When I left Corporate America to found Wishes and Wags, treating canine aggression was not in the picture. One of the primary reasons I founded Wishes and Wags was to help shelter and rescue dogs stay in their forever homes. I was driven to help humans and canines build strong relationships through education and obedience training. All rescue and shelter dogs have a past. For many, their past will forever be a mystery to their pet parents. Their life experiences, good or bad, may have a lifelong impact on behavior. Actually, life experiences may impact any dog’s behavior at any time over the life of the dog. Shortly after founding my company, I began to attend national dog training and behavior conferences. I realized very quickly that so many dogs with aggressive tendencies needed help, and there were not enough dog trainers educated in treating canine aggression to go around, especially trainers that use positive techniques. I began to understand that it may be possible to help some of the dogs destined to lose their home or destined for death row due to behavioral issues such as aggression. So, I became a student of aggression.
There are a number of things that may cause or contribute to aggressive behavior. A few examples are 1) environment, 2) illness, 3) pain, or 4) DNA. In many instances, aggression is a form of communication. As humans know well in their own human to human interactions, certain communication can often be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Aggression is a very complex behavior. It is critical that very specific details be analyzed to properly understand the triggers and to effectively treat. Because I believe there are ways to help some of the dogs that suffer from aggressive tendencies, I am now driven to help pet parents understand the behavior and assess the seriousness. Over the last few years, I have received many calls from pet parents in tears or almost in tears that believed there was nothing that could be done to help their dog, and the dog had to be euthanized. But when the facts were analyzed, in some cases, the prognosis turned out to be good. On the other side of that coin, I received calls from pet parents that believed their dog’s aggression was not a serious concern when, in fact, the pet parents were dealing with extremely serious and dangerous issues.
In this blog, I will not be addressing the details of aggression complexities nor specific methods to treat aggression. I do, however, want to share a bit of information about how dog on human bites are evaluated. Below, I am sharing the Dunbar Bite Scale. This scale is currently one of the most effective and well-known methods to evaluate the seriousness of dog on human bites. It was developed by Dr. Ian Dunbar who is a well-known veterinarian, behaviorist, and dog trainer. In 1993, he founded the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) in the United States and Canada. The APDT is now the largest dog training organizations in the world. The complete Dunbar Bite Scale has been included, including the perspectives on the levels which details some of the steps aggression professionals must take in the event of a serious and dangerous event. The Dunbar Scale can be found using Google on a number of sources.
Most pet parents are unaware this tool exists. Knowledge is so important, and in many cases, knowledge can bring comfort. I work with my clients to understand that aggression cannot be cured; however, a goal can be set to significantly improve behavior issues through training and management, if possible. As it relates to aggression, management is absolutely a critical component of treatment. The more knowledge a pet parent has, the more effective a pet parent can be at management. Knowledge also makes it possible for pet parents to understand the factors they are facing, the risks involved, and the necessary steps to move forward. I am sharing the Dunbar Bite Scale for information purposes only. There is no perfect science. Dog behavior can be unpredictable. I always urge pet parents to seek professional help to assess their individual circumstances. I will note that there a few different types of professionals that can assist. Dog trainers with experience treating aggression, behaviorists, and veterinarian behaviorists are a few examples.
If you would like to discuss this blog post in more detail or you are currently experiencing aggression issues with your dog, I would love to hear from you! I hope to begin online aggression case studies in the very near future, so that pet parents can share their experiences to support each other!