Shelter, Protect, Defend: Canine Instincts that Can Cause Aggressive Behavior
Since your daughter learned how to walk on her own, every evening you take her for a short walk around the neighborhood. You stick close to her, but when no one is around you allow her to run a few paces ahead. Although this usually works out fine, tonight’s stroll took a terrifying turn. As you passed your neighbor’s house, your daughter ran ahead into his yard, where she immediately grabbed a ball that was lying on the grass.
Then you heard it. A loud snarling coming from behind your neighbor’s car. You instinctively ran to your daughter and grabbed her just as Loki, your neighbor’s St. Bernard, lunged at her. Fortunately, you were able to shield her from the brunt of the attack, but Loki managed to knock you both to the ground and bit your arm several times before you managed to pry the ball out of your daughter’s hand and throw it across the yard.
What just happened? Why did a dog you’ve known forever suddenly go bonkers over a toy?
Aggressive K-9 Protection Instincts
Just as humans can have different reactions to different moods, so can dogs. How often have you figuratively chewed someone out for eating your last cookie? How often have you barked at someone because they were too loud when you were sleeping? Dogs have similar reactions to frustration, but they are unable to express their anger except through aggression.
When a dog is stressed, anxious, upset, or frightened, he is more likely to revert to basic animal survival techniques to protect himself and his “property” (what he assumes is his). Unfortunately, these instincts usually involve snarling, scratching, fighting, or attacking and can quickly turn painfully violent. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog is vicious by nature or deserves to be put down. Although some cases may result in the dog’s death, most of the time dog attacks are provoked by one of these three instincts:
- “Protect yourself”: If a dog is feeling sick, stressed, or scared, he will do anything he can to defend himself from possible threats—violently if necessary.
- “Protect your property”: Much like humans, dogs tend to develop attachments to objects such as toys, beds, food, and even people. This attachment causes them to believe that these objects belong to them—yes, in the dog’s mind, his owner is his property. Therefore, if he thinks that his owner or his property is being threatened, he’ll react to drive off—or kill, if necessary—a potential thief or rival.
- “Defend your territory”: Some dogs have a strange sense of personal space. When they’re in a good mood you can snuggle with them, or even use them as a pillow and a blanket. However, when they’re sick, tired, or hurt, any space around them becomes off-limits. This could be a two-foot circumference or extend to any area that they can see. Unfortunately this means that they may attack if they feel you’re somewhere that you shouldn’t be.
When Instinct Turns to Injury
Although aggressive instincts are basic animalistic protection impulses, the damage an attack can have on you or a loved one can be catastrophic. This is why it is extremely important to be able to gauge a dog’s mood or ask its owner before you approach or allow your child to approach an unfamiliar canine. This is especially important in crowds and high-intensity situations that may cause anxiety, including heavy traffic areas, areas with load noises, during fireworks, or when ambulances go by.
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