About Me

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Mumbai, India
I'm a landrace dog fancier, birder and amateur arachnologist. Founder of the INDog Project (www.indog.co.in) and the INDog Club. Before that, worked with urban free-ranging dogs of Mumbai from 1993-2007. Also a wildlife conservationist working in the tiger reserves of central India with Satpuda Foundation.

This blog is for aboriginal breed enthusiasts. It is part of the INDog Project www.indog.co.in. Only INDogs (Indian Pariah) and INDog-mix mongrels are featured here. The two are NOT the same, do please read the text on the right to understand the difference. Our aim: to create awareness about the primitive natural breed called the Indian Pariah Dog/INDog. I sometimes feature other landrace breeds too.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Understanding dog aggression

Following up on the post about the bulldog's attack on Leela, here are links to some articles on canine aggression (against humans and dogs). I must thank Yvonne de Kock for doing all the homework for this and sending me the links. Some of them provide really valuable insights into common dog behaviour and actions, the sort of things we take for granted.

My insight, for what it's worth, is that it may be a mistake to attribute aggression only to specific breeds. Genetics is of course of the utmost importance, and some breeds are definitely more predisposed to attack and bite, but there are individual dogs of these breeds who are docile and friendly, just as there are aggressive individuals belonging to "friendly" breeds. This seems to show that the owner's attitude and handling of the dog are equally important.

I suspect the large aggressive breeds are usually selected by people who want to project a macho image. I mean, how often do you find a sweet gentle old lady picking a pitbull? Or a 'might is right' muscleman choosing a chihuahua? Stereotypes do operate in dog selection to a large extent. The macho type of owner then worsens his dog's temperament by encouraging the belligerent traits it has inherited. One often hears male owners bragging about how powerful their dogs are, what great guard dogs, how savage towards other dogs or intruders, what terrifying injuries the dog would inflict if not restrained by the owner, and so on. It's almost as if they are living out some "power" fantasy through their dogs...just as some owners seem to live out fantasies of high status and nobility through their pedigreed pets...

Now that I've probably offended a sizable chunk of the dog-owning public, let's get back to dogs. It is clear that "upbringing" has a
lot to do with how a dog behaves, and wrong handling by the owner could probably make a monster out of just about any dog. In all this talk about recognized breeds, I am not excluding INDogs/Pariahs. Thanks to survival pressures, pushy aggressive individuals are as common among INDogs as in any other type of dog. In fact there is the added danger of this temperament being unwittingly encouraged by indulgent and compassionate owners who feel the dog should be allowed to do anything it wants after the hardships it has survived on the street. A common mistake is allowing a dominant male dog to sit on the bed.

I could go on and on...but I'm no expert. If you think your dog is growing aggressive, please please don't delude yourself that it is nothing to worry about. Get professional help without delay.

The articles:
A behavioural view on dog aggression - Barbara Nibling
Aggression - The Humane Society of the United States
Dominance aggression in dogs - Karen L. Overall
Social aggression to unfamiliar dogs
Dog owner's guide - Canine aggression

If you'd like to recommend any other useful sites, do send me the links.


Ark Lady said...

Socialization is an important piece. In the USA severe dog aggression cases also sometimes benefit from psychopharmacology under the direction of a savvy vet AND animal behaviorist.

My colleague Dr. Lachman specialized in severe aggression cases. His site is http://www.familyanimal.com

Also, please visit my site http://www.arkanimals.com where I talk about both domestic and wild animal behavior and training--and other related topics.

doggylove said...

Hi! thanks rajashree for discussing this imp issue, as many dog owners are unaware of their dog's temperament or are not able to pick up signals the dog sends now and then.
their are 2 dogs in my locality, one rocky(lab and doberman mix) and another pom, they both hate tommy , their hatred is so intense that they even have tried to attack myself and my sister(we were walking down the rd, without tommy), on diff occassions, just because we smell of their opponenet.i had discussed this with Shirin, she said its out of fear(they find tommy alpha male, but dont want to accept it),and hence show aggression.
one thing abt chinky, after staying with us for coule of months, she has felt the security, also built up trust in me, her attitude has grossly changed.also tommy, doesnt budge, to jump on bed, even if she is already sitting,both sides its acceptance! i feel.
'patience' of owner plays a major role in slowly moulding the dogs behaviour.

Rajashree Khalap said...

