Certain inherent behaviors and instincts can make a doggy attack, even if she's generally well trained and well behaved. Watch for signs of escalating aggression, like baring teeth, growling and snapping; these can lead to an attack if the trigger isn't eliminated. Consider a dog attack an emergency.
Dogs don't typically go from zero to attack in the blink of an eye. They naturally give a progression of warnings that they're getting increasingly ticked off. They usually become very still, push the corners of their lips forward, stare, growl, snarl, bare their teeth, swipe with their muzzle, bark menacingly, nip, snap or offer other indications an attack may come if something about the present situation doesn't change. If you've successfully trained your pooch not to display such signs of escalating aggression, though, without actually addressing the triggers, your pet may not offer such warnings when she's becoming stressed out.
Dogs -- and especially those who weren't properly socialized as puppies and those who don't get enough attention, exercise and stimulation -- get stressed out by a variety of things, including many that get under your skin, too. Environmental changes, the loss of a family member or the introduction of a new one, continuous or loud noises, injury or illness, isolation and perceived threats bother dogs. Stress accumulates, so while your doggy may seem fine under certain conditions one day, they may push her over the edge the next. It's always some sort of stress that prompts aggressive behavior and that can eventually make a dog attack.
Aggressive behavior and attacks follow ongoing stress, and there are some common behavioral triggers. Being continually handled in an unappreciated way; sensing a threat to territory, resources, possessions, a mate or offspring; fear; sudden movements, especially those that turn on a dog's hunting instinct; frustration; items or groups of people that remind a dog of previous abuse or stressful experiences; and confusion or perceived problems with the "pack" or family's social order are all well-known prompts to canine aggression and attacks. Attacks may also be "redirected," when someone interfering in an aggressive situation between a dog and another person or animal suddenly finds himself the new target. Pain and a variety of illnesses can increase aggression and trigger attacks too.
Though certain breeds, like pit bulls, mastiffs and dobermans, are associated with attacks more than, say, poodles and Chihuahuas, any breed can attack; the main difference is how easily larger, more powerful breeds inflict serious damage. Dogs who didn't learn from a young age to adapt to a variety of situations through socialization and exposure to different environments are more susceptible to becoming stressed and snapping because of it. Pooches who suffered abuse or neglect, or those who live with too little physical or mental stimulation, are also more likely to turn violent. Consult your vet and a professional dog behaviorist when you notice aggression for intervention before an attack occurs.
- The Dog Trainer Quick and Dirty Tips: What to Do if Your Dog Growls or Snaps
- WebMD: Aggression in Dogs
- Cesar's Way: Understanding Dog Aggression
- Dogster: Some Common Triggers for Dog Aggression
- Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences: My Dog Has Recently Changed His Behavior and Become Aggressive
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.