Category Archives: AniEd

Dying of Fright

Halloween is almost upon us, and with that, the accompanying terror experienced by so many dogs.

Because so many pet owners report that their dogs show fear to fireworks (and other sounds like thunder), it’s become somewhat normalised. That reduces proactivity , meaning that so many pets, and their people, suffer through fireworks season.

Fear is a significant stressor that affects dogs’ welfare, and may even cause the development of anxiety and phobic type responses having long lasting effects.
Where anxiety and phobia develops, the dog is exposed to intense, chronic stress which is damaging, physically and emotionally.

Although helping dogs who show fearful responses to sounds, whose fear generalises, who develop anxiety, and/or who develop phobic responses, is by no means easy or straight forward, we have lots of tools that we can put in place to increase their comfort and improve their welfare.

It’s too close to Halloween, and even New Year’s Eve now, for us to help your dog learn a more relaxed response to fireworks and other loud noises, but there are lots of effective strategies that we can put in place to help them, reduce their distress, and avoid this escalating further.
(That’s why we are not discussing counterconditioning and the use of sounds CDs etc.)

How does a fearful dog respond?

Dogs experiencing distress may show responses such as:

  • alerting to the sound, especially where the dog remains alert and on edge, even when it’s quiet
  • barking at the sound
  • wide eyes, panting, trembling, pacing
  • sitting close to you, attempting to snuggle in to you
  • looking to hide, or move away from the action in the house
  • checking doors, windows, boundaries
  • lying or sitting very still and quiet

Just as we are concerned for a dog who is showing less activity than normal, due to their normal responding being suppressed by fear, stress can also cause increases in activity.

This is often in the form of displacement behaviour including play and play related behaviour that’s often quite intense, so you might see play bows, bouncing and jumping. We might also see greeting behaviour, jumping up, humping, mouthing, overly affectionate behaviour and persistently seeking attention and interaction.

Which dogs are likely to be affected?

It’s pretty normal for a dog to be aware and possibly frightened of loud, booming noises and light flashes, just as a person may be. But, where this normal response is seen, the dog will recover immediately and be capable of going about their usual activities.

  • Some types of dogs are most associated with developing noise sensitivities, so there may be some heritable component.
    Many types of dogs were developed to be extra sensitive to their environment, and to be proactive if even the slightest threat is detected. We may have been selecting for the underlying components associated with various types of reactive behaviour when breeding dogs for particular functions.
  • Adolescent dogs go through fear periods during which they are more sensitive to scary situations and more likely to form long standing fear responses to these scary situations.
  • New dogs who might not be fully settled in their new home, so everything might be a bit overwhelming.
  • Sound sensitivity and separation related behaviour may be linked, so dogs who demonstrate behaviour associated with distress at separation may be more likely to show sound sensitivity. (Sherman & Mills, 2008)
  • Dogs who show fearful responses to other sounds such as the smoke alarm (particularly the beeping when the batteries are going), thunder and storm sounds, booming or low frequency sounds, household and machinery sounds such as blenders, lawn mowers etc.
  • Which paw your dog prefers may even be related to the development of sound sensitivities! (Branson & Rogers, 2006)

Trigger stacking is also worth noting here. A dog, who has been exposed to one loud noise in isolation, may have time to recover from it, but fireworks are generally repetitive and unpredictable.
The dog will not have had time to recover from one, before another goes off.
Because they are unpredictable, the dog can’t prepare himself so may be on edge in anticipation.

What can we do?

It’s not hopeless. Don’t just watch your pet suffer through Fright Night – we have some time to get planning and prepared so that you and your dog are more comfortable.

Planning

We know this is going to happen, indeed, in lots of areas it’s already happening. Let’s get a plan in place to reduce canine stress surrounding Halloween activities.

  • make sure your dog has a tag on his collar, and that his microchip details are up to date
  • stock up on HIGH value food rewards that your dog LOVES like hotdog, chicken, cheese, pate, peanut butter, roast beef, liver or whatever really gets your dog going
  • stock up on some of your dog’s favourite toys that he loves like squeakies, tugs and toys for dissection
  • check out our YouTube channel for tons and tons of ideas for puzzles to keep your dog’s brain busy and distracted.
  • start to plan toilet breaks – how often does your dog need to go outside? what time will it be dark? is there a quieter area that you can bring them to?
  • plan how you will exercise your dog at home or in quiet areas so that they are a little more settled
  • where will you and your dog be set-up on the night? This might require a bit of planning, especially if you have family or party plans.
    Set up in a room that is well insulated from sound (surrounded by other rooms, for example) and has at least one door between the dog and the entrance/exit to the house.
  • exercise your dog on lead at and around Halloween
  • Your dog will very likely be comforted by your presence so being with him or her is important.
  • Start to play the TV or music louder than usual now so that you can use it to drown out sound on the night, and your dog has some time to get used to it.