You are absolutely right Manik, the patience and also the personality of the owner reflects in the dog's behaviour. ALL pet dogs look forward to their outings and it's really shameful that one lot of dogs can't enjoy what should be the best part of their day, because another lot are waiting to attack them. I find the irresponsible inconsiderate kind of dog owner extremely irritating, and what's worst is that their own pets usually have to pay the price for human stupidity - aggressive dogs are often abandoned here, while in the US, UK and other countries they are often euthanized. Owners like this also create a bad image for dogs in general, and we really don't need that in a city like Mumbai where so many people are scared of dogs anyway. Substandard owners are among the worst threats to the canine race, if you ask me.

Alex Jacob said...

What did u mean when u said letting a dominant male dog sitting on the bed?

Rajashree Khalap said...

Dogs are believed to be highly conscious of status, always trying to raise their status in the household vis a vis other dogs and sometimes even their owners. I don't know all the arguments for or against this theory, but I believe there's a lot of truth in it. One often hears of male dogs in particular, who are allowed to sit in the owner's places (bed, sofas), later challenging the owner in some way: disobedience or even snapping if the owner tries to make the dog obey a command. Such dogs shouldn't be encouraged to sit in people's laps either.

It's interesting to see my Kimaya's power games with the much older Lalee. Kimaya lives in our Nagaon house, which we visit frequently. Lalee is the "queen dog" in our Mumbai house and she used to be in Nagaon too. She used to be the "bed dog" while the others slept on the floor. But Kimaya has recently been trying to replace her as the "bed dog" in Nagaon. She's the boss there after all, and Lalee is a visitor. I intervened here and didn't allow Kimaya on the bed. Currently both Lalee and she sleep on the floor, sometimes on each other's mattresses. There was no fighting, in fact Lalee often pins her down and puts her in her place if she gets too boisterous.
But somehow Lalee has just stopped getting on the bed any more in that house!

Alex Jacob said...

ok, that is so scary. i let pink on the bed all the time... :[

infact she sleeps right next to me, cos the floor gets too cold at night... ok, i have to get her of the bed...

thanks for the info

Rajashree Khalap said...

No no don't worry :-) Please don't put Pink on the floor.
I've personally seen this problem only in males so far, and not all of them, only the dominant ones. Lalee has been sleeping on the bed for years now :-) Girls seem less likely to try and boss the owner around. If Pink does try to challenge you in some way you should immediately put her in her place (Saying "NO!" in a deeper tone of voice usually works).

When you have a multi-dog household like mine, the dogs all sort out their hierarchy on their own. Sometimes several of them share the bed with the owner with no problems.

Alex Jacob said...

How do we know if the dog is challenging? or if it is just plain irritation?

Rajashree Khalap said...

If she's irritated when you give a simple and reasonable command, and snarls or growls, that's unacceptable. But you have to use your common sense. If she's ill or in pain for instance, growling would be understandable.


Are you SERIOUS ???

First of All,for REALITY Fact: I have owned and nurtured and basic trained around 27 dogs in the last 2 years in my Colony.

-That was to let you know I am not biased towards breed or street dogs.

Let's Come to the point. I am the owner of a female pitbull,around 1yr. 3 months old.

Regarding the statement.."I suspect the large aggressive breeds...." + "..gentle old lady picking a pitbull? "
----I am taking a Strong offence. 1)Pitbulls are MEDIUM breeds.
2)Pitbulls are NOT AGGRESSIVE by nature.
The very fact,Corroborate with top dog experts if you want to, that they cant be trained to be guard dogs because they are way too FRIENDLY towards strangers even.

STOP STEREOTYPING . I have respect for you as a dog activist but at the same time ,lets not get into the STUPID american MEDIA bandwagon of bashing pitbulls ,left & right.

Rajashree Khalap said...

Hey Saptadeep. Read the post and the rest of the blog carefully and explain your views without heat. I am not a 'dog activist' and I've clearly said I'm not an expert on dog behaviour. Most of the post is about the importance of 'upbringing' over inherited traits if any. And it's not about stereotyping dogs but owners. Sorry to offend again, but I do see many dog owners, if not all, pick certain breeds to project an image of themselves. I'm sticking to that view. It's based on my observation not on the American media. There is a reason why so many Bully Kutta owners call their dogs 'the beast' on FB groups, for instance. It says something about the owners and yes it does reinforce a stereotype. That doesn't mean there are no educated knowledgeable owners but they are an exception in this country if not the US. You are right about Pitbulls being medium, sweet etc, and I should have said 'larger aggressive-looking' rather than large aggressive. But their appearance is more intimidating than the common breeds here, and whether you like it or not that's the reason a certain segment of people like them. INDogs suffer from stereotyping too as you are no doubt aware. Anyway, thanks for your comment.