By Marika Bell, Director of Behavior and Training
I have worked with a man-killing tiger, a lion with no personal hygiene, and a leopard who enjoyed cuddling. I’ve worked with grizzly bears I had to yell at to earn their respect and big cats I had to cajole into leaving their warm dens on a winter morning.
Large carnivores all have something in common, besides their majestic presence - they are dangerous. If you give them the chance, they will kill you. Of the big cats I’ve known, many were friendly towards humans. Some would lay down in anticipation of a good scratch or cuddle. Others were not so friendly. If you walk into their den, you won’t be walking out again. Even the friendliest puma must be watched, in case her instincts kick in, and she abruptly targets you as pray instead of a caregiver.
Dogs are predators, a fact that many people often forget. They have evolved alongside us for thousands of years and have become one of only a handful of species that can coexist in our homes. They are unique in their ability to see us as family. It is not common for any dog, pit bull types included, to become aggressive.
Many of the behaviors we associate with dog aggression are very natural canine mannerisms. Territorial defense, self-defense, and resource protecting are the primary ways that dogs can show aggression. When their territory, resources, or physical self are threatened, the dog’s natural reaction is to defend. Dogs that have shown aggressive behaviors are not necessarily aggressive dogs. Aggression is not a temperament, it is a behavior.
Aggression is a term used loosely in the dog community. This misuse has severe consequences, including euthanizing perfectly normal and trainable dogs. All dogs are capable of aggression, and all dogs may resort to it when they feel threatened. Dogs will show their aggression more if they live in a state of anxiety or fear. If we help them relax and create a safe, controlled environment, they will learn to live more calmly, and our anxiety about dog aggression will disappear.