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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Dog
Satisfied Customers: 33271
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 45 years of experience.
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Hi , I have an 11 yr old staffie who we have had from a pup

Customer Question

Hi , I have an 11 yr old staffie who we have had from a pup and has grown up with my 4 children . But for the past few months or so he has started to become aggressive towards the children and visitors . He has always been a lovely friendly dog so I have no idea why things have changed . He is fine with myself and husband . Do have any advise please ? Many thanks Debbie
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Dog
Expert:  Shantal-Mod replied 3 years ago.
Hello Debbie,

I'm Shantal and I'm a moderator for this topic.

I've been working hard to find a Professional to assist you with your question, but sometimes finding the right Professional can take a little longer than expected.

I was checking to see if you had already found your answer or if you still need assistance from one of the Professionals.

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Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 3 years ago.
Aloha! You're speaking to Dr. Michael Salkin
I'm sorry that your question wasn't answered in a timely manner. I have advanced training in canine behavior and am pleased to discuss Elvis with you. At 11 years of age, Elvis must initially be suspected of demonstrating pain-induced or irritable aggression. Geriatric osteoarthritis is a common cause of pain-induced aggression and metabolic disorders such as liver disease, renal disease, endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism, central nervous system disorders such as brain tumor, sensory decline as seen with cognitive dysfunction (senility), or even a lack of sleep might lead to irritable aggression. Because pain monitoring is such a subjective assessment, it may be difficult to accurately separate irritable from pain-induced aggression (i.e., does my patient have dental pain, arthritis, a headache?). In addition, it's important to note that the presence of pain may lower the threshold for the manifestation of other types of aggression, such as fear or dominance-related aggression.

It's important that Elvis have a thorough physical exam by his vet including a diagnostic panel of blood/urine tests. Joints should be checked for osteoarthritic pain by palpation +/- X-rays. Presumptive therapy with a nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug (NSAID) such as carprofen or meloxicam is appropriate if joint pain is suspected. Behavioral reconditioning shouldn't be attempted until a medical etiology for Elvis's behavior is ruled out. I'm going to provide you with my synopsis of general aggressive behavior which will give you a good overview and basis on which to decide how to proceed:

I have advanced training in canine and feline behavior and answer many of the behavior questions on this site. Let me preface my discussion by saying that you mustn't listen to anyone who purports to have specific answers concerning aggressive behavior when offered in a long-distance manner such as this conversation. The following will describe why this is so and hopefully give you a good overview of what you're dealing with:

Aggression is the most common behavioral problem for which dogs are referred to specialty counseling centers. It's also the most dangerous problem for family members to deal with, because they, visitors, or other pets may be at risk. Until owners receive appropriate counseling and understand the risks, they should be cautioned to provide safe management of the pets and to avoid situations that are likely to trigger aggressive encounters. The best way to ensure an accurate diagnosis is to combine a physical examination and appropriate diagnostic tests with a complete behavioral history, and view the dog during a typical aggressive display either directly or by video observation. Since direct observation or video taping are not always practical or safe, the behavioral consultant may need to rely entirely on the behavioral history to make the diagnosis. There are a number of criteria that are used for differentiating one type of aggression from another, including the aggressor's traits and behavior, characteristics of the target, and the conditions during which the aggression occurs. In formulating a treatment plan, consideration must be given to the type of aggression, the pet's temperament, and the mental and physical competence of individuals in the pet's environment. It's important to note that a pet may have a single type of aggression or there may be a number of forms of aggression in the same pet. In addition, each aggressive display may have components of more than one type of aggression, such as dominance and defensive, territorial and fear, or chase predation and defensive aggressions. There may also be learned and conditioned components in each display.

One of the most crucial aspects of working up a case of canine aggression is assessing the risk of injury that the dog poses to those in its environment. In order to accomplish this, a very complete history must be taken from all family members and others involved with the pet. Factors relating to the risk of injury the pet poses, and whether the owners can control the opportunity for interaction with target people or animals will determine if the pet should stay in the home, be rehomed, or euthanized. For instance, a large, strong dog that bites children unpredictably without inhibition in a busy home with many small children and poor supervision by adults who can't comprehend the danger of dog aggression, will pose an extremely high risk of serious injury.

What the foregoing implies is that unless my owner is highly motivated, extremely cautious, willing to spend the considerable time involved in reconditioning these dogs and solicit the assistance of a behaviorist (please see, removal of the aggressive dog from the home or sequestering the dog away temporarily when appropriate should be considered. This is not a behavior to address unaided. Thank you for your understanding.

Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.