Dogs have long held the title, “Man’s Best Friend,” yet they are considered to be potentially one of the most dangerous animals in the world. How did they get such a prestigious title if they have such propensity to cause damage?
The reason for this in the case of most dogs is that they have the ability to cause harm, but not the desire. They do want to please their owners and are usually happiest when we are happy. But they have the physical make-up to be able to create a lot of damage when they are threatened or provoked. In dogs, everything from their sharp canines, strong bite force, and lithe muscles (for bigger dogs that are in shape) is perfectly designed to help them survive in the wild, although they have been domesticated for thousands of years.
Luckily for humans, dogs tend to be on our side most of the time. But there are some situations in which these normally affable, lovable animals will display vicious behaviour and aggression.
Here are the top 5 factors that will cause a dog to demonstrate violent actions and possibly cause injuries to those around them.
5 Reasons a Dog May Become Violent
When most people think of an aggressive or violent dog, they think of one that will bite or attack anyone nearby without the slightest bit of provocation. However, this is not always the case. Aggression can manifest itself in a lot of subtle cues that you might miss if you are not paying close attention or you don’t spend a lot of time around dogs.
Sometimes this warning of potential behaviour can show up visibly. When you see a dog with its fur raised on the back of its neck or spine, or a tail and ears perked up along with a still body, you should tread carefully. Other times, it shows up as a low growl or bared teeth.
No matter how the behaviour is demonstrated, there is a reason for the warning and you need to determine what it is so that you can remove the threat. And if that perceived threat is you, you should leave carefully and quickly.
These triggers can come from multiple sources and every dog reacts differently to their perceived threats. However, these 5 factors are commonly seen as reasons that cause a dog to react violently:
- Possession aggression – Also called food aggression or resource guarding, this happens when a dog is strongly attached to an object or their food. Maybe it’s a toy or a bone, or even just their food bowl, but whatever it is, no one had better approach them while they have it in their possession. This also occurs when some dogs are territorial and a stranger (to them) comes into their area. Just these simple acts of a perceived threat are enough to throw many dogs into violent behaviour.
- Fear aggression – Fight or flight is an intrinsic part of every animal’s brain. It’s a survival instinct that has evolved over thousands of years to keep each species alive, and it manifests in some canines as fear aggression. Just like with humans, fear can motivate a dog to flee or it can motivate them to fight. When this happens with a dog that is already potentially aggressive, the violent behaviour ensues. Often, this type of aggression is based off a deep-seated trauma in the dog’s past and the animal may show no warning signs if that trigger is hit.
- Social aggression – You have probably heard people with more than one pet talking about the one that “rules the house.” That’s because, similar to people, some animals are naturally more dominant than others. These dominants feel the need to put others in their place if they think they have stepped out of line. Usually, it’s a simple bark or growl, but sometimes the dog will display aggression. If the dominant dog feels threatened by a person, they may lash out violently, too.
- Leash aggression – This type of behaviour occurs in many dogs, whether they are normally passive or more active. Leash aggression usually happens because the dog feels threatened or frustrated by the restrained movements and inability to protect themselves from danger. It most often manifests towards other dogs but can show up as violence against people.
- Pain aggression – Dogs can demonstrate many behaviours that humans do, and pain-induced aggression is another one. If a dog is in pain, even if you don’t realize there is something wrong, they may act out by growling or nipping at those around them as a defence mechanism. If there is an actual injury, dogs may even bite those they normally would protect, like their owners, so they will not hesitate to bite those they don’t know if they feel threatened.
While other factors can definitely impact the aggression level of a dog, these are the main ones that do so.
Are Certain Breeds Predisposed to Aggression?
Social media feeds are full of people warning others about certain breeds of dogs and horror stories about little children or adults injured because of these wildly aggressive dogs. The rumour is that people raise certain breeds of dogs to be vicious and you should just stay away from any dog of these particular breeds.
The truth is a little vaguer than that. Yes, pit bulls, Dobermans, and other dogs can be aggressive – but so can an animal that feels threatened. However, it’s not necessarily a matter of a breed being predisposed to aggression when it comes to the legalities.
Insurance companies understand that any dog can be dangerous and, even though scientists and veterinarians have proven that the idea of breeds of dogs being naturally aggressive is a myth, many of these insurances consider certain dogs to be of greater risk than others.
Because of this risk, if you own a dog on its “uninsurable risk” list, you may be denied insurance coverage by many companies. This is because dog bites were responsible for almost $500 million of liability claims in 2013 and the potential for even more claims are out there.
Insurance companies need to negate their risk as much as possible, so they have created a list of dog breeds that they consider possibly more aggressive than others based on data compiled by their claims. Each insurance company has their own list, but there are some that are consistently on most of them.
While these lists do consist of some of the generalized breeds, like Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers, it also has other dogs that are often considered to be great family dogs, such as German Shepards and Great Danes.
So whether you are Team Violent Breeds or Team All Dogs are the Same, or somewhere in between, when it comes to the legalities you may not have a say in the matter.
Certain states have completely restricted dog-breed profiling in this way, and other states are in the process of trying to keep insurance companies from denying insurance to a household just because of their dog’s breed.
But many insurance companies are currently using the list actively and if you were bitten by a dog that was blacklisted from their approved list, they may be able to get out of paying your claims. When it comes to dealing with a dog bite, your best bet is to find a knowledgeable attorney to help you.
Preventing Aggressive Behavior in Dogs
If you are concerned about the possibility of being sued for your own dog’s aggressive behaviour at some point, you should learn everything you can about what causes it. Since there are so many factors that can contribute to a dog’s aggression, it’s impossible to know how to prevent it completely.
However, if you notice certain triggers that cause your dog to react as though it feels threatened, you can work on those behaviours. It may take a lot of time and patience, but preventing violent behaviour in dogs is important for them and for you.
The sooner you start training your dog in social behaviour, leash behaviour, and other forms of preventative action, the easier it is to solve a problem before it happens.
When You are on the Receiving End of a Dog Bite, Get Help
Because of the uncertainties in dog bite laws, the difficulty dealing with insurance companies, and the sensitivity involved when you are accusing a person’s family dog of violent behaviour, dog bite claims can become complicated and emotional.
Your best course of action is to seek medical assistance and then when you are able to, call an attorney to help you through the paperwork and legalities involved.
Like in any personal injury claim, there are deadlines involved in how long you can wait to file certain paperwork and statute of limitations that must be met depending on the state the injury happened in, so the sooner you contact an attorney after you were bitten, the easier it will be to investigate and proceed with your case.