Does aggression exist?

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Owdb1tch
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Does aggression exist?

Post by Owdb1tch » Tue Apr 01, 2008 5:26 am

Topic for discussion :D

The more I study dogs and dog behaviour, and the more courses I go on and the more cases I attend, the more I feel that true aggression is very very rare, though it certainly does exist.

I think it is almost always misunderstood fear (as mentioned in a 'methods' topic). Even territorial guarding has, IMO, its roots in fear (if I have no territory I cannot sleep, eat etc).


What do you reckon?
Find the cause, find the cure.




A dog is never 'bad' or 'naughty'. It is simply behaving like a dog.

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Mattie
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Post by Mattie » Tue Apr 01, 2008 6:09 am

I agree :lol:
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Ocelot0411
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Post by Ocelot0411 » Tue Apr 01, 2008 6:10 am

Are you talking purely about agression towards humans OB or any agression towards other dogs too?

Maggie
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Post by Maggie » Tue Apr 01, 2008 8:19 am

Well having had a dog that had to be PTS due to SOA, I can fully say that true aggression is very rare, but yes it does exist.

Living day to day with a dog that has real mental problems is very very difficult, and very very draining, not only for the owners but also other animal members of the family.
My other dog Ethel, would actually cower down or run off from a dog half her age and more than half her size through shear fear of what he would do next. She new he had something mentally worng and would try and stay away, and she also new when he was going to have an episode.
I have witnessed first hand the damage a dog with SOA can do, and the state they get into, and also the confusion it causes the dog itself afterwards.
They dont realise what they have done, and do not know why they have been told off or ignored.

True SOA or rage as many folks refer to it as, is rare and very often a badly bought up dog will be assessed and found that it is nothing more than a behaviour issue, something I wish had been the case for my boy Monty.

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Mattie
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Post by Mattie » Tue Apr 01, 2008 8:35 am

Gracie wanted to kill every dog she saw when I first got her but it didn't look like fear but by carefully watching her I realised that she was disguising her fear. She is now a lovely little girl when meeting other dogs.

Merlin used to resource guard and threaten but again this was fear, fear of food or what he thought was food being taken off him. Once I had taught him not to fear me taking food off him, the aggression went.

Joe used to bit first and never bothered to ask questions, and it didn't matter what you were doing. This was all fear, he had been abused by his previous owners.

I know someone who had a dog with rage, it was really frightening when she started off and was eventually pts due to it. She did have a wonderful life up to then but she was getting much worse. She was handled by being trained every waking minute of her day virtually which kept her undercontrol because of the training. Unfortunately she got so bad that the training wasn't holding which is when she was pts.

There are many reasons why a dog is aggressive, most is fear, but there is some that is usually a mental or medical problem that the dog has.
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Maggie
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Post by Maggie » Tue Apr 01, 2008 8:43 am

The thing is with a dog with rage, you can never train it out of them. They are so volotile and you can never judge when they are going to have an episode because they will just fly.
The day we had to have poor Monty PTS he had been awake for 3 hours and in that space of time he had attacked my other dog 4 times, my hubby twice, had a go at both my children and had a go at me. I had to put him outside untill the time came for him to go.
The damage he did to my other dog and things that got inbetween was unbelievable.
9 times out of 10 a dog with SOA will be PTS before its first birthday.... Im just glad that my poor boy had just over a year of his life.

Your friend has my deepest sympathys, for what he/she must have gone through. It isnt pretty.

Owdb1tch
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Post by Owdb1tch » Tue Apr 01, 2008 10:03 am

Ocelot0411 wrote:Are you talking purely about agression towards humans OB or any agression towards other dogs too?


Both.
Find the cause, find the cure.




A dog is never 'bad' or 'naughty'. It is simply behaving like a dog.

Owdb1tch
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Post by Owdb1tch » Tue Apr 01, 2008 10:03 am

Ocelot0411 wrote:Are you talking purely about agression towards humans OB or any agression towards other dogs too?


Both.
Find the cause, find the cure.




A dog is never 'bad' or 'naughty'. It is simply behaving like a dog.

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Mattie
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Post by Mattie » Tue Apr 01, 2008 10:57 am

She got to her 5th birthday :D

No you can't train it out of them but good training meant in her case that it was controlled enough to keep everyone safe by her being sent into her crate and covered up. Once she was covered up, she settled down.
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Josie
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Post by Josie » Tue Apr 01, 2008 1:12 pm

I don't think that 'fear' and 'aggression' are mutually exclusive.

Just because there is a reason for aggression doesn't mean it isn't real.

My current foster dog is aggressive and has bitten me once. It's all fear but the bite is still real!

Owdb1tch
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Post by Owdb1tch » Tue Apr 01, 2008 1:34 pm

Sorry, I haven't made myself clear.

