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Sometimes we walk our dogs on the Centennial Trail.  Rodrigo and Blue love seeing people, especially the cyclists and joggers and cry and bark when they go by us; and I’m ashamed to say that sometimes they lunge at people too – there is a 10 feet distance and they’re on leashes, but to someone who isn’t used to dogs, it’s got to be disconcerting.

Sydney, on the other hand, just wants to introduce herself to everyone and we’re teaching her that she can’t just go up to every stranger and expect attention; by the way, she’s off leash, because she walks besides us with the exception of when something fascinating captures her nose.

Training requires consistency, confidence, and we’re getting exercise.  Because our dogs aren’t great on the leash, we go out on the Trail at first light (right after dawn) and we walk for a mile or two and come across very few people.  When we do make people nervous, I want to shout “My dogs aren’t aggressive, they’re just having fun!!!”  But I get that they don’t want to take a chance.

So I decided to learn more about the signs of dog aggression and dog trainers from the BarkZone in Hillsboro, Oregon, Eric Simpson and Roxanne McCredie, shared the following great information that taught me about dog aggression…

Here are some things that can create an aggressive dog:

  • Lack of proper socialization
  • Excessive physical punishment
  • An attack or scare from another aggressive dog
  • Isolation from human contact
  • Frequent teasing, taunting, or other harassment from children or adults
  • Aggravation from strangers or other passersby

Types of dog aggression are:

  • Fear or defensive aggression – caused by the dog being fearful of something, in pain, feels threatened or punished
  • Dominant aggression – demands attention, exerts their will, possessive, does not obey commands
  • Territorial aggression – aggressive when someone comes to your home or becomes aggressive when someone walks by you while your dog is on leash
  • Sex-specific aggression – either aggressive towards male dogs or just female dogs
  • Predatory aggression – harasses or attacks dogs smaller than them
  • Parental aggression – nursing moms or when with pups

Signs and symptoms of dog aggression and a dog that is becoming aggressive:

What I find interesting about this list is that our dogs do many of these without being aggressive, but now I see how their behavior can be seen as aggression by others who don’t know them.

  • Growling
  • Curling lips
  • Lunging – our dogs do this when they get over excited and are on the leash
  • Blocking your path – Sydney does this with joggers and cyclists to say “hello”
  • Barking aggressively – I call it “barking excessively” and our dogs do this when they see joggers, cyclists, and other dogs
  • Snarling
  • Biting – doesn’t have to break the skin
  • Mounting people
  • Snapping
  • Over-protective of things
I’ve found that walking them more often cuts down on their “aggressive-like” behavior – tired dogs are better behaved dogs.

An Aggressive Dog’s Posture:

Aggressive attack:

  • hackles up
  • tail stiff and raised
  • ears erect and tilted forward
  • eyes staring
  • lips curled
  • teeth bared, snarling
  • charging and weight forward

Defensive dog aggression:

  • hackles up
  • ears back, pupils dilated
  • tail down and tensed
  • posture mildly crouched, weight over rear legs
  • muzzle tense, wrinkled and snarling, teeth exposed
Our dogs get their hackles up when they get excited and when they see dogs at the dog park.  I used to think this was a sign of dog aggression, but soon learned that it’s important to look at all of their signals, not just one.

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