It can be a young puppy on his or her first trip to the vet lashing out as they are lifted onto the table; the family pet that has decided that the living room carpet is his toilet; the retriever that has grown up with a gaggle of kids and suddenly snaps at a neighbourhood child; even the elderly spaniel that has always tolerated everyone but is suddenly grumpy when awakened. These situations are not uncommon to many dog owners, but their impact on the families they affect can be devastating.
Dog people see their dogs as companions, confidantes and friends. When shown a different side, they feel betrayed and that can undermine the once-perfect relationship. But, while the behaviour seems to arrive out of the blue, that is rarely how it happens. Some of the problems might be avoidable if you have taught your dog the rules and boundaries. It is not only what your dog does, it’s what you do as a reaction to his or her actions.
Every so often, our dogs show a side of themselves that can either be taken into account or ignored. For instance, a few years ago, a vet acquaintance called a friend to tell them that their dogs had bitten her family member on the cheek. The bite had come out of the blue. She had seen her dog stiffen when children were around, but had thought nothing of it. The dog had growled, and they had the children stroke him anyway so the dog would get used to them. Though the dog continued to look uncomfortable around children, they thought they knew their dog, that although he was uncomfortable he would never bite anyone.
Nothing happens until it happens. Some problems surface years into living with your dog. My dogs were playing with a sheepdog one day at our local park. A young beagle arrived and seemed to be playing nicely. Suddenly the beagle started to chase the sheepdog in a different manner. He began to nip at the heels of his playmate, and she clearly didn’t like it. The beagle’s owner called him over, but was ignored. The sheepdog was called by their owner and as she started on her way, the beagle chased her down and bit hard enough to break the skin on her leg. Poor dog!
Past behaviour will predict future behaviour unless it is dealt with. If you see that your dog is acting in a way you don’t like, seek out some help and address the issue immediately. By letting his dog continue to play with the others in the park in the following weeks, the beagle has a higher chance of repeating the outburst. In fact, if left unattended, this dog will continue to practise his bad behaviour.
If you feel your dog’s behaviour is out of the blue, think again. The housetrained dog that starts urinating in the house needs attending to. First, seek out the advice of your vet – perhaps your dog has a bladder infection. If all is clean, it’s time for you to do some supervising to get your dog back on track.
Dogs that start growling or showing signs of aggression should also be checked by the vet for any underlying pain, especially if they are approaching their senior years. Unexpected behaviour could be a sign of aging or illnesses. If your dog is still showing signs of aggression look into obedience classes to help your dog learn the do’s and don’ts of their behaviour. Whatever the underlying cause for the aggression, care must be taken to protect both the victim pet and the perpetrator from engaging in dangerous behaviour.