Set-up a safe bunker for your dog now! If you only use it when he’s likely to be scared, he will associate this change with feeling frightened. 

  • Make a comfortable, cosy refuge by laying some blankets over a bed, chair, table that your dog can go under, or a crate.
    There may already be a spot that your dog likes to take cover in – use that, if it’s safe!
  • Set up a bunker in places your dog chooses to hide, if safe
  • have your dog’s bed in there and his favourite toys there

Start to feed your dog a yummy stuffed Kong in their bunker every day in the run up to Halloween so that you are establishing this as a nice place for them to go.

Needless to say, it is not recommended that you bring your dog to bonfire or fireworks events, or to costume parties or trick-or-treating, or even greeting trick-or-treaters at the door. 

Most dogs are not comfortable wearing costumes, even though it can be super cute!

Preparation & Safety

Halloween isn’t just spooky for us!

Children and people in costumes, funny decorations, candles and reduced light, lots of forbidden and even dangerous food, excitement and doorbell activity will cause any dog to become stressed out – throw in fireworks on top of that…

If a dog is stressed out, his normal ability to cope with stress is reduced, so even though he may tolerate excitement and activity at other times, Halloween might be too much.

Special consideration needs to be given to child-dog safety at this time of year:

Other safety concerns include:

  • dangerous and inappropriate foods
  • routines out of whack so it can be difficult to keep track of everyone
  • candles
  • decorations
  • door opening and closing
  • children in costume, excited and possibly worrying to the dog

Halloween is a bit of a minefield when it comes to dog care!

The Set-Up

Fearful and spooked dogs can panic and attempt to flee, even injuring themselves in the process.

  • make sure your dog wears a collar with ID, and is chipped (make sure the chip is registered and the details are up to date)
  • check fencing, gates, boundaries etc. and it’s best to exercise and toilet your dog on lead, even in your own garden. A panicked or spooked dog will go through an “invisible” fence, over or through a boundary that they normally wouldn’t.
  • keep your dog on lead when walking, just in case he is spooked while out and about
  • have at least one closed door between your dog and the front or back doors
  • spend time with your dog in a quieter area of the house; it’s better to have children and other pets spend time elsewhere especially if they are active or noisy
  • close the windows and curtains in the house
  • play music or the TV louder to drown out some external sound.
    You can run the washing machine or dryer, or use a white noise machine or app.
  • while inside and supervised with you, have your dog drag his lead so that he can be easily restrained if needed

Your behaviour

You may act as a safe base for your dog, whom he uses as a reference point. This means that your presence and your behaviour may help your dog cope with distress.

  • be calm
  • don’t scold your dog – this will make fear worse
  • talk to your dog, use a jolly voice
  • sing happy songs or listen to upbeat music – this will help you and your dog be calmer!
  • stay close to your dog – try not to come in and out too much
  • listen to your dog: if they seek contact, pet them; if they just want to stay close to you, be there; if they want to hide, let them and make sure they have a safe space
  • YOU WILL NOT MAKE YOUR DOG’S FEAR WORSE BY COMFORTING THEM! 
  • it may be better that an adult is responsible for the dog, rather than children, for safety

Massage and touch may help your dog, and it can be relaxing for you too. But, remember, listen to your dog and it’s best to do this between booms and bangs, rather than when he’s stressed. We have more on this here.

Keep ’em busy

With all this planning and preparation in place, you will be doing an excellent job of managing your dog’s response to scary sounds.

If we can successfully reduce the impact of the noise, we might be able to further take the edge off, by providing your dog with lots of distraction, to keep their minds busy.

  • if they can eat, practice fun training exercises using high value rewards
  • if your dog can play, play fun and active fetch, sniffing and tug games
  • have lots of Kongs and food dispensing toys ready with the yummiest stuff – encourage lots of chewing and lapping behaviour, which can be calming

Start practicing now! Introduce sniffing and chewing activities now, at times when it’s quiet and your dog is calm. Establish these activities as safety signals.

Intersperse fun and active games, with a calming break for some chewing, and then bring the energy up again by engaging them in a game again.
Using noisy toys like squeakies might also help to drown out fireworks nose too.

