Diagnosis canine aggression—why dogs bite the hand that feeds them (Proceedings)


Diagnosis canine aggression—why dogs bite the hand that feeds them (Proceedings)

Nov 01, 2010

For many years, we taught clients who live with dogs who bite that the problem is likely 'dominance' – the dog is possessing over space, food or other resources to establish a hierarchical position. While some aggressive reactions may be due to the dog's perceived need to guard a resource, there is no evidence that interactions with humans aim at establishing rank. Recent studies show that groups of domestic dogs fail to develop the kids of hierarchical systems we may see in wolves with both, other dogs and humans.

Careful analyses of human-dog dyads or family systems that include dogs show that aggressive incidents are more commonly caused by miscommunication or anthropomorphic views. Despite a common notion that dogs try to dominate their human companion, we see that bites are typically motivated by the dog's fear. The cause of fear is typically multi factorial, including issues related to individual temperament, a qualitative or quantitative lack of primary socialization, the situation, and the dog's past learning.

The risk of a bite is the highest in families with children and the retention of a dog who is adopted into a family is the lowest in cases in which families also include young children. Young children who are bitten by a dog experience bites from their own dog, a friend's pet or another familiar animal. They are likely to suffer facial injuries, bites in the area of the neck or hands. Older children and adults are most commonly bitten on their hand or legs. A review of cases presented for aggression in my referral practice setting showed that most dogs who bit a young child in the family was acquired before the child was born. The dog typically had no or minimal primary socialization to children of the victim's age group and the bite occurred although the child and dog were under the care giver's direct supervision.

Based on the dog bite statistics and clinical data from specialty and general practice, we will discuss guidelines for dog bite prevention and information that you and your staff should share with each family visiting your clinic.

On the basis of case examples, we will review the most common causes of bites to adults and children who live with dogs. Focus of our discussion is the diagnostic assessment of the case and risk evaluation, as they present the basis for treatment protocols that can be customized in a clinical setting, taking into consideration the framework and environment of general practice.