What Makes Dogs Attack Their Owners


Why might my dog behave aggressively toward me?

A dog may act aggressively toward family members for a variety of reasons. Conflict aggressiveness, fear-based, defensive aggression, status-related aggression, possessive aggression, food guarding aggression, and redirected violence are some of the most frequent reasons. An aggressive dog toward family members can make life challenging, hazardous, disappointing, and infuriating (see AggressionDiagnosis and Overview).

Should I keep a dog that is aggressive toward family members?

To have a pet in your life has many fantastic benefits. Our lives are enriched by their companionship, shared experiences, nurturing, amusement, and enrichment, therefore choosing to live with a dog who is hostile toward you is not a decision that should be made lightly. The ability to ensure the safety of those who will be around the dog must take precedence in the choice. The number of family members in some families, daily responsibilities, and other factors could make maintaining and rehabilitating an aggressive dog risky and unrealistic. Placement in a different home may occasionally be an option, although this is not always the case. The only way to ensure a dog won’t become hostile again is to euthanize it for aggression.

How do we assess the risk of keeping an aggressive dog?

Half of the 800,000 people who seek medical attention for dog attacks annually, according to the CDC, are youngsters (see AggressionChildren). Dog bites are not uncommon; they are typical occurrences in everyday family life, and 15% of dog owners are said to have had a dog bite. A dog is more likely to bite after biting because he has demonstrated his willingness to employ biting as a behavioral tactic, at least in that circumstance. Rarely are dogs who are willing to use violence to alter the course of events again healed. The severity of a bite can be determined by carefully analyzing the circumstance, the harm the bite caused, the decisions the dog took, such as his readiness to prevent escalating to a bite by growling, snarling, or snapping, as well as the type of aggression identified. A board-certified veterinary behaviorist may have the necessary experience to evaluate and prioritize this examination in complex circumstances.

Aren’t all bites the same?

Even though all bites should be taken seriously, the situation and decisions the dog made during the incident may provide some clues as to the alternatives the dog considered before acting aggressively. The majority of dogs can generally manage how hard and how long they bite.

“Dogs who will use violence to alter the course of a situation are rarely healed.”

Some bites are prevented and may not leave any skin traces. Other bites may cause the skin to bruise, squeeze, or indent without causing bleeding. More severe bites can result in skin breakdown, puncture wounds that are deep or superficial, many punctures, or tearing or shearing injuries. Some canines’ bites have the potential to break bones. Some dogs bite once and then back off, while others bite repeatedly within the same episode. When provoked or when they are nearby, some dogs bite; other dogs rush from across the room.

How do we avoid aggression and keep family members safe?

The first step in keeping family members safe and starting the behavior modification process is safety and bite prevention. Determine all potential triggers for aggression first, then prohibit the dog from coming into contact with them (via crate or confinement, muzzle, or environmental manipulation), or control the dog in any other situation where a combative circumstance might occur (e.g., leash and head halter control, tie down). In order to prevent future harm and learning, it is imperative that these scenarios be avoided. Although reducing or eliminating the possibility of hostility in these circumstances would be the long-term objective, each new incident could result in harm and worsen the issue. Even within the house, aggressiveness can be controlled and avoided by using a head collar and leash. Even more efficient at preventing bites is a correctly fitted basket muzzle, which may also be useful in specific circumstances. Limiting the dog’s opportunities for more hostile encounters will help prevent the dog from developing new bad habits because the dog learns from every occasion to practice hostility (see AggressionGetting StartedSafety and Management).

When a family decides to start an aggressive behavior modification program, they must continually assess their capacity to keep everyone safe and stop hostile outbursts. The decision to maintain and treat this dog must be reviewed if there are regular safety failures, accidental bites, or fresh bites occurring in novel and unexpected contexts.

Don’t we just need to show our dog that we are alpha or dominant for the aggression to stop?

