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Fear-Motivated Aggression in Dogs: Patient Characteristics, Diagnosis and Therapy

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The aim of the study was to characterize dogs in which fear-motivated aggression was diagnosed, to describe the therapy used, and to evaluate the effectiveness of this therapy using a retrospective descriptive study. During the research period 284 dogs were referred for problem behaviour. Pear-motivated aggression was diagnosed in 73 (26%) dogs: intact males (35), castrated males (15), intact females (11) and castrated females (12). The mean age of the animals was 3.4 years ± 2.2 (SD). Mixed-breed dogs were most frequent, followed by Golden Retn"evers, Rottweilers and Bernese Mountain Dogs. The majority of the dogs expressed growling, snapping, biting, ears down, tail down and low posture. The aggression occurred mainly inside the house, towards adults or children, and especially when the dog was approached and/or touched. Diagnosis was based on data about the behavioural expressions of the animals, and about owner-dog interactions, obtained from both the owner and our own observation. Treatment consisted of 1) avoiding eliciting stimull, 2) optimizing owner-dog communication, 3) adaptation of the owner's punishing threats to the dog's response to punishment, and 4) for a certain period fitting the dog with a choker chain connected to a leash during the day. The behaviour of the dogs improved (55; 75%), remained unchanged (13; 18%), or deteriorated (5; 7%). In conclusion: fear-motivated aggression in dogs is likely to be more frequent than generally is assumed. Growling or biting in a low posture towards both adults and children, especially when the animals were approached or touched inside the house, were the main characteristics on which the diagnosis fear-motivated aggression was based. Therapy, mainly based on optimizing communication between owner and dog, proved significantly effective.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 1997

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