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Aggression inside and out (Proceedings)

May 01, 2011

Aggression

1. The act of initiating hostilities or invasion.
2. The practice or habit of launching attacks.
3. Hostile or destructive behavior or actions
4. The practice or habit of using teeth and claws to damage and/or terrify veterinary personnel.

When I started to write this handout, I decided to prioritize the topic in the context of veterinary care and pet ownership. Here's what I came up with.

1. Claws can be nasty, teeth can be deadly
2. Cats can be nasty, dogs can be lethal.

Using this logic, we will place the greatest importance on dog bites, followed by cat bites and scratches.

The five types of aggression:

It is very trendy in modern behavior and training circles to define many different types of aggression. The idea is to classify aggression into sub-types to give you insight about their nature and cure. Some of the sub-groups are: dominance aggression, territorial aggression, food aggression, redirected (sometimes called misdirected) aggression, fear aggression, possessive aggression, predatory aggression and pain aggression. In the majority of cases, detailed classification of aggression is something you do after the fact to aid in treatment. In the world of veterinary care I think there are only five major types. These are rarely listed in dog training and behavior circles, but I think you will recognize them.

1. That hurts, I am going to bite you, now. This is the easiest form of aggression to anticipate. You know which procedures cause pain and discomfort. If you can anticipate when the painful part starts, you can make your grip a little firmer, just before the dog goes ballistic.
2. That hurt the last time I was here, I am going to bite you before you can do it again. If the dog has prior experience he may decide to initiate a bite well in advance of any actual handling. This process may start when the dog comes into the reception room. By the time the dog is in the exam room, it may be ready to bite anyone who tries to touch or handle it.
3. Someone else hurt me once, so I will bite you, now. This is a pretty self explanatory category. Vets wear white coats, techs wear scrubs. If a kennel worker is wearing scrubs and the dog thinks scrubs mean "vet tech" the dog may bite the wrong person – and any other combination of this concept. Sometimes kennel workers set the stage for a reverse association. Be aware that your appearance can trigger a bite, even if you have never had bad relations with a particular animal.
4. I generally bite people, I don't need a reason. Some animals have such a long and broad history of violence that they may bite at any given moment – even after typical provocation has failed to trigger a bite. This type of dog may allow you to remove stitches, palpate a sore belly or get a fecal sample – and bite you on the way out of the exam room.
5. I'm a Chow Chow (Or fill in the blank with any breed you don't trust) A veterinary neurologist friend of mine once corrected me for saying I was working with a vicious Lhasa. "Why bother saying vicious? It's a Lhasa." Every breed of dog has a published breed profile that claims "friendly with kids, good with old people, loyal, devoted, sweet, wonderful, special, easy to train." Don't believe it. Some breeds should be considered dangerous until proven otherwise. You can usually prove they are safe after the owner picks up the ashes, post cremation. I won't bother to list the generally aggressive breeds – you know which ones they are.