Dog behavior is ultimately the result of genetics and environmental experiences. While it’s true that inexperienced breeders lacking knowledge about temperament play a role in the production of puppies with difficult temperaments, irresponsible ownership plays a big role as well. Deficits in the socialization and training department, neglect and mistreatment further contribute to the development of skittish, weak-nerved dogs who are difficult to manage and control. Yet, despite the role of genetics and a difficult upbringing, fortunately it’s very rare for dogs to attack out of the blue and for no reason.
Six Reasons Dogs May Appear to Attack Out of the Blue
It’s not unusual to hear people claim that dogs attack out of the blue. Often, you’ll hear them say that the dog was fine one moment, and then the next he “just snapped.” At a closer look though, these dogs portrayed as being the canine version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde rarely attack unprovoked. Those who understand dogs and their body language will likely notice that in reality dogs often have reason to attack and when they do, they are likely manifesting subtle pre- warning signs of stress that unfortunately go unheeded. Following are some reasons why dogs may appear to attack unexpectedly.
- Feeling Under the Weather
- A Reaction to Perceived Threat
- Subtle Signals Gone Unheeded
- Behaviors Were Misinterpreted
- Inappropriate Approaches
- A History of Punishment
Sometimes, just like us, dogs have good days and bad days too. A condition such as a tooth abscess, an ear infection or a pinched nerve may cause a painful pup to lash out. Hypothyroidism, a condition known for causing sudden, unprovoked aggression may be a potential culprit too. As a general rule of thumb, any dog attacking unexpectedly, should be seen by a veterinarian to exclude medical causes before assuming the cause is behavioral.
While dogs may appear to attack unexpectedly, in most cases they’re reacting to some trigger. Most dogs attack because of fear, stress or a need to protect resources such as food, toys, the owner or their turf. In many cases, the purpose of aggression is to create distance. Backing off is a good practice. It’s best not to approach a dog who is inside a car, behind a fence or chained up. Also, it’s good practice to avoid invading the space of any unfamiliar dog who is playing with a toy, eating or sleeping.
Fortunately, most dogs provide signals to warn of an impending attack, but they’re often overlooked. Growling, barking and showing teeth are obvious warning signs, but it’s important to pay attention to the early, more subtle ones. Yawning, licking chops, turning the head, showing the whites of the eyes, lifting a front leg, lowering the body, erecting the hairs over the back are a few of the many ways a dog may communicate his nervousness about an interaction.
Dogs are often blamed for attacking unexpectedly because they’re assumed friendly, when they’re not. A common misconception is that a wagging tail is sign of a friendly dog. A dog keeping his tail high and stiffly moving it back and forth, shouldn’t be approached. Other than the tail, it’s also important to observe the accompanying body language as well. While dogs may appear friendly, it’s important to consider that sometimes things may deteriorate quickly as their comfort zone is invaded.
A major cause of dog attacks directed towards humans is not knowing how to approach and greet dogs appropriately. Aloof dogs may not lend themselves to immediate friendships. Fearful dogs, may feel stressed if cornered. Unfamiliar dogs should be approached with caution only after obtaining the owner’s permission. Approach slowly and sideways, and if you notice any signs of stress or fear, avoid talking, touching or making eye contact and admire the dog from a distance. Looming over, sticking hands towards his face or giving pats on top of his head can make a timid dog nervous.
A potential cause for a dog attacking unexpectedly is a history of being punished for growling. By growling, dogs communicate their uneasiness; punishing them for it, may lead to a dog who attacks unexpectedly, with little or no warning. A growl is ultimately a gift, it’s a dog’s way of informing us that he can’t tolerate a situation, explains Pat Miller, trainer and owner of Peaceable Paws. Until the day dogs can talk, it’s imperative to pay attention to what they are trying to say. Are you listening?