Dog aggression and attacks can be reduced, according to vets

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With just two weeks to go until Christmas, many people will be frantically searching for the perfect Christmas gifts.

And with the popularity of online shopping and ‘signed for’ deliveries at an all-time high, it means more postal workers are at risk of coming into direct contact with dogs who may show signs of territorial aggression; and attempt an attack.

But, the number of dogs displaying aggressive behaviour to postal and delivery workers in and around the home can be dramatically reduced, according to a new report compiled by vets.

The 2015 Vet Report, produced by Vets4 Pets, provides advice on how to recognise this common form of dog aggression, as well as how to prevent, manage and treat it.

Director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, Dr Huw Stacey said: “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 behaviour 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 report is being backed by the Communication Workers Union, which represents the majority of dog attack victims – postal workers.

The Union’s national health, safety & environment officer, Dave Joyce, who launched the Bite Back campaign in 2008, wants to help reduce the number of attacks on postal and delivery workers.

He said: “Figures show that eight postal workers are attacked on a daily basis, so it’s pleasing to see an organisation with a UK-wide reach producing a well-researched and constructive report to help raise awareness of the problem and to reduce the number of dog attacks.

“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, recognise when their pet is showing signs of territorial aggression and take effective control.”

The best way of managing territorial aggression in dogs is to prevent it from developing when they are puppies.

“When owners first get their puppy they should socialise 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.

“If your dog already exhibits aggressive behaviour, the key precaution to take is making sure they are not able to come in to contact with visitors to the property.

“Instead, place them in an area of the house away from any physical or visual access to the visitor, and give them treats or a toy to occupy themselves.

“The problem is still poorly recognised and frequently misunderstood, but, if dog owners follow the preventative measures, then we should hopefully see a real decrease in territory related attacks.

“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.

“To help dog owners and non-dog owners recognise, understand and react to signs of territorial aggression we’ve created an interactive tool www.vets4pets.com/territorial-aggression.

Territorial aggression is a common problem for dogs as statistics show that around 200,000 people are bitten by dogs per year.

Mr Joyce concluded: “Dog attacks are almost always preventable, if owners are responsible, keep their animals under control and if initial signs of aggression are recognised and addressed immediately.

“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.

“By working together with dog owners, vets and CWU members, dogs and postal workers can live and work in harmony.”

Tips for dog owners 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

The 2015 Vet Report also provides updates on Alabama Rot, the threat of lungworm, how regular health checks are important to the welfare of pets and the potential threat of diabetes in cats and dogs.