Aggression in Dogs and ‘The Goldilocks Zone’!

Aggression in Dogs is a huge subject and whole books have been written about it. Why does it happen, what can be done in the short term, what can be done to help eradicate the phenomenon in the long term and many other questions need to be answered. It appears to be more prevalent in our domesticated dog than wild, feral or village dogs and, indeed, their cousin the wolf. Natural selection, it would appear, is far better able to filter out unnecessary aggression than selective breeding as carried out by overzealous breeders over millennia, but particularly over the last 150 years or so. This is eloquently discussed by David Ryan who describes the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ phenomenon in his book ‘Dogs that Bite and Fight’ (2013). Natural selection will weed out the placid dog, due to inability to survive, along with the highly aggressive dog as the cost outweighs any gain. Sitting in the middle, in the Goldilocks Zone, are the vast majority of ‘average’ dogs!

There are many reasons for aggression but for brevity I will keep it simple. David Ryan goes on to discuss the following scenario. Meg is chewing a bone that Dan wants. Dan lies down next to Meg invading her personal space and staring, causing Meg to feel uncomfortable enough to walk away. If Dan were to show his teeth and snarl to the point of charging Meg, would this be described as dominance aggression? (Ryan, 2013). Aggression certainly; maybe competitive but most people, I feel would agree, dominant! “All dogs are entitled to growl and walk away. Growling and walking towards you is where communication crosses the line into aggression” (Ryan, 2013). This is an example of INTRA-species aggression. INTER-species dominance and aggression by definition will be far more nuanced, difficult to explain and therefore more difficult to deal with.

Whilst the ‘pack theory’ and the theory of a linear hierarchy are now largely discredited, the domestic dog thrives on the security of a structured and secure environment. For a happy and balanced dog the onus is on every owner to provide this along with other essentials, indeed ‘rights’, such as food, water, shelter, exercise and companionship, not to mention guidance and training.

As with ANY aggression, medical and dietary conditions must be ruled out first and referrals should ideally be from a veterinarian. Some health problems can make an otherwise even-tempered dog aggressive. These include, though the list is not exhaustive: dental disease, epilepsy, hip dysplasia, arthritis and hypothyroidism (Hillestad, 2018).

 

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