Aggression may develop because the dog had a predisposition to be aggressive from the genes it inherited from its parents. In addition, the way in which the dog has been raised from a pup affects the development of aggression.
For instance, aggression in a six to seven-week old pup is very likely to be inherited as the pup has had no time to learn to be aggressive. The genetic loading a dog inherits cannot be changed. It is there for life. However, the dog can be taught, or it can learn, not to be aggressive and thus a ‘fire blanket’ can be thrown over the genetic loading. Thus, the younger the dog is when the aggression occurs the greater is the risk of future injury.
If the dog is aggressive frequently, then the risk is higher, but what is aggression?
Many pet owners will say to me that their dog has only bitten ‘once or twice’. But when asked in more detail they state quite readily that there have been many growling threats where the owners have ‘backed off’ and the dog has won. Many a dog owner will also say to me that their dog ‘snaps quite often, but it never means it’. All of these threats are serious because each time a dog finds that threatening makes someone ‘back off’, it is teaching itself that aggression is effective and that it works.
Hence, the risk increases greatly the more often any form of aggression occurs. After the first threat, if you arbitrarily assign the risk of a further threat to ‘1’, the risk of a further threat occurring after the second is ‘4’, after the third is ‘9’, after the fourth is ’16’ and so on.
The age of the person being threatened is very important.
Aggression to young children is very serious. Children are extremely vulnerable to dog attacks because they are often of similar height to the dog. It is not surprising, therefore, that research at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane has shown that the face and head are the commonest sites of bite wounds in children. Toddlers of about two to three years of age and children at about ten years of age are the most likely age group to be attacked.
However, aggression towards elderly people is also serious. Many elderly folk are susceptible to infections and tend to heal more slowly. Diabetes, Osteoporosis or any condition causing an immune deficiency, indicate a greater risk of serious, even life-threatening, injury.
The style of the house the owners and dog live in is also important. Often, the dog needs to be separated, if only temporarily, from those in the family it is biting. This is especially so if the victims are young children. If this cannot be done so that the dog and its victims are not only safely separated, but the dog is content and happy about being away, the risk is much greater.
If a dog is menacing pedestrians then the style of fence is important. Aggressive dogs need a fence that is foolproof. However, where the fence often fails is at the gates. When a person enters through a gate, a dog can escape. Escape is more likely if a car is entering through big double gates. The risk is greater still if the gates are operated remotely by magic buttons inside a vehicle or inside a home.
The final matter to consider is your lifestyle. If your dog is aggressive to visitors and you have visitors arriving regularly, the risk is obvious. Consider the age of your children. As they mature, they are more likely to invite friends over to play and these young visitors are placed unknowingly in the territory of a dangerous animal. In such situations, dogs need to be secured in a room or enclosure well away from the visitors.
Living with an aggressive dog is a torment of mixed emotions and split affections, but above all, the safety of your family has to be your priority. Don’t take chances.