Calmatives

Calmatives are generally over the counter remedies, that may or may not have a beneficial effect. I have some concerns about recommending these.

The first concern being that reliable evidence for their efficacy is lacking, and reported or anecdotal effects may be due to placebo and bias effects.

Because there is heightened awareness among professionals and pet owners, lots of these products have flooded the market, and made very attractive to concerned dog lovers.
Using these products may cause a person to believe that they are doing all that’s required, and possibly believing that their pet is benefiting, when that might not be the case.

Such products that might be helpful, in combination with other measures include:

There are countless others, for which I have not seen effective and beneficial results, despite seeing their use with a range of dogs.

If you are going to implement any of these, start using them now. Don’t wait until the fireworks have started or your dog’s fear has intensified; otherwise they become predictors of distress.

Medication

This should not be considered a last resort, or something that must be resorted to.

Sound sensitivities cause dogs real distress and suffering, and impacts their welfare. If fireworks caused physical pain, I’m sure people and professionals would not hesitate to medicate, treat for pain and inflammation, ensure the dog’s comfort.
Sound sensitivities cause serious emotional and behavioural damage, which has a neurological basis. We can treat the brain, and help the dog.

First port of call: talk to your vet.
Share this article from Dr Overall on drug therapy for sound sensitivities.

Be clear about your dog’s behaviour:

  • What sounds cause the fearful response? Where is your dog when this happens?
  • What does your dog do? How does your dog respond?
  • How long does it take for your dog to recover, and go back to normal?

Further treatment may be indicated in different situations:

  1. a dog who alerts and barks at fireworks, and maybe shows some of those displacement behaviours (increases in activity etc.) is probably going to be OK by implementing the measures described here
  2. a dog who hides, and startles but can still interact, play and eat is also likely to be OK just by implementing the advice in this blog
  3. a dog who pants, paces, trembles, especially if they take a while to recover from this distress is likely to need more support
  4. a dog who panics and looks to escape is likely to need more support
  5. a dog who has a disproportionately strong response to sounds is going to need more support, especially where this response has generalised to other sounds
  6. a dog who is on edge, even at quiet times, and startles and shows distress to a growing array of sounds will need more support

Dog 3. and even dog 2. (and 1.) may benefit from a situational medication like Sileo, which is a relatively newer medication developed for dogs with sound sensitivities. It offers lots of benefits in that it can be administered at home, even once the dog is experiencing distress.
Sileo helps to reduce anxiety and distress, without sedation.

Dogs 3. – 6. may benefit from an anxiolytic medication such as Benzodiazepines, which help to reduce anxiety and panic, but may also be sedative.
These may include alprazolam and diazapam. The former is likely a better option, as it is less sedative. These can be given as situational medications so are ideal for Halloween night when there  are likely to be fireworks consistently sounding.

Dogs 4.-6. may benefit from maintenance medication too, so as to help reduce anxiety in their day to day lives, and help limit the generalisation of their sound sensitivities, for example, clomipramine, fluoxetine.
These anxiolytic medications will provide background relief, and then situational medication can be given when we expect the extra distress of fireworks. (We don’t have sufficient time to start this medical program at this stage, as it’s likely to take a couple of months.)

Please discuss this with your vet. This is only general advice based on medication protocols often applied to dogs with sound sensitivities. Medications don’t work the same for every dog, so your vet will know the best approach and support for you and your pet as you try to find the best protocol to help.

Some anxiolytic medications can cause paradoxical effects so talk to your vet today. This will give you some time to try the medication out, before you really need it, so that you can evaluate your pet’s response.

A note about ACP

ACP or Ace or Acepromazine is still commonly prescribed for sound sensitivities. This is not an appropriate medication for use for dogs with sound sensitivities.

This pre-med doesn’t have anxiolytic effects, but rather sedative effects. Indeed, it may even heighten the dog’s sensitivity to sound…so not a good choice at all.

Dr Karen Overall, again, discusses its use in this clip.

This fireworks season, get planning and preparing now because our dogs don’t have to suffer just because that’s the way it’s always been. Get proactive and start today!

Of course, please get in touch should you need any further advice.

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Dog (Un)Friendly

My dog comes everywhere with me, pretty much. When I got him, that was the deal. I am lucky – my dog gets to come to work with me everyday, and for the most part, I am going to doggie places, in and out of my job. If I wasn’t this lucky, I might not have a dog.