Neither dominance nor social standing are likely to be factors in aggression toward family members. This is a widespread misunderstanding that may result in the aggressive conduct getting worse and ineffective treatment methods. AggressionDiagnosis and Overview, Dominance, Alpha, and Pack LeadershipWhat Does It Really Mean?, and Canine CommunicationInterpreting Dog Language all discuss how these emotions are frequently the driving forces behind a dog’s aggression. It follows that training programs intended to enforce the human family members as alpha or dominance using confrontation or intimidation-based interventions will increase rather than decrease anxiety and associated aggressive responses if underlying anxiety and fear are the cause of aggressive responses. Strategies intended to establish pack leadership, alpha status, or dominance over your dog do not address the root causes of the issue, which are fear, anxiety, and a lack of knowledge about what to anticipate or how to respond in a certain circumstance. While maintaining control and having regular encounters with the animal is ideal, these goals should be attained in non-confrontational methods that lessen tension and conflict rather than boosting these underlying feelings.

How do I gain effective control of my dog?

Family members should establish themselves as capable parental figures as soon as possible in their relationship with their dog. Good dog owners care for their animals in a similar manner to how good parents or teachers care for their charges. It’s crucial to provide consistency, patience, persistence, regularity, and predictability as a pet owner. Rewards for positive activities give the dog information, and this information acts as a guide for the dog’s interactions with you. Consistent responses reduce your dog’s anxiety and conflict by teaching your dog what behaviors will get rewards and what will not. In a sense, you gain control over your dog’s behavior while your dog gains control over its own. Being the leader or being “in control does not imply harshness or punishment, but that the dogs behavior is appropriate and will continue to be appropriate. (See Earn Predictable Rewards to Learn How). Because some puppies are more assertive, excitable, fearful, easily distracted, or difficult to motivate and as a result more difficult to train than others, the owner’s methods for becoming the leader will depend on the individual temperament and genetic predisposition of the puppy (see Training BasicsGetting Started, AggressionDiagnosis and Overview, Behavior Management Products, Learn to EarnPredictable Rewards, Learning, Training, and Modifying Behavior, and Teaching CalmSettle and Relaxation Training, as well as handouts on how to train specific commands).

Equally crucial is the ability to spot deference when it occurs. When your dog turns away from you, lowers its head, or avoids you, especially when you are correcting it, this is an act of deference, appeasement, and submission as well as an effort to put an end to the interaction (see Canine CommunicationInterpreting Dog Language). From the dog’s perspective, the interaction is over, and if the human continues to correct or punish the dog, the dog may react out of fear or with defensive actions. Do not assume that because the dog deferred once, he will do so again. Each situation is distinct, and the response takes the dogs’ desire for the resource into account.

How can I treat my dog’s aggression?

Teaching your dog what you DO want him or her to do will be the first step in any treatment plans. A training program based on positive reinforcement typically accomplishes this. The tasks that are taught will vary depending on the dog and the circumstance, but they may include teaching a dog to go to a containment area when called, sit and remain in exchange for rewards, or get off/on furniture when told to (see Reinforcement and Rewards, Learn to EarnPredictable Rewards, and Working for Food). Leashes and head halters help with control and safety without using harsh, strong corrections, and they also reduce the likelihood of aggression (see Training Products) Head Halter Training and Training Materials (Synopsis of Head Halter Training).

Once safety and aggression-avoiding precautions have been put in place and fundamental control exercises have been mastered, advanced exercises can start. Traditional counter-conditioning, desensitization, and exposure gradients are some behavior modification techniques for particular problematic interactions that prevent the dog from becoming overwhelmed to the point of aggression or defensiveness. Instead, the dog is gradually exposed to previously arousing stimuli at such low levels that no arousal occurs, and is then rewarded for the appropriate response. The dog is simultaneously in charge of adhering to new instructions and is lavishly pampered for making fresh, sensible choices.

What can be done if my dog refuses to obey my commands?

Any conflict or circumstance that could result in harm or in which the owner would not be able to gain control safely must be avoided. It could be feasible to create conditions and an atmosphere that force the dog to conform. Forcing or confronting your dog is ineffective because this could result in resistance and violence. Instead, determine whether or not compliance can be attained in each case. If not, do not move forward; instead, alter the circumstance to effectively achieve the desired result. As previously indicated, fitting the dog with a remote leash and head halter that may be used to lead the dog on walks and remain attached while the owner is at home will provide you more immediate control (except for bedtime). The leash and head halter can be utilized each time a command is issued to the dog and it is not obeyed to attain the desired result. You won’t have succeeded until the dog responds to your vocal orders without the need for leash pulls, even though the head halter and remote leash are fantastic tools for success and physical control.