What I am trying to say is - what people term 'aggression' is not necessarily aggression per se, but a fear response in many cases.

That a fear-bite hurts as much as an aggression-bite I do not dispute for one moment - but - is the dog biting because it is "aggressive" or because it is frightened (or hurting or ill or any one of so many reasons)?

Are we humans accusing a dog of being "aggressive" in many cases when so far as the dog is concerned, it is only trying to keep itself safe?
Is the bite the last resort for the dog because nobody will listen?
Find the cause, find the cure.




A dog is never 'bad' or 'naughty'. It is simply behaving like a dog.

Josie
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Post by Josie » Tue Apr 01, 2008 2:01 pm

I think I agree with you, just use different terminology.

I would describe 'aggression' as purely the behaviour (growling, barking, biting etc) but always think there is a cause - which is usually fear.

I don't think there is such a thing as an 'aggressive' dog.

Basically, I think it's real if it describes behaviour, but not if it describes a dogs character.

Does that make any sense at all? :lol:

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Post by emmabeth » Tue Apr 01, 2008 4:09 pm

'Aggression' is a tool in a dogs toolkit.

They use it if they feel the need to - some use it more readily than others and that might be due to genetics, or due to some life experience that has taught them more subtle language does not work.

I don't think ANY dog is aggressive without good reason, though our understanding of 'good reason' will not be the same as theirs.

Even those dogs who suffer rage have 'good reason' - they are ill!

I think the most common reason is fear, and then pain (real or remembered).

I don't often think aggression is directly due to dominance between dogs though.... not in a 'i am the dominant dog, hear my roar, feel my wrath mere underlings' way..

In a 'i dont want to lose my status' way though, yes... and again i think this is most commonly seen in... duh duh duh.. underconfident and fearful dogs!

Im rambling... hope its useful!

thistledown
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Post by thistledown » Tue Apr 01, 2008 4:16 pm

I don't have any experience of aggressive dogs, but I was reading something a while ago that struck a chord with me. I'll try and remember it, but apologies if the terminology is wrong:

the article was talking about brain chemistry and homeostasis - i.e. how the animal (any animal) acts to achieve equilibrium if the brain chemistry is 'off'.

the acts of biting, lunging, chasing, overpowering another (barking and growling weren't mentioned because this was about any animal) release a flood of Happy Chemicals.

If the brain chemistry is being flooded with chemicals produced by anxiety, stress, pain etc the body calls for the Happy Chemicals to achieve balance. The animal is forced to act to access these in the best way it knows, and if it has learnt that certain actions produce the most chemicals it will repeat that action as first choice stress reliever on subsequent occasions.

So maybe we have a stressed dog self-medicating the best way it knows how. This would imply that engaging in aggressive acts is a learnt behaviour. My dog has learnt that trashing her bed works to relieve stress, but I expect under different circumstances she could easily have learnt what we would call aggressive acts.

Sorry if that sounds very hippy and New Agey - the actual article was much more serious and full of big words.

The only doubts I have about the above theory are in relation to the biting, chasing, overpowering actions as these were classed as premium providers of Happy Chemicals due to the link with prey drive and thus survival of the species. I realise that prey drive is not aggression but maybe the same chemicals are released in both cases.

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Post by Josie » Tue Apr 01, 2008 5:09 pm

Yup!

I really like Peter Neville's EMRA approach:

**********************************************

EMRA: the new perspective in approaching companion animals by Peter Neville and Robert Falconer-Taylor.
Address for correspondence: Centre Of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE), PO Box 6, Fortrose, Ross-shire. IV10 8WB
[email protected] -www.coape.co.uk

A fundamental, controversial, yet highly sensible change in the approach to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in companion animals has been undertaken over the past few years in Britain at the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE). This has involved a major re-think of the global quasi-diagnostic labeling techniques of old, such as ‘Dominance Aggression’ and ‘Separation Anxiety’. These clunking descriptions have been widely adopted over the years as they are often numbingly simple to grasp, yet, as anyone in the street could testify, behaviour, normal or abnormal, problematic or acceptable, is hardly ever a simple subject!

Worse still, such attempts to classify problems have come in recent years to inspire standardized treatment approaches of the behaviour therapy by many behaviourists and veterinaiy practices alike, and the increasingly automatic prescription of medication for behaviour cases by veterinary surgeons trying to address problems within the short time constraints of a routine consultation. These rigid, simplified approaches, which are largely based on the practice of collecting ‘sufficient and necessary signs’ to conclude a diagnosis, have ensured that behaviour problems in dogs and cats are now increasingly seen as arising from some clinical abnormality, ie, that companion animals with behaviour problems are pathologically ‘nuts’; mentally disturbed in some way. These approaches further imply that treatment may therefore require the lifelong prescription of drugs to restrain the animals and permanent behavioural management to have any hope of us being able to live with them happily and safely.

