Dogs have a set of survival instincts that served them well when they lived in the wild. In the domestic environment, these instincts can can lead to aggression and possibly attacks, especially if we humans fail to recognize that our dogs have entered a hyperactive state. The trick to reducing the chances of attack is to address the cause of the hyperactivity.
Fear is a common cause of dog attacks against dogs and people, especially when we ignore the warning signs. When in a state of fear, dogs become hyper-alert to the things they perceive as threats. These threats may include strangers approaching, family members attempting to soothe the dog by petting him and other animals. This is a natural response to the adrenalin rush brought on by fear. For example, if a dog has previously been attacked by another dog, he may enter a hyper-alert state if another dog approaches him too quickly or plays too roughly. Monitor your dog’s behavior to identify the causes of his fear and the signs he gives when feeling threatened.
Boredom-related hyperactivity can result in jumping and nipping, according to noted dog trainer Cesar Millan. Although not rooted in aggression, treat jumping and nipping as an attack, as both are potentially dangerous behaviors, especially if the victim is a child. Millan recommends ignoring your dog if he behaves this way, in order to remove any incentives for him to repeat the behavior. Plenty of exercise and lots of play will relieve the boredom, but it’s essential you supervise your dog when around other people until you’re confident that you’ve cured his boredom-related hyperactivity.
If a dog can’t cope with being isolated from his pack, he’ll become anxious. Aggression is often triggered by feelings of anxiety and insecurity. If your dog is so bad at coping with separation that he enters a hyper state with pacing, barking and whining, he is at risk of becoming aggressive. Help your dog get over separation anxiety by leaving him alone for short periods, gradually increasing his isolation over time.
A dog may become hyper-vigilant if he feels that his safety or territory is under threat. For example, something as innocuous as a visitor to the home greeting your dog too enthusiastically can put your dog in a hyperactive state. If the visitor is unable to decode the warning signs that your dog is protecting his territory, such as erratic head movements, “stalking,” yawning and pricked ears, the visitor may provoke an attack. Leash your dog when visitors come and reward him when he is passive. This will help him learn not to react territorially.