Dr. med. vet. Dunya Reiwald, 

078 82 82 485


The animal behaviour is the visible expression of its state of health.

 Dangerous dogs?

From the behavioural research point of view it is not proven at all that dog breeds behave in an similar way regarding aggression. Aggression has different causes and is a part of social behaviour. It depends on many variables and genetics is only one of them. Breeds are sub-categories of a species and they are distinct in some hereditary characters but not in all. Accidents happen mainly at home with a familiar dog. Only if you are capable of evaluating your dog, can you foresee its behaviour. Men like to caress and touch, and dogs don’t always appreciate this. They can answer by withdrawing or growling. This is not aggression, but communication, the dog is saying “Don’t touch me now, I’m busy” or “You’re scaring me!”.

For 100% protection one should ban dogs. But every life has a right to exist and even helps us humans to understand ourselves better. It is though necessary to find again a normal relation with our dogs, because they don’t behave like humans although dogs succeed magnificently in living with them. Dogs must have the possibility to learn to behave respecting our intentions that must be communicated clearly. Each observed form of behaviour is the result of the animal’s genetic disposition as well as a number of social and non specific influences the animal is exposed to during its development.

The environment influences the dog and determines what genes will be preferred. The owner’s personality as well as the will of the dog to copy the owner are also very important in this development. The same signals used in different ways by the dog can have different meanings depending on their combination. To show teeth doesn’t always mean readiness to attack, all of the signals must be considered in understanding a situation. Ears flattened on the head, all teeth uncovered, a low posture and a refusal to look in the eyes of the other means “Keep back”. An attack can take place if this distance isn’t respected. The dog has no other choice when it can’t escape: it must defend himself.




Only an animal that knows its capacities and is ready to fight takes the risk of threatening. With wolves the signals are clearly readable so that any animal always has the possibility to retire. 

There are no clearly dominant individuals, a relation can be dominant when for example A constantly restricts B’s liberty of movement without B defending itself. B accepts the situation and is actually partially responsible.

Dominant behaviour: Cut off the way, fix the eyes, control the movements, press down the other, push the other in a corner, snap at the other or fight (with bite inhibition).



The dog a wolf?

The dog goes back to the wolf. He is part of the family of earth hunters as well as the bear or the cat. But it’s not a wolf. This must be clear. It has only a few mimical faces and has been domesticated by people for people for thousands of years. Dogs love human beings and look alike. They learn easily to live with people. They are even more capable than primates decoding human communication signals. Canine behaviour can never be directly taken from the wolf’s behaviour. Dogs settle hierarchies like wolves when held in kennels, but these hierarchies are much more subtle with wolves. The wolf is more or less the biological measuring instrument or reference system that allows us to evaluate canine behaviour.



Fear and anxiety

The more animals are kept in low stimuli environments, the more they become anxious. Anxious animals don’t learn well, nor do animals from which you expect more than they bring with them in their innate repertory. These animals can develop an increasing readiness to attack. Fear is a natural feature protecting the animal from danger. Anxiety is not necessary and can lead to illnesses when it can’t be overcome. 

If an owner always gets it wrong regarding his or her dog’s behaviour, signals and functions, the animal can become chronically anxious socially. The rule here is clear : states where anxiety is the source must always and systematically be ignored, except if the fear is justified. Behavioural problems are inevitable if you reward or punish these forms of behaviour.



The puppy’s protection

The puppy’s protection by other dogs isn’t innate. Each dog must learn to protect puppies, as it needs to learn to protect small children. A dog that has never met children won’t protect them maybe because it is scared… It will try to get rid of them or get out of their way.




Barking doesn’t seem to be a means of communication. It is rather an expression of irritation or excitement. Barking changes according to the level of excitement. A vocabulary could never be defined, so it seems that barking doesn’t communicate any precise information.



Different positions

Impose oneself (differed threat, attack seldom)

Eye contact is avoided. The ears point forward. Falling ears are upright. The legs are stiff and the tail is pulled up. The head and the nose are horizontal. The dog can dig the earth with its hind legs or all four paws. 

The dog marks the earth with urine or faeces

The imposing dog puts itself beside the other or perpendicularly ahead. 

The imposing dog puts its head above the other. 

Attack threat

Imposing can end up in threatening.

The tail is pulled up ahead above the back.

The head is slightly lowered and forms a line with the back. The teeth are uncovered in front, which makes the corners of the lips look short and round. If insecure, the dog will uncover its teeth more. 

The opponent is fixed by the eyes.

The attacking dog can growl or bark (= threat).

Some dogs don’t even threaten before they attack. This can be caused by different wrong developments during the dogs education: incomplete or missing socialisation, unclear position in the family rank, few meetings with other dogs. 

Defensive threat

The ears go back

The mouth is opened wide or the animal bites in the air

The legs are folded for an instant

The tail is between the legs

The hair can ruffle up

Humility, passive subordination

Eye contact is avoided. The head is turned away. 

The ears go back.

The lips are pulled back and form a “subordination smile” 

The dominated dog can give a paw to the other dog

Some dogs show subordination while greeting humans and put themselves directly on their back. These are very subordinated and insecure dogs or dogs held like children which learned to profit from the advantages of that position. 

