APDT Conference: Day 3

Friday and another full-on day where from now you select who you want to see as there are concurrent sessions running – in fact, there is so much to choose from. For instance, in the past I have done the chicken training but decided to give that a miss so I could see and hear something different. So, this morning I started off with another session from Ken McCort titled “Aggression vs Predation in Canids”.

Ken started off by defining aggression and preferred this definition from Edward O. Wilson – aggression is a physical act by one individual that reduces the freedom or genetic fitness of another. Before he got to this he did open with the controversial subject about whether the terms dominance and submission exist in the world of dogs with a view that they are relevant behaviour terms that have a legitimate use but what they are not is, they are not personality traits, which is maybe where we hear it being used.

He then went on and spoke about how many different types of aggression have been defined in the literature and whether all those different types exist or whether we just like creating terms to suit situations. However, the term is handy but McCort suggests there are only two forms of aggression (regardless of whatever title it is known as):

  1. Offensive aggression, which is where the animal uses agonistic behaviour to obtain a resource – the “Attacker”
  2. Defensive aggression, which is where the animal uses agonistic behaviour to keep a resource – the “Defender” or “victim”

When compromised or threatened the dog has three choices: fight, flight or freeze. What is important to the dog is space:

  • Territory = turf (can be anything the dog can sense and is sometimes more breed specific)
  • Flight distance = distance dog will go when frightened – when frightened the distance the animal will go before stopping & looking back; critical to survival
  • Critical Distance = necessary to stay free – distance dog must maintain to stay loose / free; distance varies on experience and physical ability; often tested and retested
  • Social Distance / Personal Space = very close, physical contact – in most cases, it is a violation of etiquette to enter an animal’s personal space without permission. McCort suggests that this is where most people are going to get bitten.

The dog goes through what is known as the aggression continuum, something which most of us are aware of. The continuum goes something like this: Cut off signals / Conflict & Displacement behaviours; Alarm bark / growl; Snap / lunge; Contact bite; Puncture / laceration; Multiple bites / slashing; Tissue loss / amputation of digits; All out attack / Death.

The body language of a dog changes dependent on how close you get to it. Further, pain can change fight into flight (and sometimes quickly). Think of giving a dog a leash correction; however, McCort also stated that he could see no reason why using an aversive was wrong when it was going to save the animal’s life – the example he gave was stock-chasing. (Like many of those at this seminar, they recognise that four quadrants exist and that each has a purpose and we should not be ignorant of this.)

When working with aggression it is important that you work with the first step in the continuum and not wait. Observation is so important in not allowing the behaviour to escalate. Also on this point, a dog will never miss the first step – the cut-off signal, but may miss one or more of the other steps.

McCort also spoke about the types of aggression, which are pretty much the classifications familiar to most of us, but the key is that the type is based on what is the motivation. Again, when dealing with aggression – why is the dog doing this?

And then he spoke about predatory behaviours, which is based on the motivation for food. The dog is not hungry or upset, it just wants to catch its prey – or to reach one of the other behaviours in the foraging motor pattern – also known as prey drive (which McCort argues is an incorrect term) or fixed action pattern or instinctive behaviour. Those who have done the NDTF over the recent years this is all covered in those specific lectures.

I enjoyed this lecture and hopefully you will be able to access the notes here – ken_mccort_aggression_vs_predation_notes

So that was the start to the day, more to follow.

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