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Behavior And Body Language            

  All dogs including pit bulls have the ability to communicate with each other and with humans as well and even understand our communication with them. There are many ways in which dogs communicate. A dog dropping a ball in front of you to tell you its time to play or barking at the door when the doorbell rings or wagging their tail when they see you are all ways they communicate. While dogs communicate with us by barking, growling or whining, that is only a part of their communication skills. Dogs have feelings and emotions and also communicate by their actions, for instance a dog who suffers from separation anxiety may chew things up if he is left alone too long. He is trying to communicate how he feels about being left alone. Dogs also communicate by unconsciously using different parts of their body to convey fear, anger, aggression, submission, dominance etc. The necessity for dogs to communicate with each other goes all the way back to a dogs wolf ancestors who lived in packs and thus developed ways to communicate. Wolves learned to communicate with each other in order to hunt together and live together or to show other dogs within the pack who is the dominant or pack leader and even to raise their young. Body language is a dogs primary way of communicating and comes in many forms such as facial expressions, posture, tail position or movement, ear position and raising their fur or hackles also known as “piloerection” to indicate their feelings or intentions. Dogs are social creatures and communicate very well with each other and It is very important for responsible pit bull owners to have an understanding of what their dog is trying to say to them or to other dogs. Knowing how to communicate with your dog and what your dog is communicating to you will not only create a tighter bond between you and your dog but can also be helpful in warding off any potentially bad situations such as a dog fight. Knowing what other dogs are communicating to your dog is equally important as your dog may not be aggressive but may react to a dog who is aggressive or trying to be dominant. Dogs react in different ways to their surroundings, other dogs, humans and other animals. Part of being a responsible dog owner is being able to understand a dogs behavior and body language.

         Calm Dog
  A calm dog with little or no reaction to its surroundings will appear very relaxed, ears up but not forward, tail down,head high and the corners of the mouth will be relaxed.

       
Stressed Dog
  A dog who may be unsure of his surroundings, fearful or anxious may become stressed indicating he is uptight by sniffing, yawning, looking away, lip licking, licking his/her nose, shaking, whining, restlessness, excessive blinking and panting. These are known as “calming signals” used to calm themselves or others they are interacting with. Some of these are also used to appease aggression or threats of aggression from other dogs or people. For instance, a dog who is being scolded will lower its body and turn away from the scolder avoiding a direct look or eye contact in order to avoid conflict with the scolder. A dog confronted by a dominant aggressive dog may look away from the other dog and avoid eye contact or become submissive by rolling over or licking the mouth of the dominant dog. These are all passive reactions to stress.


   
Aggression Body Postures and Causes                 Fearfull Aggression
   Dogs react in different ways to fear. They may freeze or flee or they may react from fear with aggression. Many dog bites are a direct result of a dog being fear full of some one or another dog. A dog reacting with fear full aggression will take a defensive threat posture. In this situation a dog may be growling with his nose wrinkled up, the corner of his mouth back and may have teeth showing. The dogs ears will be back, eyes squinted and hackles may be raised, he may have the front of his body lowered and tail tucked. This dog if corned may bite or attack. A dog may also give a subtle sign of fear full aggression, for instance someone approaching the dog to pet him in a way he doesn't like may turn towards the thing he doesn't like as in an out stretched hand, eyes widened, mouth closed,
staring at the hand he is about to bite or staring into the eyes of the person he is fearful of. He may not bite but this is a warning sign he is about to bite and is fear full of something.

  Dominant Aggression

  A dog who is dominant aggressive may take an offensive threat posture. He may be trying to show dominance over another dog by taking dominant postures like standing over another dog or hooking his chin over another dogs shoulder with his tail held high and stiff and wagging slowly. The dog may act over confident and pushy. This dog is trying to show confidence and dominance over another dog to show he/she is in charge. Sometimes a dog may try to show control of another dog by mounting or humping the other dog. These displays could lead to trouble especially if two male pit bulls are involved. If a dog takes an offensive threat posture, it means he/she may attack at any time. In an aggressive threat posture the dog is standing tall and forward on his/her toes, may be barking or growling, nose wrinkled, corner of mouth forward, ears forward, stiff body with hackles up and tail held high and stiff and may be wagging slowly.


       
Other forms of aggression:

Most of these types of aggression are easily discernible and look similar in a dogs body language


                                  
   Maternal Aggression

   Females with puppies may become aggressive if a stranger or another dog approaches their welping area or their puppies. This is an instinctive reaction in dogs to protect their young. They may take an offensive threat posture and may bite or attack if not left alone. They may block the path of someone approaching or they may growl, snap, or lunge at any perceived threat.


   Territorial aggression

   
Territorial aggression can occur in a dog if a person, dog or other animal approaches what a dog perceives as its “territory”. Being territorial is natural to dogs and other animals as well and comes in different forms and levels of behavior. Peeing or “marking” is one way a dog is territorial but can also come in the form of aggression. Dogs may take an offensive threat posture if their “perceived” territory is approached and may even bite or attack. Dogs can become territorial over an entire home or a yard, or even a car or truck. They may even be territorial over certain play toys or sleeping areas. Usually growling, snapping, barking or lunging without posturing are signs of territorial aggression.


