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Did You Know?

Small dogs often become aggressive because they are so much easier for families to spoil, unintentionally.


What Went Wrong with Buddy?

A Fairy Tale about Dog Behavior Gone Wrong

Buddy was the cutest puppy they had ever seen.
He was curious and fun loving, and the perfect buddy for their three year old daughter, Julie. The family wanted to do everything right and follow everything their veterinarian suggested. Since their veterinarian didn't provide pet behavior counseling, they just did what seemed natural.

Everyone shared table scraps when Buddy asked for food. After all, he was one of the family. Whatever Buddy wanted, he got. He rested on furniture, and slept on their beds.

To keep Buddy safe, they kept him isolated from other dogs and people. To keep him entertained, they gave him anything he wanted as a toy.

At four months of age, he began demanding attention.
He would paw at their legs or nudge with his nose, and the petted and talked to him in response.  At about five months old, if he didn't want to be touched, they respected his wishes. They thought it was cute that he growled when anyone went near his food dish. At about six months old, they considered obedience school, but never got around to it. They resisted neutering Buddy after a friend told them it might change his personality.

At five months, Mom tried to move Buddy off the couch and he snapped at her.
She figured Buddy’s feelings were hurt, so she tried to soothe him. After that, Buddy became increasingly short tempered. No matter how much they petted and reassured him, he still acted tense and became more and more disobedient. It seemed he was always shaking his head, as if saying, “No, I won’t do that.”

When he began urine marking and destroying things, Buddy became an outdoor dog.

When Buddy was seven months old, he bit a neighbor who came over for a visit.
The family assumed the neighbor did something to deserve it. When Buddy attacked a friendly dog on a walk, the family thought, “Buddy is just that way.” They took him on fewer walks after that.

One day, when Buddy was eight months old, Julie gave Buddy a kiss. 
She came toward him face first while he was by his food dish. When the Doctor told the family that Julie had permanent damage to her face, they were shocked that Buddy would “turn vicious.”  That very day Buddy became history and a bitter memory. Everyone in the family was permanently scarred. They began to warn everyone not to own a dog because dogs are untrustworthy, and can cause such heartache.

What went wrong with Buddy?

Puppy selection testing might have shown  a genetic tendency toward dominance aggression.
When Buddy was young, he missed Puppy Socialization and Training classes. Therefore,
he didn't learn how to make friends with other dogs and people when properly introduced. He didn't learn manners that would have allowed him to stay indoors with his pack. Most importantly, he didn't learn to think of all humans as higher ranking pack members.

When Buddy got anything he wanted, he assumed he could control everyone and owned everything.
Then he discovered that he could paw or nudge anybody, anytime, and control them to either touch or stop touching him. He could demand food or attention and the family gave it submissively. They also unintentionally gave Buddy the wrong message about his status in the pack by allowing him to sleep on the high status places like on beds and furniture. Buddy could go anywhere, but could tell them to stay away from certain areas. Male hormones further encouraged Buddy to take charge of the family.

Another early sign of future aggression was Buddy’s disobedience.
It seemed each time Buddy displayed his status, by ignoring their commands or growling, they rewarded him by petting and talking to him in soothing subordinate tones. Buddy interpreted these responses as praise which further reinforced his aggressive behavior. When the big female (Mom) tried to move him from his favorite resting spot, he put her in her place with a warning snap. Soon Buddy thought he controlled the world. He assumed both power and position. Since the other dogs on the walk and the neighbor didn't show sufficient submissiveness to Buddy, it was his job as higher ranking to put them in their places. After all, Buddy was put in charge by the big male and female pack members.

From Buddy’s point of view, attacking Julie was necessary to control her actions.
When the child tried to kiss Buddy, he interpreted this close approach with eye contact as a challenge to ownership of the food and his dominant position in the pack. Considering the previous messages that he was given, it became Buddy’s duty to take charge and attack any insubordinate challengers.

Buddy’s family had unintentionally selected a dog with a predisposition for dominance aggression. In the litter, he was the one that pushed other puppies away to run up and jump all over them. After selecting him as the "friendliest" and one that "choose them", with all the best intentions, the family unwittingly molded Buddy so he would predictably attack dogs, adults, and children.

The only reason this story is not more common is that dominance tendencies have been bred out of most non-guard dogs.

Separate from the emotional pain, how the legal liability of aggression can financially destroy a family. The veterinarian’s role could have included pet selection counseling, puppy classes, daycare, neutering, and prescribing a head halter. Veterinary visits could have provided behavioral information on how to decrease aggression by maintaining positive leadership, and ruling out any medical contributions to aggression (such as the irritation of an unidentified chronic ear, tooth, or other infection). At the very least the DVM could have asked the client during the exam visit, "Any concerns about Buddy's behavior?" and then referred the case to a qualified animal behavior consultant.

 Meet Rolan Tripp, DVM

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