With this on the cards, I do lots of work to prepare my dog for inclusion in these worlds. He can settle on cue, he can be with people and work with them, but also be confined from the action and be comfortable with that. He doesn’t care about other dogs, or getting to interact with them. He travels and waits quietly in the car, in a crate, in an office or conference room. He needs to be quiet and amuse himself, and also be ready to work and demo when called upon. That’s a tough job!

It is becoming trendier and trendier to include dogs in lots of human-environments, with restaurants and cafes, dog social events, expos and doggie-days, even outdoor movie events to which you bring your dog, encouraging pet owners to participate in these traditionally human activities, with their pets.

I can see why this appeals to pet owners. We love our pets, and want to spend time with them. As society, in general, becomes less tolerant of dogs and dog owners, we want to show ’em that our dogs are special, and loved family members.
I want this for pets and their people too.

But, are we stopping long enough to ask, what our dogs might want?

Dogs are living a life that is less and less like the life dogs would choose. They are living more and more like humans; that’s a pretty boring life for a dog.
We’ve just been talking about how it’s becoming harder and harder to provide for our dogs’ behavioural needs lately – In my day…

The expectations we have for dogs are becoming harder and harder for dogs to live up to; this continues to be fueled by our social media, Disney informed impression of dogs and dog behaviour.

Not only that, but we presume that our dogs are enjoying something, when actually their signaling and behaviour might be telling a very different story.

Now, THAT is truly a tough job for dogs.

Of course there are dogs who do well at such events, but we can’t expect all pets to enjoy or even tolerate such interactions and activities. And certainly not without preparation.

Just because something is enjoyable to the two-legged species, doesn’t mean the same for the four-leggers:

  • lots of people and other dogs in, usually, smaller and/or confined spaces with lots of activity, comings and goings, activity and noise can cause dogs to experience a higher level of arousal.
    Arousal refers to the levels of stress experienced by the dog, and their behavioural coping strategies.
    Being confined on lead and/or in smaller spaces, with little opportunity to escape social pressure is likely to cause increases in arousal, leading to decreased ability to inhibit behavioural responses.
    Dogs don’t enjoy this, it can be detrimental to their health, and even stressful for their humans too – this might even present safety concerns.
  • sitting around or hanging around may be frustrating and boring for dogs – this is different to them hanging around or snuggling up next to you at home
  • lots of strange dogs, often on lead or in confined spaces, together, is not usually a good social outlet, and may facilitate inappropriate social interaction – this is NOT how “socialisation” works, or what it is
  • because we want our dogs to love this, and presume that they are enjoying themselves, they might experience inappropriate social pressure – lots of encouraging and luring, using leads or body pressure to restrain them, being unable to escape or move away from well-meaning people and dogs, hugging and confinement can make for pretty uncomfortable dogs
  • lots of food and other resources, with other dogs and people near by, can cause dogs to become more aroused, frustrated and concerned
  • children, and even well-meaning adults, might find this exciting too, causing them to act in ways that can worry dogs
  • normal dog behaviour, the stuff that dogs really enjoy, is generally in conflict with what is acceptable in human society

Dogs granted legal access to different human-centric environments in service and assistance dog capacities are very carefully selected and then go through years of training to be able to maintain their comfort and behaviour in public.

We can teach many pet dogs how to cope well with such environments, and that can be an excellent way of spending time with your dog. But, the skills required are not basic and will require time and effort.

At the same time, there are some dogs who just won’t enjoy such environments and activities, and that’s ok too.

There are lots of ways to spend time with our beloved dogs. The more we bring them into the human world, the more preparation they will need. That’s our job.

At the same time, however, we must provide for their behavioural needs by providing them with appropriate outlets for DOG behaviour.

There needs to be give and take here, and we are the primates with the big brains , so it’s up to us to choose appropriate dogs, prepare them and support them, if we wish to immerse them more and more in the human world.

 

In my day…

We all long for our hazy days of youth, when we can look back, through rose-tinted spectacles, at the dogs we spent our days with.

Our expectations of modern day dogs are probably, in part, derived from our skewed memories of childhood encounters with dogs.

Did our parents need to worry about Kong toys? Did our childhood dogs attend training classes and undergo elaborate socialisation programs?

They probably didn’t, or at least we as owners didn’t implement this stuff, nor was it recommended or discussed much

Things have changed and times move on, and modern dogs face challenges their ancestors didn’t. And, as such, modern dog owners face challenges keeping modern dogs in the modern world.

What’s changed?