      
Food Aggression

   
Food aggression can occur in a dog and is a possessive form of aggression. This type of aggression is also a type of dominant aggression, the dog thinking he or she is the alpha dog. In a dog pack dogs eat according to their social hierarchy, the dominant or alpha dog eating first regardless of who made the kill or found the food. A dog showing aggression over food is guarding his food and showing his dominant position in the pack. A domestic dog showing this type of aggression when approached by a human is saying he/she is the alpha or pack leader over the human. With food aggression a dog may growl with his nose wrinkled, teeth showing or may lash out if they are approached by people or other dogs while eating or their food bowl is approached. Food aggression can occur over a dogs food or even a bone or treat. 


   Possessive aggression

   Similar to food aggression a dog may become possessive over some sort of object and may react with aggression if approached. Possession can be over a toy or other object even a female dog by a male and can result in a dog biting or attacking or starting a fight with another dog.


   Redirected Aggression

  This may occur in dogs who are highly agitated, aroused or exited. They may redirect their frustration, anger or anxiety towards another person or animal completely unrelated to what is causing the trouble. Two dogs fighting for instance, may redirect their aggression towards each other, to someone stepping in trying to break them up. There are usually no signs a dog will redirect aggression. It usually happens suddenly without warning as this is a reactive behavior during a high stress situation. This is why animal behaviorists say people should never try to step in between two dogs fighting.


   Prey Aggression

   All dogs are predators and have natural hunting instincts or “prey drive” especially terrier breeds. They naturally want to chase objects like a ball, stick or small animals, even birds.(Ever wonder why dogs always want to chase cats? It's not just because they are cats.) When a dog picks up and object and vigorously shakes it or tears something up it is doing what it is instinctively programmed to do, hunt. When a dog chases, catches, shakes and tears something up he/she is utilizing their natural hunting skills and should be directed towards dog toys. All large breed dogs should be supervised around smaller animals. Any dog who shows any aggression towards other dogs should never be left alone around smaller animals.


   Aggression Due To Health

   A dog who reacts with aggression for apparently no reason may be suffering from health problems. Diseases may cause aggression in dogs. One disease most are familiar with causing aggressive behavior in dogs is rabies, but a dog just being sick, hurt or in pain may react aggressively as a defense mechanism. A dog who suddenly reacts aggressively for no apparent reason may be sick or injured and should be seen by a Veterinarian.


   Play Aggression

   Some dogs may play aggressively due to a lack of socialization with other dogs when young or inappropriately encouraging rough play in puppies. Play aggression may come in the form of short, frequent, higher pitched growls or barking and snapping. Play aggression growls sound different then other forms of aggression which sound like a lower pitched more prolonged growl. While play aggression is not desirable,it is not a dangerous form of aggression in itself but may trigger aggression in other dogs. This could lead to what starts out as innocent play and end up in a dog fight.

             
Aggression factors:
  There are many factors that may be responsible for aggression between dogs and towards people. Aggressive behavior, especially towards people can be a serious matter and should be dealt with by a professional trainer or animal behaviorist. Some factors include, but not limited to are: 

  Households with Multiple dogs not spayed or neutered
• 
Households with two males or two females paired together
  Multiple dog households
•  Animal abuse
  Raising litter mates together
• 
Lack of training or socialization
  Neglect
•  Improper breeding
  Pit Bulls reaching maturity may develop some form of dog aggression at about 9 months to two years of age. (this is not a set rule, some do and some don't, dog aggression varies from dog to dog and some have none at all)
• 
Dog on dog aggression can occur in any breed, but in particular with terrier breeds

             
Other postures:
   Alert Posture

  This is a posture a dog takes when he sees another animal or something that catches a dogs interest. This posture is usually followed quickly by another posture once he figures how he feels about the other animal or whatever caught his/her interest. In an alert posture the dog is showing interest by standing tall with mouth closed and ears forward and tail straight out.
    
Active Submission
   A dog may take a submissive body posture upon coming into contact with an aggressive or dominant dog. He or she may try to appease the other dog by showing calming signals like whining or avoiding eye contact by looking away or may urinate slightly or even licking the mouth of the dominant dog. A dog may also take a submissive body posture upon greeting a human or to show loyalty. A dog who takes an active submissive body posture will hold his body close to the ground with his ears pinned back, tail down maybe slightly between his legs and may be wagging slightly.


   Passive Submission

  A passive submission body posture is when a dog goes completely into submission. In a passive submission posture dogs will roll completely over onto their back exposing their belly. This may be an act of deference to appease a dominant dog or human. It is also a calming signal to avoid conflict and diffuse aggression either from another dog or a scolding from a human. A puppy may submit to its mother by rolling over while being cleaned by her. A dog may also submit to its owner like this while being pet. Usually this means a dog realizes his or her roll in the hierarchy of the family pack where the human has the dominant or alpha roll. This is also the dogs way of showing that they completely trust their owner.

                              
                Passive Submission                                     Play Bow

     Play Bow

   A dog who is feeling play full around another dog will go into a "play bow" posture. This posture is an invitation to the other dog to play. The play full dog will suddenly drop the front of his or her body to the ground while leaving the hind end high in the air, the tail will be up and wagging and ears up or slightly back. This action may be followed by the dog barking at the other dog and running around in circles to entice the other dog to play.

 

   
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 "Pit Bulls" 
A Misunderstood Breed

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