The result of all of this has been that many experienced and inexperienced behaviourists alike have been striving in recent times to reach for clinical explanations for all behaviour problems and forgetting where the roots of companion animal behaviourism lie. They seem to have forgotten that dogs and cats are for the most part, extraodinarily adaptable and adapted to life with people. In the majority of cases behaviour problems occur not because dogs and cats are suffering from some clinically definable abnormality, but because these particular animals for the most part, are simply having trouble in trying to cope with some aspect of their day to day lives, either with ‘us’, or with conspecifics, and this deviates from our view of how they should behave. In the tiny number of cases where they are not clinically normal, they will usually present with other physical or general neurological/behavioural signs rather than context specific behaviour problems.
This is why it has been the bedrock of behaviourists, since the APBC was flrst conceived in 1988 by co-author Peter Neville and the late John Fisher, that behaviour cases are only treated on referral by veterinary surgeons who are qualified and entitled to make those diagnoses and judge the animals clinical state before referring it for behaviour therapy.

We at COAPE, along with veterinary graduates of the COAPE Diploma in behaviour such as co-author Robert Falconer-Taylor MRCVS, have resisted the temptation to look first for conveniently packaged ‘diagnoses’ for behavioural problems in the animals that we treat. While we retain a hard demand for knowledge of the very new understanding of how and why animals do what they do at the physiological and neurotransmittor level in the brain, and take account of the latest research publications into genetic and experiential factors that influence behaviour, we never cease reminding ourselves that the vast majority of companion animals with behaviour problems are clinically perfectly normal! The number that are abnormal in no way justifies any for behaviourists to become clinically expert at spotting them as that is the job of the referring veterinary surgeon. Of course with experience and help from veterinary surgeons well versed in genuine clinically abnormal cases, many behaviourists do become quite good at knowing what signs may contribute to a medically inspired behavioural condition rather than a straightforward learned problem behaviour for example. These animals need patient expert help to help them learn to behave differently, and usually in rather specific circumstances (eg Walker et al, 1997). They do not need a false, fancily named clinical diagnosis, nor an automated prescription of drugs, nor standardized behaviour ‘therapy’ advice to get better at coping.

So, if, as COAPE believes, we should resist the overly simplistic behavioural approaches of old, and we refuse to adopt the idea that companion animals with behaviour problems are clinically abnormal, what then should we believe in? It is actually very simple. We have developed, applied, teach and now widely propose a more sensitive and individual approach to each problem behaviour case, based on EMRA: the three tenets of:

1. Emotional Assessment of the animal at the time the problem is observed.
2. Mood State Assessment of how the animal feels and behaves generally and
3. Reinforcement Assessment of exactly which factors, external and internal, are influencing the behaviour problem, often in spite of many varied attempts to remove it.

At the core of this new approach lies an increased awareness of the individuality and emotionality of the animal and the development of the practitioner’s ability to interpret how it feels. This is a dangerous controversial anthropomorphic venture for some given the absence of hard scientific techniques to quantify emotionality, but it is a logical development, given the highly and essential emotional nature of all mammals. This, in fact, forms the ‘art’ of being a good empathetic behavioural practitioner as opposed to one who lectures their clients about what their animal has ‘got’, uses complex terminology to describe simple things and offers standardized approaches to treatment.

But this ‘art’ is not based on some unscientific flight of fancy. The physical and physiological relationship between the structures of the brain that govern our moments of fear and anger, pleasure and ecstasy has, in the field of human psychiatry, for some years been a subject of great activity in neurobiological research. For example, ‘for many, emotional intelligence, ancient, impulsive and highly influential, determines our hopes for success as a species compared with our newer, more easily measured, cognitive intelligence, with its greater awareness and ability to ponder and reflect, and power to over-ride instinctive emotional responses’ (Goleman 1996). Others suggest that the interplay between the two seats of intelIigence is inseparable and our ability to be sensitive to our emotions but govern them with cognitive analysis holds the key. Yet, the structure of human brains seems very naturally to allow emotionally driven instinctive responses to override cognitive processes and controlled responses at certain times. When decisions and action are required, ‘feeling counts every bit as much and, sometimes, more than thought. Intelligence can come to nothing when emotions hold sway’ as one expert neurobiologist wrote (LeDoux 1998).

What are emotions?

