How to identify changes in a dog's behavior before it's too late

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March 5, 2013, 9:09 am
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(NECN) - A Mansfield, Mass. family dog has been euthanized after attacking two young people. The most recent attack was Saturday, leading to a frantic 911 call. The victim in the second attack is the 16-year-old-daughter of the dog's owner.

Last week, town officials ordered Milo to be euthanized after he attacked a 6-year-old in January. The family was in the process of appealing the death order but decided to sign the dog over after the second attack.

We're talking with an expert now about how to identify changes in a dog's behavior before it becomes overly aggressive.

Terri Bright is the lead animal behaviorist at MSPCA Angell.

•    Watch for growling, flashing teeth, fur on the back of the neck standing up
•    Be cautious around dogs that are kept tied up in the yard
•    Watch for dogs that jump up and down like crazy when guests are over
•    Seeing the whites of a dogs eyes could indicate aggression
•    Triggers for animal aggression include the dog guarding something or the animal feeling trapped

What are the obvious signs of a dangerous dog? What are the hidden signs that an owner may not notice?
a.    Obvious signs of a dangerous dog: The most obvious signs are: growling; seeing the fur of the back of the neck standing up; seeing the dog flash his teeth at you and, perhaps a bit more subtly, if YOU feel afraid when you look at the dog, chances are he’s behaving in an aggressive manner.  Everyone should be cautious around dogs that are kept tied up in the yard – that is a major factor in dog bites, perhaps because the dog would rather just walk or run from a situation but, because he can’t, he may act out aggressively instead.

b.    What are the hidden signs? Often times when dog owners have company over and the dog is jumping up and down like crazy (but not biting) this is a less subtle sign that the dog is stressed about the visit.  Overtime this can worsen if the behavior isn’t addressed and it can lead to bites or attacks.  Other signs include: if a dog is looking at you – but not directly at you – and you can see the whites of his eyes, chances are he’s acting aggressively.  If a dog’s body language goes from loose and wiggly to straight and rigid, that is a sign the dog is stressed and could snap or bite.  

What are common triggers that would cause a normally calm dog to be dangerous?
c.    A dog might be guarding something, whether it’s a property/house, a bone, a piece of food, a toy, a person; a dog could be injured – and that could cause him to bite.  Every dog has the potential to be aggressive if they feel trapped or territorial.

What are some basic training tips that owners can utilize to ensure a less dangerous dog?
d.    To the extent that you can for your puppy you want to expose them to lots of wonderful situations: people and dogs, before they are about 5 months old.  At the MSPCA’s puppy play and learn classes we expose puppies to other dogs who have similar play styles – so they learn how to “speak” other dogs and gain tremendous social skills.  The value of this cannot be over stressed – we have to start early with our dogs to train them to develop the coping skills to deal with unknown situations so that they won’t become aggressive toward people or other animals.

Tags: dogs, terri bright, animal behaviorist, mspca angell, aggressive animals
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