Inter-dog aggression: Who is the real victim? Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Monday, 26 September 2016 19:43
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

I have been working in the north of Pretoria for the past six weeks and have been amazed at the number of severe bite wounds that we have seen in this time. The whole treatment process often feels very futile as often, once the animal is healthy, he or she has to go back into the same situation and is at risk of being bitten again. The idea is to try and correct the environment and prevent further episodes.

The majority of bite wound patients are dogs bitten by other dogs in their own yards.  I myself have eight dogs and, as with any big family, there is an altercation every now and again which needs some minor treatment or just a ‘plaster’. All social animals, people and dogs, experience squabbles, disagreements or bickering. Inter-dog aggression is a more consistent form of aggression between two individual animals.

Inter-dog aggression starts becoming evident when the dogs reach social maturity and occurs due to feelings of being threatened, feeling challenged and competition. It is more common between dogs of the same sex.

The behaviours involved with aggression are actually normal responses, which change with the animal’s growth and social maturity. Dogs with inter-dog aggression are characterised by subtle signs where one dog tries to control the other dog. These signs are often missed by people and we only see the problem when the actual fight erupts.

Most aggression is due to availability of resources – attention, food, sleeping place or toys. Challenges from the aggressor generally fall into these three categories and include: Blocking access to the bed or crate, lying in front of a bed or chair (blocking access), lying or pushing onto the other dog, stealing the other dog’s toys, blocking access to food (standing in front or at the door), shoving past the other dog to get everywhere first, staring, and using ritualised displays such as approaching the other dog nose to shoulder.

These behaviours may be self-limiting or may escalate. Early in the development of the abnormal behaviour the reactions and responses may be more obvious to people but as the positions of aggressor and victim become entrenched, the warning signs become more subtle.

Defensive behaviour by the victim may be the first sign an owner notices and then incorrectly classify that dog as the aggressor. Victims will learn to show defensive aggression by grabbing the ears, cheeks or side of neck of the aggressor to abort the intended attack.

In this way the victim’s neck cannot be grabbed. Early on the aggressor grabs around the head and neck. As the aggression between the two animals intensifies over time, the aggressor will grab the sides, belly and throat of the victim and shake and twist the skin.  This progression of violence starts looking more like predatory behaviour, aiming to really harm or kill the victim.

Dogs which exhibit inappropriate responses or aggression, instead of always being the aggressors are actually often suffering from anxiety as they cannot properly assess the situation and try to pre-empt the situation. For them, offense is the best defence.

Treatment of inter-dog aggression focuses on setting and maintaining a new set of social relationships that will relieve everyone’s uncertainty and keep everyone safe. Most of the behavioural modifications do not really require correct identification of the victim and the aggressor. But, consistent rules and boundary setting and avoidance of trigger points will allow the behaviour to subside.

In households with more than two dogs, a third dog can become a mediator. The dog which the mediator watches the most is usually the aggressor. The mediator dog will generally spend more time with the victim dog. The mediator dog may attempt to block threatening behaviour between the two dogs.

In general, well-socialised dogs – with people and other dogs – can read signs and respond appropriately in most situations. However, environments and social structures created by the owners often aggravate normal behavioural interactions.

Owners also need to understand that the whole social interaction in their canine household is dynamic and changes as animals mature or age, with illness and obviously with new additions. If problems are experienced it is best to consult with an animal behaviourist. Your vet should be able to refer you.


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