Humility, active subordination

The legs are folded

The body posture is low

The tail is low and moving quickly and in a small radius



Learning and education

Praise is the aim of behaviour after an order since dogs are highly sociable animals. This behaviour is indeed part of the dogs sociability. That is why dogs can be educated and trained more easily with praise, this being their natural way of learning. They recognize exactly whether they are dealing with success or not (success : the behaviour is reinforced ; no success : the behaviour is reduced). Optic or acoustic signals, gesture and mimic are of great help because dogs understand them automatically (it’s innate). Even lowering your voice, the melody, the word frequency or the intonation are noted. Actually dogs learn each day by being confronted with their environment and accumulating experiences. 

To be consequent with dogs allows them to develop the social security and well being which builds the basis for a secure relationship between dog and human being. By the way, one can say that the contact with our human brothers and sisters as well as with the animal reign is necessary for a human development of humans (Olbrich 2002)!

Intolerable person-dog interactions that are immediately communicated as negative impulsion to the puppy, allowing it to associate them with the bad behaviour, are not leading to disaffection. They enable a clear social relation within the group. Dogs mustn’t see in people a rival to fight hierarchy with all the time. The relation should be based on confidence and affection, but the human must be sure of being the head of brank from the beginning ! Humans should take care of the dog and be sure that it understands when fear is necessary and when not.




Social playing is the basis of the « fairness » characterising dogs. Playing can only take place when the animal acts in a fair way and the atmosphere is relaxed. That way dogs learn that behaving fairly is rewarded. Missing social playing has terrible consequences for social development, because only through playing do puppies learn go cooperate and what is “right” and “wrong” when interacting . Protected by playing and its particular atmosphere, dogs can learn best. Even aggressions can be avoided by social playing: the dog communicates with play signals unconsciously (for it and the other dog) that « Now we’re playing ! » If these signals are missing because they have never been learned, the risk of a conflict rises dramatically. 

Playing probably represents a part of the scaffold necessary for the development and differentiation of the adult behavioural pattern. It is immediately helpful for the puppy in developing its bodily capacities like coordination and movement. 

In brief : playing seems to increase the flexibility of social behaviour. 

Frequent playing postures: Low posture of the front part of the body, giving the paw, running and turning over. Some breeds are so social that they prefer humans to their own species. It is true that humans and dogs are similar in many ways (family group, parental engagement, food sharing etc.). Even if it isn’t proven scientifically one can say that dogs say a lot about their human owners since they specifically transform themselves while adapting. 

And by the way: men also need to play. Playing is the frame for cognitive and social development (between 6 and 7 years). It is known that playing enables the brain to develop.




That dogs neck-shake their puppies for punishment is a tale This neck shaking comes from hunting behaviour and is demonstrated to the puppies while playing so they learn how to kill small prey. A small dog lifted and shaken can become terribly scared and even hurt ! !. 

The puppies’ total freedom is clearly limited. The adult dogs often provoke situations in which the puppies come to their limit and are punished consequently. 

During the sensitive phase from 4 to 16 weeks the organism is widely open and captures the first sensations with sensorial organs that can store them in the memory. These sensations as well as genetically set information are the basis for the dogs future necessary knowledge. Negative consequences (insecurity, fear) are inevitable if this learning is missing at this stage. It can lead to attacks against other dogs or humans. 

This early learning is different from late learning because it is anchored much more deeply and hardly spent or forgotten. It also influences later learning. During this sensitive phase even tiny quantities of information have a persistent effect on behaviour (the same quantity later will not have this effect any more). 

A puppy that has the fundamental experiences for his cerebral development will always be able to adapt to a changing environment. Indeed he’ll be given the security to contact his environment and to digest the news without fear of new stimulants. This security does not depend only on the bitch, but as much on the breeder who influences the puppies via his relation with the bitch. 

Fear, as we said, is a normal form of behaviour that protects the puppy from danger. The work to be done by humans is to reduce this fear to the really dangerous circumstances so that the puppy isn’t afraid when there is no need (such as during a thunderstorm or an object falling on the floor).


Biting inhibition must be taught as early as possible. Puppies snapping at other dogs or people while playing should immediately be eliminated by a loud “Ou, you hurt me”. The owner must keep focused on the puppy and forbid what he or she doesn’t want and let the puppy know.



Dogs are dependent on men when they deal with scary or exciting situations. The human being is the social partner and must offer social support as brank leader. When socialisation is inadequate or absent, dogs cannot cope with stress and absolutely need human help. The owner should take care of them and gain their confidence in order to build a bond permitting social help in difficult situations. In such situations wolves depend on their fellow companions. 

Chronic stress is bad for learning and memorization procedures. That’s why pressure isn’t good: it leads to higher levels of cortisone and catecholamines, to such behavioural changes as freezing, apathy, unforeseen aggressivity and self-mutilation. These forms of behaviour must be taken most seriously because they aren’t easily spent and entail a considerable amount of stress for the dog. Dogs can respond to stress in two ways: active confrontation and control of the situation or relaxation (with the help of human social support).



La castration

Castration is usually recommended. It will not change the dog’s way of being. The libido, the digestion and the skin may react to the missing testosterone. A dog attacking others will not forget that behaviour after castration, and a nice quiet one will not become aggressive at once. They will be less interested in females, which often doesn’t influence playing. On the contrary, they can now concentrate fully on the game!




What is good or bad for humans can’t be asigned to dogs. But as we train our dogs we form a new rule which has a stronger influence on them than their innate behaviour or their impulses. So human authority at the end becomes some kind of a moral code for dogs.


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