Modern pet ownership certainly seems more complicated…

  • dog control legislation enacted (in Ireland) in the 1990’s has meant that dogs are largely confined to an owner’s property.
    This limits the dog’s access to the outside world, and to more naturally paced and exposure based socialisation and experience-building for puppies and young dogs.
    Not only is it more difficult for puppies and young dogs to gain vital experience and exposure, dogs confined to their human’s properties have even further diminished choice in their lives; this is detrimental to welfare.

  • dogs live more isolated lives due to increased confinement, increased incidence of living in packed suburban and urban areas, and because their families work outside of the home. Cultural trends in women returning to work and the confinement of dogs, means that dogs may spend many hours each day alone and isolated from appropriate social contact.
    For social animals, this is detrimental to welfare.

  • supply & demand
    Supply – most pet dogs are bred accidentally, or, with an emphasis on phenotypic characteristics – either way, lots of dogs destined for the pet market are produced without adequate attention and preparation.
    Placing dogs in inappropriate homes relative to the dogs’ behavioural needs, its history, environmental requirements and behaviour issues, is a worrying trend, affecting the welfare of both people and pets.
    All dogs require work and commitment from their families, but dogs that bring behaviour baggage are going to require even more work and access to resources to support and help the dog in its new home.
    Demand – attraction and access to a wider range of dog breeds and types, that are not necessarily suited to their owner’s lifestyle, living conditions, or location.
    We cannot deny the role of selection  in the behaviour a dog breed or type will tend toward. If we have selected for certain behavioural characteristics for countless generations, we cannot expect that dog to just suppress that behaviour because he now lives in a city, or housing estate, or because his owner’s work…
    Bringing home a dog that is not appropriate for your lifestyle, time and resources makes it unlikely that that dog’s needs will be met, presenting a range of welfare and safety concerns.

  • as society becomes less and less tolerant of dogs, the expectations thrust upon dogs become higher and higher.
    Dogs are expected to be safe members of the community, friendly to all, cope with all environments, be tolerant and gentle with children, love us unconditionally, literally save lives, and improve our quality of life…
    Our rose-tinted-spectacled view is informed by nostalgia for childhood pets and movie dogs. It’s a long way down from that pedestal – there is no ‘real’ dog on the planet who can live up this.

  • when you know better, you do better.
    We have a well-established and growing science of behaviour – this means our understanding of behaviour, learning and cognition is improving week by week, based on more than just anecdotes.
    Science is self-correcting, so as we gather more information, it allows us to develop better and more effective tools.
    We are learning more and more about dogs, about how they learn, and about how best to help pet owners, now more than ever.

We’re not being needlessly complicated or conservative in our approach when we make recommendations for your dog’s training and care. Dogs have it harder than ever before, and it’s become harder to provide for their needs. We can make it easier by accounting for these modern challenges, and helping pets and their people succeed in the modern world.

 

Do good dogs go bad?

This weekend in Galway, Ireland, a woman was killed by a number of dogs, while visiting a relative’s home. Reports are incomplete and few details have been confirmed; there has been much speculation and sensation raised around this incident.
This is the first bite related fatality recorded in Ireland, and has shaken many, including us at AniEd.

When ever dogs are involved in hurting a person, it is terrible; the victim and their family and loved ones are gravely affected, often for the rest of their lives. Although very rare, when deaths occur, I can’t imagine the pain experienced by all who knew and loved the victim, and by those who attended the scene of the incident.

We have tried to produce a non-inflammatory statement but it is a drop in the ocean relative to the highly sensationalised and panic-inducing sound-bites produced by many dog-pros, politicians, and others. Headlines and click-bait do not further our cause in education, and I urge you to please use caution when sharing and commenting.
It is genuine education that will improve safety for both pets and their people.

Our statement can be read here. In it, we refer to valid research looking at the contributing factors associated with fatal dog attacks, with a complex combination of factors found to be contributing to 256 fatal dog attacks in the US over a ten year period.

DOGS WILL BE DOGS

Dogs are predators, have big teeth and powerful jaws and live with humans. When people say that the dog is ‘unpredictable’ or the attack was unprovoked they are attempting to interpret complex behavioural patterns, inaccurately for the most part.

Relative to the amount of contact we have with dogs, and despite the weaponry dogs possess, we get bitten rarely, and when we do get bitten, serious injury is very rare. Fatalities even rarer.

Calling for stricter legislation in relation to dog behaviour is nonsensical and a waste of public funding – this is not a big enough problem at societal level.
Investing in education programs, for pet owners and professionals, to help ensure that risk factors in relation to dog behaviour are minimised, is a better approach likely to yield greater success.