Emotions can be described originally as impulses to act, and as states of mind produced by reinforcing stimuli for very specific purposes. These include arousing the animal to take action to defend itself, seek food or other necessities, to form and maintain co-operative attachments with others in a group for obligatory social animals such as dogs, to communicate emotional states one to another, to respond to novelty, and to memorise signals and happenings associated with social or environmental events and to learn to respond to those signals in future, particularly in the case of the ones associated with dangers. Indeed, the different emotions may be classified according to whether the reinforcer is positive or negative. This gives rise to scales of reinforcement contingencies related to degrees of emotionality, e.g. pleasure increasing to elation and ecstasy, frustration increasing to anger and rage, apprehension increasing to fear and terror etc. (sec fig. 1, after Rolls, 1999)

Working with the EMRA model then, making an Emotional Assessment (not a diagnosis, as only veterinary and medical practitioners are legally allowed to make diagnoses) of a dog that is behaving aggressively towards another, or a dog that is destructive when left at home alone, is a vital first step. It is essential to form an opinion of how the dog actually feels at the time of the problem; is it fearful, frustrated, angry, sad, happy etc. All of these emotions differ and an accurate assessment points the road to treatment, the focus of treatment is first to decide how would we like the dog to feel in such circumstances. We would obviously like a fearful dog to feel more confident, and angry dog to feel more content etc, and the job of the behaviourist is to help him learn to get there.

Making a Mood State Assessment of how the dog feels and behaves generally at all other times away from the problem behaviour is our next step. Clearly a depressed dog is much harder to motivate in treatment than a content one. But a manically happy dog that loves everyone and everything is in just as difficult a mood if for example we want to focus his abilities into calm social behaviour with another dog instead of leaping all over him and frightening him (Boxer owners will recognise this - their dogs get into trouble sometimes and then become aggressive themselves because they are just too exuberant for other dogs). It is their basal mood state that first needs attention, not their emotional response at the time that they get into conflict with other dogs. That comes after we have stabilised mood at a more communicable level.

The final part of the EMRA approach is Reinforcement Assessment, which involves assessing what the benefit to the dog is in actually performing the problem behaviour. If there was no emotional benefit to the dog, then the behaviour would never have been established or repeated. This is crucial, as the question of reinforcement must also be considered at the neuro-chemical level, and any treatment must first un-pair feelings of success or relief that have become established at carrying out the behaviour. Only then can one establish opportunities in treatment for the dog to carry out alternative, but equally successful or relief-bringing behaviours, which then themselves become reinforced and established in those circumstances.

Learning produces changes in the way animals perceive their physical and social environment and feel emotionally in their responses to signals associated with dangers or rewards. It is therefore not possible to separate, for example, emotionality from the complexities of learning and maintaining social behaviour and organisation for a dog than it is from obviously rewarding events, such as responses to signals associated with the discovery of food, which have been traditionally described as rather unemotional ‘conditioned’ responses (ie. Pavlov’s classic conditioning experiments with dogs). The purpose of emotions in these instances is to equip the body to ‘do something’ about events in the environment, and the signals associated with them, and to shape, intensify, refine etc and perfect the behaviours that gain rewards. This is especially so with the primary rewards of food, sex, social contact and safety, even though the associated behaviours are naturally innately reinforcing in themselves.

Thus it is a mistake to automatically label the animal which grooms and licks itself to the point of mutilation as suffering from a clinical ‘obsessive compulsive disorder’ (OCD), despite the urge to reach for a complex description for such a seemingly bizarre behaviour. It may in fact be the response of a perfectly normal dog or cat that is under considerable stress, as a result, for example, of being socially isolated or denied opportunity to fulfil normal mood sustaining behaviours. Denied of such important features to the maintenance of its normal species or type mood state balance, it may carry out the only behaviour that it can engage to try and maintain its mood. One such behaviour that makes a dog, or a person for that matter, feel better, is to groom itself. For some dogs, a little chewing of toys brings relief, for others a bit of chewing, perhaps of themselves, is the only option available. Restore the general mood of the dog through providing opportunity to perform other innately rewarding behaviours and the dog is better equipped to cope with the emotional upheaval of isolation, for example, without relying on the one outlet of licking or chewing itself like a comfort blanket. It is all so logical. . .there is no need to clinically classify an ‘OCD’ as if the licking or chewing is a disease, and no need in many cases to medicate the animal, especially if is treated before the behaviour becomes addictive and performed for its emotional benefits at times when the dog is not isolated or otherwise stressed. Equally, it is rather pointless offering a range of behaviour treatments to improve the dog’s mood state if they take no account of the highly variable specific behavloural needs of the type of dog presented. Jack Russells clearly need different things in life to GSDs or Border Collies or Pyrenean Mountain Dogs to maintain their normal mood state and these, along with age, sex, and personality etc must be individually addressed in each case (Coape, 2004).

References

COAPE (2004) Course Notes, Diploma, Practicai Aspects of’ Companion Animal Behaviour and Training.
Goleman (1996) Emotional Intelligence. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2 Soho Square, London WIV 6HB
Le Doux (1998) The Emotional Brain. Weidenfeld and Nicholson. Orion House, 5 Upper St. Martins Lane, London WC2H 9EA
Rolls, E. (1999) The Brain and Emotion. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Walker, R., Fisher, J., Neville, P. (1997) The treatment of phobias in the dog. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 52, 275-289

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