Has your dog been acting aggressively?

WARNING: Aggressive Dog!

Often dogs become cranky when they aren’t feeling well, much like humans. Shepard was fine with other dogs, until about a year after I adopted him. Then he began jumping dogs that were greeting him at the park. The issue intensified to the point where he pinned another dog to the ground for no reason. The snarling and snapping was horrifying, yet the other dog wasn’t actually injured.

Shepard’s aggression was all show. But why? He had become so grumpy. I had done everything imaginable to help. Finally I brought him to the vet, where I was informed he had colitis. Aggravated bowels were making him protective of his tummy. Dogs could say hi and sniff his face but as soon as they would move to the traditional butt sniff he would snap. It made perfect sense. He was afraid they would hurt him. After a change in diet and some lifestyle adjustments, he was much more relaxed. When he would growl or bark at a dog after that I knew it was really his tummy talking.

Since then, I have seen many more cases of aggression caused by illness or pain. Most memorable was gorgeous golden doodle (let’s call her Molly). She came from good stock and is fortunate to have a kind and accommodating owner. Molly has never had any traumatic event. She was never attacked, hurt or hungry or unloved. Yet somehow she became aggressive. She would lung at and nip any dog that would come close to her. (Nip meaning her teeth made contact but not enough pressure to draw blood). She had been to the vet, but they didn’t find anything wrong. I worked on the usual with her, teaching her to ignore dogs. Teaching her that she was safe with me. Teaching her to trust and relax. Molly became more comfortable, but still reacted to new dogs.

Her owner took her to a new vet for a second opinion. They found a growth in her anal glands. The pressure of it was causing her an incredible amount of discomfort. Molly couldn’t say, “Help me! My butt hurts!” What she did do is tell other dogs by warning them to stay away from her. It is incredibly common for dogs to act aggressively when they are in pain. It is common for them to fear that other dogs may hurt them.

Molly was much happier once she was healthy again. It was difficult to break her habit of showing aggression towards other dogs, but with love, time and patience she broke the pattern. Now she is relaxed and truly enjoys going on hikes. She even plays with other dogs and has made some lifelong friends.

I have seen similar aggression in dogs with arthritis, chronic ear infection, abscessed tooth and unfortunately cancer. Old habits are hard to break for both the dogs and their people. Even after the underlying medical condition has been addressed it can take time to learn the new behaviour. Most still need reminders to be polite. As always, being a calm and consistent leader pays off.

Before you call a trainer, pay close attention to your dog. See if there is any areas of there body they maybe protecting. A visit to the vet could spare you both unnecessary suffering and maybe save your dog’s life.