The most influential factor in dog bite incidents is human behaviour (and we are not talking about victim blaming here). Dogs are not unpredictable, they act like dogs each and every time.

WHY DO DOGS BITE?

Behaviour is complicated – generally speaking there are a number of factors influencing behaviour at any one time.

Physiological Causes

Dogs may aggress because they are in pain or uncomfortable, affected by a neurological disorder or other disease process.

Dogs recovering from surgery, on medication, developing senility, going blind or deaf, having a seizure will have an altered view of the world and may be more likely to bite.

If a dog is in poor health, perhaps malnourished, kept in an unsuitable environment or isolated, this will certainly contribute to their discomfort.

Dogs are dogs but the world we keep dogs in has changed and drastically so – we don’t do a great job of helping dogs keep up with these changes.

Genetic Causes

When we have difficulty analysing a behaviour and pinpointing some sort of cause we often fall back on ‘genetics’.

Selecting for a tendency to shyness or being ‘highly strung’ certainly doesn’t help, but all behaviour, and I do mean ALL behaviour, is a mix of genetic and environmental influences.
Just because you carry genes for some characteristic doesn’t mean you express that trait.

Not a whole lot of behaviour in dogs is linked with high heritability, because behaviour across a population is strongly affected by environmental conditions – i.e. how people have intervened in the producing, rearing, caring and safety for the dog.
However, fearfulness and aggressive responding present relatively good heritability. (Goddard & Beilharz, 1982)

Speaking Dog

Dog communication is all about avoiding aggression so if uncomfortable they aim to increase distance. Not so surprisingly, distance increasing signals are used to ask for time, distance, relief from social interaction.

Distance increasing signaling is subtle and needs to be learned – we are not born with a natural, mystical ability to speak dog.

Some of our favourite resources on this topic: iSpeakDog, and these clips: part 1 and 2.

Socialisation

Puppies need to have lots and lots of positive exposure to all sorts of situations within their first few months of life.
Positive exposure must continue for the remainder of the dog’s life especially to counter any bad experiences they may be faced with; this is particularly important during adolescence when crucial development continues.

A puppy’s socialisation experiences must suit the genetics that they come with (so look at type and parents’ behaviour) and to make up for any socialisation-gaps in puppy’s rearing environment.

Bite Inhibition 

Bite inhibition refers to how puppy uses its jaws and pressure, in social situations. It is suggested, although not verified by reliable research, that this will affect the amount of damage the dog will do during a biting incident.

Bite inhibition is acquired during puppyhood, probably in the first weeks of life – puppy learns how to use his pointy little teeth in social situations. Puppies spend their time within their litter, biting and chewing on one another, learning how to give and take.

Puppies will also practice on humans, a common gripe among puppy owners. Any bite inhibition acquired, probably happens in puppy’s first 7 weeks, and there may be genetic factors too.

When a dog bites a human, they don’t always cause damage, and something cause only minor damage – this is a pretty mean feat, given the impressive weaponry dogs have. It is due to the dog inhibiting the force of its bite. We grade bites on a Bite Scale, measuring the damage done to the person, e.g. Dunbar Bite Scale.

Bite Threshold

Bite threshold refers to how quickly and how likely a dog will be pushed toward biting.
What type of warning behaviour does the dog display?
Do they skip from growling straight to biting or do they jump from hard staring to snarling in the blink of an eye?


More from Reactive Champion on the bite threshold model.

The Ladder of Aggression similarly illustrates canine stress-related behaviour and can be used to help pet owners better understand how canine behaviour may escalate.

More on the Ladder of Aggression here.

Trigger Stacking and Stress 

The Bite Threshold model illustrates the effects of cumulative stimuli, that elicit emotionally driven behaviours, such as happiness, excitement, fear and aggression.

Stress is caused when the body must adapt to environmental conditions; the dog may use behaviour to cope with these challenges, to minimise the effects of the stressor.
One stressful event won’t always cause a dog to bite – stress begets stress and often times a dog doesn’t get the opportunity to get over exposure to one stressor before exposure to another.

The manifestation of this is often referred to as trigger stacking; more here. 

Link

Arousal increases, the more stressors the dog is exposed to, and as they become more wound up they are less well able to control themselves. As arousal increases, inhibition decreases – the dog may bite harder, jump up more strongly, may be less responsive to cues or even physical interventions.

Arousal increases in relation to emotional events, and not just negative feelings, but also happiness, excitement.

