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What makes a Dog Dangerous?

Updated on December 19, 2012

When do Dogs Use Aggression and Why?

Understanding the real reasons for aggression in dogs often takes a good level of experience in dog behavior and an attentive analysis of the circumstances that trigger such aggressive behaviors. It is too easy to label a dog as ''vicious'' and this is often caused by the undeserved stereotyping of certain dog breeds which blurs clear thinking, ultimately causing narrow-sighted opinions from the public. If only people would look behind those menacing canines showed in a threatening snarl or would attempt to interpret that deep primal growl, they may discover what really makes a dog dangerous.

Aggression in dogs is quite a primal instinct. Dogs resort to aggression in the wild to protect and preserve what ultimately makes their life go on. Mother wolves resort to maternal aggression in order to protect their pups from potential predators, a warning snarl may be needed to keep another wolf away from food, lunging forward may help back off a potential rival when a female is in heat. At a close glance, dogs resort to aggression for self preservation of themselves and their pack.

Studies on pack behavior carried out by David Mech on Ellesmere Island in Canada however have revealed that wolves rarely must resort to true aggression. Fighting among each other takes too much energy away from more important functions such as hunting. Wolves therefore use mostly body language to maintain order and ensure every body stays in place.

Indeed, it is rare to see serious fights among wolves in the wild. David Mech has done a great deal of studies on this by demonstrating that a wolf pack is ultimately a family, formed by an alpha pair and their pups. These parents are well respected by the pups and these pups generally stay within the pack until they reach social maturity, around three years of age. Then, they separate from the pack to find a mate and form their new pack.

Studies on wolf packs in captivity however has revealed another side of the story. Wolves had an alpha leader and fights were quite common. This could have occurred because groups of wolves of different sex, social status and age were put together and allowed to mingle. Perhaps, in the wild such specimens would have never been together. The results of these artificially formed packs made people presume that wolves were aggressive in nature and that status seeking wolves were often involved in fights.

So now that there are assumptions that wolves in the wild tend to avoid conflicts whereas wolves in captivity appear to be prone to fighting, where do dogs stand? Dogs and wolves after all share the same number of chromosomes? So are our canine companions''appeasing creature'' looking to solve conflicts or ''avid ''status seekers'' always ready to take over the social rank if given the opportunity as some television shows want us to believe? Let's shed some light on this...

What Makes Dogs Dangerous?

While we may never know what category dogs may fall into, we know for sure how to tell if a dog is dangerous. An aggressive dog often tends to puff himself up, looking larger than he is. He may keep his ears up, tail up, hair over the shoulders and back up (piloerection), and stand tall and stiff showing his teeth in a frightening snarl. A deep guttural growl may add to his dangerous display that will likely cause anybody to back up and avert his intimidating gaze.

But why would a dog behave in such a way? The possibilities are many and often a good dog behavior specialist may ultimately interpret what is going on in a dog's mind. The dog may be saying various things such as '' Get off my property'' or ''Move away'' or ''Stop doing that'' or '' I don't like you'' . Sometimes, in rare cases, he may be saying '' I am in charge here, go back to your place''.It really takes an attentive look into the circumstances and the body language display to truly understand what is going on in a dog's mind. And it also takes different solutions to solve serious behavior problems in dogs depending on what they are caused by.

Fear is often one of the most common reasons for dog aggression. A fearful dog has learned that in order to protect himself he must act defensively. Often dogs are labeled as vicious when all that is going though his mind is fear. Some dogs may fear men, people bending over too close to them, children moving too fast towards them, people hugging them or patting them on the head. Often, these are poorly socialized dogs or dogs that have been victim of abuse.

Territoriality is a common reason for dogs gone bad. These are dogs who have been chained or kept too long in the yard. They start barking at intruders, and then if the intruder get closer they will growl and if the intruder comes inside they may even resort to biting. These dogs think they are in charge of the place and it is their duty to keep everybody away. They have taken their guarding duty to seriously...

Maternal aggression can take place when a mother dog becomes protective of her puppies. She will snarl or bite anybody who gets too close to her pups. This is a primal instinct but eventually this protectiveness will fade away as hormonal changes take place and the pups grow more independent.

Pain aggression can appear when a dog has pain and react aggressively. A dog with an ear infection for instance, may growl and bite upon being pat on the head. Unexplained aggression out of nowhere grants a vet visit. Even if you cannot clearly see any wounds, consider that there are some medical conditions such as hypothyroidism known to cause out of the blue aggression.

Resource Guarding: In this cases, the dog is simply guarding his food or other prized possession. The closer you get, the more your dog will react aggressively.

The scariest form of aggression however remains 'idiopathic aggression'' that is aggression that cannot be linked to anything. These specimens cannot be offered much rehabilitation since there is not much to work on. Many times, aggression can be genetic. Dogs that have been ''wired wrong'' deep in the core of their genetic make-up.

There may be other causes of dog aggression such excessive protectiveness of food, toys and bones. Some dogs tend to become wild and aggressive when they ''pack up'' together '' with other dogs in extreme circumstances and attack together humans.

It is unfortunate however, that in an impressive number of cases, dogs have become dangerous because of their owners. Some dogs may have been trained to be aggressive while others were perhaps victims of owners who did not have good leadership skills or cared less about their dog building frustration and causing bad behaviors.

But let's go to the core of what makes a dangerous. It's its teeth. A dog's teeth have strong crushing powers and the jaws are very muscular. If dogs did not have teeth, they would have been deprived from their main weapon of defense. A dog's bulk size for the larger breeds may also play a role. Think of a dog slamming against you at full force. Dog's nails have also been notoriously capable of injuring people.

So what makes a dog dangerous? It seems like a combination of physical and temperamental characteristics. Some say dog aggression stems from the temperamental nature of the dog, others say it is the fruit of experiences the dog goes through in his life. It may be ultimately a combination of the two. The nature versus nurture debate remains open.


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    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Interesting hub. We have two dogs living next door to us that appear aggressive to all of our neighbors. They puff up, bare their teeth and growl and bark anytime anyone within site go outside. They also attack each other in their excitement. Unfortunately you can't sit in your yard or walk down the street without hearing both of them sound like they want to tear you up. The hair on both of them seems to stand on end. I don't know why they are the way they are but they frighten everyone.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      8 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Perhaps dogs are like people in terms of when you "cram" them into packed areas, aggression is displayed. "Country folk" are know for their hospitality. Urban cities like NYC are known for watching people die, or muggings... Given provocation to either "groups" will create aggression...

    • jandee profile image


      8 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      Hello alexadry, enjoyed reading very much. Jealousy of new arrivals i.e new babies ? but maybe that comes under dominance..jandee


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