovoked biting — without warning — with the intent to draw blood." By far, the greatest majority of so-called aggressive incidents are predictable, provoked, or both.

For example, you're walking your dog when a stranger approaches, and your dog starts to growl, maybe because he's afraid (defense flight; see Chapter 5) or maybe because he wants to protect you (defense fight; see Chapter 5). In either case, it isn't true aggression, because the dog is giving you ample warning of his intentions. It's now your job to manage the situation correctly.

A good reason to be aggressive

A good friend of ours, who was raised on a large farm, recalls an incident involving two of her younger brothers, ages 10 and 8. One morning, the boys announced they were going down to the pond to fish. Off they went with the family dog, Lucy, in tow. A short time later, they returned crying and sobbing: "Lucy won't let us dig for worms. She growled at us and showed her teeth." Because this behavior was uncharacteristic for Lucy, their mother decided to investigate. She found Lucy sitting at the edge of the pond where the boys had tried to dig for worms, intently staring at a rock. As the mother approached, Lucy became agitated and started barking. The mother then called one of the farm hands. With the aid of a rake, he turned over the rock, and they discovered a nest of copperheads.

You can cross the street; you can turn around and go the other way; or you can tell your dog to heel and pass the stranger, keeping yourself between the stranger and your dog. Under no circumstances should you make any effort to calm your dog by reassuringly petting him and telling him in a soothing voice, "There, there, it's perfectly okay, blah, blah, blah." Buddy will interpret your soothing as, "That's a good boy. I want you to growl." Well, perhaps you do, but if you don't, these kinds of reassurances reinforce the behavior.

Aggressive behavior can be directed toward any or all of the following:

^ Owner

^ Family

^ Strangers and other dogs and animals Signs of aggression include the following:

^ Low-toned, deep growling

^ Showing of teeth and staring

^ Ears and whiskers pointing forward with the dog standing tall with his hackles up from his shoulders forward and his tail straight up

^ Actual biting

When this behavior is directed toward you, ask yourself whether the question of who is Number One has been resolved. Usually it hasn't been, and the dog is convinced that he's Number One or thinks that he can become Numero Uno. He's not a bad dog; he's just a pack animal and is looking desperately for leadership. If that leadership isn't forthcoming on your part, he'll fill the vacuum. Dogs are quite happy and content when they know their rank order (see Chapter 2).

Dog Potty Training

Dog Potty Training

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