Training & Experience

A dog’s past experiences with people affect his attitude – have people used harsh training techniques, harsh training equipment, hugged the dog, frightened the dog in the past?

Has the dog been confronted, challenged, intimidated or frightened and then delivered a bite?

Dogs are always been trained; learning about how to cope with their environment, via their environment. Our behaviour, and how we interact with dogs, is a pretty big (HUGE!) part of the environment that will teach that dog which behaviours work, and which don’t.

If a dog is regularly put in situations where they feel they must use distance increasing signaling, they are learning that’s what they need to do to stay safe. Looking at the Ladder of Aggression, if dogs learn that orange and red behaviours gain them relief, that’s what they’ll use; what’s more, they will stop using the green and yellow ones, because those don’t work for them.

When we punish warning behaviours, we are teaching the dog that it’s not safe to warn, but not helping them feel any better about the situation (and the person) so the dog still wants relief. Except, we may have just taken the batteries out of our smoke-alarm…a dog that doesn’t warn, and just bites.

Interactions with people that cause dogs to have a negative experience may contribute, but also may insufficient exposure. A dog who is isolated from the world, who isn’t around people, having positive interactions, in the contexts in which they are expected to live, may also find it difficult to cope.

Indeed, people will usually presume that a dog is showing fearful or aggressive behaviour because they have had negative experiences with people, e.g. abuse or neglect. While that may be true, it is just as likely that the dog is behaving this way because he hasn’t had sufficient positive, appropriate interactions with humans in different situations.

Frustration and Redirection

A dog behind a barrier (real or perceived) who can’t get to or away from something will be frustrated. Frustration has to be released somewhere and without acceptable outlets for this a dog may redirect their frustration on a person.

Guarding Behaviour

A dog may aggress if he feels that his possession of some resource is threatened. This may include a mother dog that bites when she feels her babies are in danger, a dog who threatens when someone approaches his food bowl or yummy bone or the dog who growls if moved off the sofa.

All animals resource guard (you locked your house and car today, right?!) but inappropriate and unacceptable manifestations of this behaviour are  commonly seen in biting incidents.

Handling and Hugging

Lots of people think that it’s OK to hug, grab, lift and restrain dogs – actions they would never carry out on a person they don’t know well but happily cross that line with dogs they have just met.

Indeed, most people bitten are bitten by dogs they do know; dogs don’t really appreciate this type of contact even with familiar people, especially if they haven’t been taught to tolerate or enjoy it.

Predatory Behaviour

Dogs are interested in things that trigger predatory behaviour – throwing a ball, playing chasing, sniffing and sniffing all stimulate this tendency.

Dogs are predators and like other innate behaviours that come inbuilt with dogs, if predatory behaviour doesn’t have an outlet it may be expressed out of your control.

Predatory behaviour may be behind dogs chasing and attacking smaller dogs, other pets and even children. Running, jumping and squealing may trigger this behaviour.

Groups of Dogs

A group of dogs is more likely to do more damage than a solo canine, not just because there are more mouths of teeth.

A group of dogs may take cues from one another, arousal and competitiveness is likely to be higher and as such behaviour will escalate quicker.

Bite History

Has the dog bitten before? Has the dog shown aggression before? If so what happened and how has the situation been managed since?

A dog who has shown aggression before in a specific situation is very likely to do so if in that situation again, where nothing has been done to help the dog to cope.

If the dog has bitten before, how much damage was done to the person? The vast majority of bites inflict little damage, especially relative to the weaponry dogs have – dogs have the tools designed to kill other animals.

The level of management, skill and knowledge required to effectively and appropriately deal with dogs who have or are likely to demonstrate aggressive behaviour is massive; to such an extent that is underestimated.
Without careful environmental change, the dog is likely to bite again. Even with careful management, the dog may bite, as management is only one part of the process (a very important part albeit).

Kids & K9s

Dogs are more likely to bite children – therefore, child behaviour needs to be considered a major contributor. But of course, children can’t be expected to regulate their behaviour too well – a bit like dogs that way!

Adults need to be there – direct supervision and management are the keys. Applied diligently, we could reduce bites to children dramatically.

If you want to learn more about helping parents, pet owners, children and dogs be safer, ask us about webinar: Kids & K9s.

Context

Dog behaviour is contextual; meaning that behaviour occurs due to the presence of specific stimuli. If we want to truly understand the contributors to biting behaviour, we must understand the specific and general context (distant and immediate antecedents).

To truly understand the conditions leading to a bite, we need to know more than just the damage caused by the bite, or the warning behaviour demonstrated – we need to know about context.

