An article written by Speak Dog’s Rebecca Hanlon
The word aggressive is often used for dogs that bark and lunge at other dogs. I have even used it to advertise the support I offer for dogs that present with these types of behaviours. But I don’t like the word, I use it because it’s a word that people recognize. But aggressive really isn’t very descriptive. Aggression is an intent to harm, which is rarely the case, even when we see dogs fight, they often do not want to cause damage. The word aggression doesn’t explain the motivation or emotions that an animal is feeling. It’s an overused term that doesn’t actually tell us much at all.
Dogs can look aggressive and bark and lunge at other dogs for various reasons. They are feeling nervous, fearful, suffer with anxiety. They can feel frustrated, unable to get to what they want. Unable to collect the data (often scent) they need from the other dog. They can feel trapped, restrained and unable to carry out normal Canine communication. They can want to play but lack the proper social skills. Many people like to blame the guardians but a mixture of genetics, early and later life experiences, and health, all have a part to play.
We also like putting our dogs emotions into neat little boxes. He is fearful, he is just excited etc. But when do we ever feel only one emotion at a time? We can be excited and frustrated, happy and a little anxious. So if you see a dog barking and lunging. Show empathy for both the dog and their guardian. They may look aggressive but they will both be having to deal with a whole host of difficult emotions. Guardians often struggle more to support their dogs because of the judgement and lack of understanding from others, and when we become stressed it makes the situation even worse.
If more people were supportive in these situations then guardians would be much better equipped to support their dogs. Also understand that they need space. The further the trigger is away, the better the dog and guardian can cope with the situation. I am able to cope with a wasp buzzing near by but if he starts coming towards me I can start to look a little unhinged. I also become very loud! Am I being aggressive towards the wasp? No, I don’t mean to harm him, I’m just trying to get them away from me. I may even run towards them to try and make them go back. I rarely think logically in these moments, I just panic.
So be kind and create distance because one day you may have a dog that needs extra support.