What is the prognosis for dogs that show aggression toward their family?

Dogs that are willing to use violence to influence a situation’s result are rarely healed, but they are frequently controllable. A good daily routine of exercise, play, and social engagement, as well as the avoidance of situations that cause anger, can all contribute to improvement. Some dogs, however, might still pose a threat to individuals who live with them because of their violent behavior toward family members. It might be impossible to safely rehabilitate an aggressive dog while protecting people in some family scenarios. Each case needs to be evaluated by a veterinary behaviorist, and development in each case must be monitored regularly (see AggressionIntroduction and AggressionGetting StartedSafety and Management).

Which dogs most often attack their owners?

The following dog breeds are frequently used in dog attacks:

  • the pit bull.
  • Rottweilers.
  • Pit bull hybrids.
  • Shepherds of Germany.
  • Bullmastiffs.
  • hybrid wolves.
  • Huskies.
  • Akitas.

How should you respond if your own dog tries to bite you?

On a walk, if a dog approaching you is off-leash:

  • Scream for the owner. “My dog is contagious; come get yours! often effective.
  • Get something between you and the source of visual stimulation (umbrella, car, garbage pail, blanket, etc.).
  • Try firmly saying a well-known command, such “sit” or “stay,” to the approaching dog.
  • To shock them, throw a sizable handful of treats on top of their heads. the greater, “the longer you have to escape the treat bomb.
  • If you can reach a dragging leash, wrap it around something sturdy, such a fence or a post, and pull on the handle. Avoid placing your face too close to the dog’s face while doing this.

Avoid the following if an alarming off-leash dog approaches:

  • Scream
  • Run
  • flailing limbs
  • Panic
  • Establish eye contact
  • Leap and shout.

Do the following if an alarming off-leash dog approaches:

  • Be as composed as you can.
  • Adopt a forceful tone. This is done to keep yourself and the situation under control and to make any commands or cues you give the dog as clear-cut as possible, not to “assert dominance.
  • Stay erect or stand up.
  • Don’t yell, and keep quiet.
  • Become a master of something.
  • By flinging the food away from yourself, you can feed the dog.
  • So that the dog cannot sneak behind you, turn into a corner or lean against a wall.
  • Throw everything you have at the dog, including your shoes, toys, and diaper bag, if you have a stroller and are unable to escape. By doing this, you can divert their attention and gain some breathing room.

When a dog strikes:

  • To protect them, keep your hands and arms in front of your torso.
  • Avoid touching the dogs where they may quickly swivel around and bite you, such as close to their lips when they are fighting or attacking.
  • Avoid grabbing collars.
  • Move your arm or other body part into the dog’s mouth if it bites you and won’t let go rather than attempting to pull it out. This will stop you from being torn further.
  • If the dog does not release, prevent it from shaking your body or your head.
  • Children should roll themselves up as tightly as they can and remain as still as they can.
  • Even though it’s difficult, try to avoid having kids scream or cry when a dog is attacking because doing so simply makes the dog more excited.
  • If worst comes to worst, huddle close to your youngster.
  • Do not place any portion of your body between the attacking dog and your dog if that happens.
  • Look for items to place between the two dogs (chair, umbrella, garbage can lid, etc.).
  • The dog that is attacking you is likely to jump up on you if you pick up your small dog, which could damage you.
  • If you don’t pick up your tiny dog, the risk of damage will likely escalate. You’ll need to decide which is wiser at the time given the circumstances.
  • Avoid swinging your dog back and forth while facing the dog that is attacking. Try to position yourself and your dog between a barrier of some sort. If necessary, lean against a wall or even throw your dog inside a fence. Keep in mind that the dog that is attacking might be able to scale that fence.
  • If at all possible, avoid striking or kicking the dog (that might escalate in their arousal).
  • Get leave as soon as the attack is over, whether it’s with your child, dog, or both. Avoid turning around, attempting to gain more control, or attempting to track down the owner. Do it now.

This interview was prepared and edited for transmission by Marcelle Hutchins. It was web-adapted by Serena McMahon.

P. O. Dowd

Editor-in-Chief, Here & Now In addition to creating and supervising segments, reporting stories, and occasionally filling in as presenter, Peter O’Dowd is involved in most aspects of Here & Now. He traveled from KJZZ in Phoenix to Boston.