What has contributed to this behaviour in the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and even generations before the incident?

PREVENTING DOG BITES

  • regular health checks and speedy treatment of pain and disease
  • good husbandry, good diet, suitable living conditions
  • if dogs are ill, in pain, or uncomfortable give them time and space
  • select a type of dog that suits your lifestyle – can you meet the dog’s needs?
  • select puppies from parents who are sound, social, happy and healthy – check up on the puppy’s parents, littermates and relatives
  • if choosing an older or adult dog, carefully analyse how the dog has been kept and handled; get its back story and carefully consider its behaviour
  • socialise, socialise, socialise and then socialise some more – intensively but carefully
  • make sure that dogs have continued positive experiences with people – you are your dog’s guardian, protect him
  • give dogs space when they have resources
  • teach dogs that close proximity with humans is beneficial rather than a reason to guard
  • NEVER take food bowls or other items off dogs to show them not to guard, to show them ‘who’s boss’ – this will encourage guarding
  • employ safe, dog-friendly training with the help of a dog-friendly dog trainer
  • look for non-confrontational ways of interacting with your dog – don’t worry about dominance!
  • don’t allow anyone to handle your dog in a way that makes him uncomfortable
  • don’t hug your dog and don’t allow anyone else to
  • teach your dog how to cope with frustration and to develop self-control
  • don’t allow your dog to run the fence, bark at the window or strain at the end of the leash – have him live indoors with his family and train him how to enjoy life with people
  • give your dog acceptable outlets for his natural behaviour
  • confine your dog when the kids have friends over, when they are eating, playing, running around, being noisy or active on the floor
  • learn to speak dog and respond appropriately
  • keep groups of dogs under control, happy healthy and make sure that they learn responsiveness to people – children don’t need to be ‘loose’ with groups of dogs
  • if a dog has shown discomfort, aggression or unease around people, especially children, separate immediately and contact a dog-friendly behaviour professional ASAP
  • learn to recognise, avoid and deal with canine stress
  • directly supervise children and dogs at ALL times – there are no exceptions to this rule

But where is ‘breed’ on this list?

Breed considerations are just not as important as these other factors.

Does it play a role? Absolutely!
Aggression is behaviour, influenced by many internal and external factors, so let’s concentrate on behaviour, not breed or not the dangerous-dog-au-jour.

For more on understanding the complexities with understanding behaviour and breed advocacy see: Beyond Breed.

 

Statement

AniEd was saddened and shocked to learn of the tragic death of a woman yesterday, due to a dog attack. This is the first such fatality recorded in Ireland. We extend our sincerest condolences to her family and loved ones, and those who attended the scene.

At this stage, details are not complete or confirmed, and as such we urge caution in commenting and speculating.
There is no benefit in assigning blame to any party, but rather in learning from such incidents, so as to help prevent tragedy happening again.

Dog bites and attacks that result in serious injury are terribly rare, and fatal attacks even more so. Relative to our contact and exposure to dogs, there is a very small risk attached to such interactions, regardless of the dog breed or type.
However, there will always be an emotional response to attacks and serious incidents involving dogs – they are “man’s best friend” after all.

Our remit is canine behaviour, rather than speculation and sensation. Due to the rarity of fatal and serious dog attacks, data is incomplete, especially here in Ireland. The most reliable research on this topic is from the US, looking at 256 fatal dog attacks over a ten-year period (Patronek et al, 2013).

This work identified co-occurrent factors involved in such incidents, including, a vulnerable victim without able-bodied supervision, victim unfamiliar to the dogs, dogs who have been kept isolated from regular human interactions and prior concerning incidents involving the dogs.
Breed or type is not predictive of involvement in serious incidents.

The factors identified in this work are seen in most cases involving serious injury, and are preventable. Such factors may have contributed in this incident in Galway too; an inquest will be scheduled and we will have more information to help us help others prevent such incidents.

Dog behaviour is expressed in response to environmental stimulation: what goes on around the dog determines their responses. Even though dogs inherit characteristics, both phenotypic and behavioural, these genetic effects will be expressed relative to the dog’s environmental conditions. This is generally determined by the humans who produce the dog, who rear the dog, who care for the dog, who are responsible for the dog.

Widespread education is needed to help ensure people can care for their dogs in a manner that promotes safe and welfare-friendly interactions with dogs, so that dog behaviour is adequately managed and the canine-human relationship is enhanced.

We are available for further comment and guidance on this topic in general, and in relation to this incident as confirmed details emerge.