Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: Canine aggression

Rule No. 1: Don’t run or turn your back.

Movement elicits the prey drive in most dogs. — Courtesy Wiki Commons

Dear Dogcharmer,

My wife loves cats. She panics when confronting a growling dog on the street, a scary situation we experienced recently in front of a college frat
house. The dog was large and loud, lunging toward us in stages. We
froze, then backed away to another street.
What’s the right approach?


Dear Bob,

Actually, your non-approach was the right approach, especially backing away. Never turn your back or run from an aggressive dog. One type of canine aggression is territoriality, which is what the dog you encountered was probably displaying. Hence the expression “guard dog.” It’s why dogs bark at the door, and why you’re unlikely to enter a fenced yard with a barking dog behind the fence. Another type of canine aggression is predatory aggression. Movement elicits the prey drive in most dogs. It’s why the 10-week-old puppy chases a blowing leaf, and why so many dogs go nuts when they see a squirrel.

Once, when I was jogging on a country road in New York, I was passing a house with a Doberman that flew off the porch, crossed the large yard, and ran across the street to confront me from behind. I immediately stopped running, turned around facing the Dobe, and continued walking backward. I read that if disturbed, killer bees will give chase for 300 yards before heading back to their nest. That’s getting stung while you’re trying to run the length of three football fields. Good luck with that. I mention this because in most cases, the territorial dog will usually put on a big show to the edge of the yard, its territory, and stop there. The Dobe I encountered
not only left her territory, but also crossed the street, which added another dimension to this dog’s serious intent. I probably walked backward for a couple of minutes with Daisy (I found out her name when I met the owner later) following me at a distance of about five feet, but getting closer and closer to me. When she broached what is called “critical distance,” close enough for a fast lunge and bite, I raised my fist and half-lunged forward, screaming “No!” This stopped her from continuing to close the distance between us, and after another minute or so she turned and went back to her territory.

In short, when confronted by an aggressive dog, don’t run or turn your back, and if the dog gets too close, threaten back. This will work with the great majority of untrained dogs.

The Dogcharmer


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