The 2015 Vet Report, produced by Vets4Pets and backed by the Communication Workers Union (CWU), provides advice on how to recognize common forms of dog aggression, such as territorial aggression, as well as how to prevent, manage and treat it.
In the UK approximately eight postal workers are attacked by dogs everyday. Since the Dangerous Dog Act changed its laws in 2014, prosecutions of the dog owners have increased by 62%, according to statistics from the national Police Chief’s Council via Statistics Analytical Services at the Ministry of Justice.
Director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, Dr Huw Stacey says, “Dogs naturally place a high value on their home environment (territory); it is where they have all their basic resources such as food, water, shelter and companions. Aggression is a natural behavior for dogs and they will use if they wish to increase the distance to something they find threatening.
“In the case of territorial behaviour, a dog’s aggression is triggered if they feel these resources are threatened by a strange intrusion and they feel there is a need to protect them. As such, territorial aggression is simply a way of a dog enhancing its own safety within its home environment.
“It is not a characteristic in any breed of dog, it is an adaptive behaviour and can be prevented or managed if the warning signs are recognised and acted upon.”
The CWU’s national health, safety and environment officer, Dave Joyce, who launched the Bite Back campaign in 2008, says, “The report by Vets4Pets aligns with our findings and hopefully together we can help reduce the number of dog attacks by increasing awareness of animal behaviour, so owners take responsibility, recognize when their pet is showing signs of territorial aggression and take effective control.
“The growth in online shopping and signed for deliveries is resulting in postal and delivery workers having to knock on doors and for customers to open doors to collect the growing number of parcels. This increases the possibility of direct contact with dogs in their own home or territory, which they'll naturally defend.”
Vets agree the best way to manage territorial aggression is to prevent it developing when their dogs are puppies.
“When owners first get their puppy they should socialize them with visitors, including postal workers, as often as possible so that they do not fear them. Delivery workers could even give them a treat at the door,” added Dr Stacey.
“Owners may believe that their dog isn’t aggressive just because it hasn’t bitten or attacked anyone, but aggression also encompasses a number of other threat-averting behaviours ranging from subtle signs like blinking and lip licking all the way to overt behaviours like growling and barking.
“Aggression isn’t limited to a bite, and any actual attack in a territorial situation can actually be built up from many episodes of learning and built up frustration.”
Tips for preventing territorial aggression
When a postal/delivery worker comes to your door:
1. Put your dog securely in another room when opening the door
2. To prevent the risk of your dog biting the fingers of postal/delivery workers, mount a letterbox cage inside the door, or alternatively fit a secure outside mail box
3. Do not leave your dog unsupervised outside in an area where it may come in to contact with visitors to the property
4. Never leave your dog alone with young children
An interactive tool has also been created to help dog owners and non-dog owners understand the signs of territorial aggression. Go to www.vets4pets.co.uk/territorial-aggression to find out more.