WASHINGTON â The longtime owner of a large mixed-breed dog was mauled to death in her D.C. home earlier this week, leaving her husband and neighbors surprised that the dog turned on her. Following her death, and similar dog attacks in the area, veterinarian Dr. Katie Nelson talked to WTOP about what warning signs to look for and what owners can do to prevent aggression.
âWhat happened this weekend I donât think weâll ever truly understand,â Nelson said. âBut one thing that we can keep in mind is âŠ if we have a younger dog that is showing signs of aggression, then we typically have a much greater chance of getting them through that, whether itâs through training, working with a professional trainer, working with your veterinarian, or through exercise.â
An âaggressiveâ dog can exhibit a whole host of behaviors, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty and Animals, including:
Even though dogs donât always follow a sequence of aggressive behaviors, they rarely bite without giving some warning signs beforehand and they wouldnât typically lose their temper all of a sudden, the ASPCA said.
Still, there are steps you can take steps to train your dog out of aggression if you ever see these signs, Nelson said.
âAggression is a huge topic,â Nelson said. âI think we need to focus on what aggression truly is, and we have to realize that it is a range of behaviors. Itâs not just the most severe case like what we just saw. There are a lot of warning signs that come with aggression.â
A dogâs warning signs can include showing teeth, lunging without actually making eye contact, nipping or scratching, or even head butting, Nelson said.
In more serious cases of aggression, such as resource-guarding or protective behavior over humans, Nelson recommends that owners work with a trainer and their veterinarian to identify a dogâs triggers and help the dog get through their aggression.
âIs there a true cure for aggression? Not necessarily. But often times when we work to identify what their triggers are â if itâs certain people, if itâs certain times of day, if itâs certain things â then we can get them out of those situations and prevent the behavior in the first place,â Nelson said.
Nelson suggests examining a dogâs history to identify their triggers.
âIf you identify the fact that he gets really upset when the UPS guy comes to the door and heâs more likely to show aggression towards the other dog in the house or the child in the house, then thatâs a trigger where âŠ when you know thatâs going to happen, have him out in the backyard so that trigger doesnât occur,â Nelson said.
If a dog doesnât show triggers and is seemingly unprovoked, then Nelson strongly suggests getting a veterinarian involved.
âThe difficult times are the ones where they donât show triggers and they show unprovoked aggression,â Nelson said. âAnd those are the ones that are often times much more difficult to get through.â
And if youâre unsure about your dogs behavior, Nelson said you should always consult your veterinarian.
While some aggression requires more serious intervention than others, a dogâs aggressive behavior could also be an indication of pent-up energy or old age, which can be eased through training and medication.
âThere are other types of situations where they might start to display aggression later in life, whether itâs because theyâre ill â they have a thyroid issue, they have arthritis, they have something thatâs painful â or maybe they have a degenerative brain disease like cognitive dysfunction or Alzheimerâs-type symptoms that can cause them to display behaviors that they would ordinarily not have in younger days,â Nelson said. âSo those situations obviously you deal with the medical issue and hopefully you can get through that.â
Just as there are a wide range of aggressive behaviors, any type of dog can exhibit aggression regardless of breed or size, Nelson said. So itâs important to treat each dog individually.
âI do want to point out that we have to be very careful when we blame a particular breed or a particular type of dog,â Nelson said. âThere are more dog bites every year from smaller dogs than there are from larger dogs, however they just cause less damage. We have to treat pets as an individual rather than categorizing them into an entire group and putting a label on them.â
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