Medical Problems Behind Unusual Aggression

Trigger Stacking

I was reading the Association of Pet Dog Trainer’s magazine when I came across a case study of aggression by Michael Shikashio, CDBC. Long story short, this Great Dane/Lab mix bit two people pretty severely and was reactive on leash. The dog wore a prong collar while out on walks, but the dog had also bit someone while off leash inside their apartment. What the owners hadn’t noticed was that the dog had developed an ear infection and when people pet him, it triggered an aggressive reaction because the dog was probably in pain. While the prong collar certainly didn’t help the situation, that’s not the main point of today’s post. Today I want to address the importance of health exams when working with behavior issues.

Underlying Health Problems in Aggressive Dogs

Animals, including dogs, are similar to people in that they can feel tired, can get sick, and get injured. All these factors can affect how they would “normally” respond to situations and none of which are detected easily. This can lead to “unpredictable” behaviors and usually play a role in situations when people say “he snapped at me out of nowhere!” This particular case study stated that while the dog was in rescue, there was no known previous aggression problems with it. “Trigger Stacking” is one way aggression may occur suddenly.

Trigger Stacking

Individually, the dog can handle the uncomfortable situation, but together they push the dog overboard into a reaction. Some common health issues are:

  • ear infections
  • joint pain and arthritis
  • thyroid gland abnormalities
  • bug or snake bites
  • matted hair

So before jumping to the conclusion that your dog is aggressive, make sure to get a full physical done to check for any possible health issues.

Here’s another great article on trigger stacking and why “Good Dogs Bite, Too!