As pet care professionals we must be aware that in the course of our work that we will sometimes work with dogs that demonstrate aggressive behavior. It is important that we are aware of the warning signs and can either avoid working with aggressive dogs by screening them out in client interviews, or at least know the best way to respond to aggression if it occurs.

Typically we associate aggression with particular breeds of dogs such as Pit Bulls, Dobermans, and Rottweilers. As a pet sitter I have worked with several dogs of these breeds that were very friendly and well behaved. I was surprised to read that most dog bite injuries are caused by small dog breeds. Unfortunately surveys have also shown that owners of small dog breeds are more likely not to perceive a dog as dangerous because of its smaller size. Really we are better off not to make any generalizations based on breed but to look for the warning signs in each dog we meet.

Aggression in dogs can be either genetic or learned. Some dogs are born with potential for aggression and due to the owners encouragement or in-ability to cope with the aggressive behavior it can become a problem. Other dogs learn aggression due to abusive treatment.

There are 4 forms of aggression behavior that dogs display:
Dominant – displayed by growling when someone gets close to food or toys

Territorial – displayed by barking at strangers who approach the dogs house or yard (the typical mailman tension!)Fear

Fear Based – displayed by a fear of strangers caused by lack of socialization

Predatorial – diplayed by chasing objects that move. This is most dangerous for small children.

Some of the behavioral warning signs of aggression that we should look for at interviews or when care for a dog include:

1) Dog shows shyness or fear, and crouches with tail between the legs

2) Dog has fur raised, ears erect, and tail high

3) Dog is un-naturally still and unresponsive

4) Dog growls or shows teeth

5) Dog stares with hard, fixed, glassy eyes and erect body posture

6) Dog stops eating or chewing when approached

7) Dog bumps you or refuses to move from furniture when instructed

At an interview or first appointment we should also be sure to ask the owner if the dog has ever bitten anyone. Be cautious with the dog if it has any history of biting.

If you are faced with an aggressive dog don’t make eye contact with the dog and avoid moving suddenly.  Stand very still and if you have any object handy such as a toy or paper place this object in their mouth.  If you are knocked down by the dog don’t move or scream.  Dog experts recommend that you should curl up like a turtle with face to the floor and hands over your head and wait until the dog moves away.

Please be cautious when accepting new clients and ensure that you are not putting yourself at risk by looking for the warning signs.