Dog with the vet

Pain can cause older dogs to behave aggressively

Older dogs are among those more likely to show aggressive behaviour, according to a new study.

Aggressive behaviour in dogs can include growling, barking, snapping and biting. These are part of normal canine communication, and they also occur in non-aggressive situations, such as during play. However, aggressive behaviour can sometimes be excessive, making the dog a potential health threat to both humans and other animals.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki set out to identify demographic and environmental factors associated with aggressive behaviour toward both dog owners and unfamiliar people in Finnish purebred pet dogs.

The study included data on 9,270 dogs, of which 1,791 had a history of frequent aggressive behaviour. Dogs were classified as aggressive if they growled often and/or had attempted to snap at or bite a human at least occasionally in the situations described in the survey.

Barking Dog

Several factors increased the probability of aggressive behaviour toward people, the researchers found. These included: older age, being male, fearfulness, small body size, less time spent in the company of other dogs, and being the owner’s first dog.

As aggressive behaviour can be a sign of pain, pain caused by disease is one of the potential reasons for older dogs being more likely to behave aggressively than younger ones.

In addition, disorders such as cataracts which are common in older dogs can make it more difficult to notice people approaching, and dogs’ responses to sudden situations can be aggressive.

The probability of aggressive behaviour also differed between breeds, with the Long-Haired Collie, Poodle (Toy, Miniature and Medium) and Miniature Schnauzer found to be the most aggressive breeds.

The findings suggest that educating owners and changing breeding practices could go some way to alleviating aggressive behaviour in dogs, the researchers concluded.

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