With Summer coming we will all be taking our dogs to beaches in the morning or evenings, and dog parks during the day to enjoy the great outdoors. With responsible ownership it can all go well, however it is important to understand some of the natural characteristics of dogs. Recognising what is “Good Play”, and having off lead control of your dog are essential ingredients to safe socialising.
Dog attacks seem to be on the increase, and I’m not convinced it is all down to “Aggression”. Many dogs show predatory behaviour. Some dogs will run up to other dogs or chase them, but once they have caught up to them, that is the end of the game. Other dogs often show slow moving stalking type behaviours when they see other dogs, but this might not ever eventuate into an attack. These are standard aggressive behaviours that are trainable and manageable.
There is a phenomenon Ian Dunbar calls "Predatory Drift", however, which I believe is completely unpredictable and the most damaging form of “aggression”. I don’t believe it is something you can train out of a dog, and because there are normally no warning signs, it is very difficult to manage.
Being aware of possible circumstances that could spark an incidence of Predatory Drift, and avoiding these is the best way to prevent it from occurring.
Social situations that would normally not cause any concern at all can quickly turn if not managed. Learning to read dog play can help, and learning to maintain control and focus with your dog is essential when you are out in public areas.
Predatory drift is an instinctual kicking in of predatory reflexes often stemming from play between a large and small dog, or a group of dogs acting as a pack.
There is also a danger of this instinct sparking when a small fast dog races around in an open space near a large breed dog. A large breed dog will run after, pick up and shake a small fast moving dog. Social play interactions can also trigger an incidence of predatory drift if the smaller breed was to yelp or submit. The aggressor is normally a dog that has never shown signs of dominance or aggression in the past and so the attacks normally come as a huge surprise to the owners.
Whether you have a large breed or a small dog, we each have responsibilities to ensure we keep them safe and that we provide a social environment conductive to our canines needs and instincts.