As one of the most popular pets in the USA, most owners tend to forget that their dogs are equipped with sharp teeth, powerful jaws, menacing growls, and a mind of their own.
Determining why your German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP) is showing aggressive behavior is the first step in devising an effective strategy to address it.
German Shorthaired Pointers (GSPs) are not naturally aggressive dogs but will occasionally show behavioral, pathological, or idiopathic aggression.
Most cases of behavioral aggression have a good prognosis, whereas the prognosis for idiopathic and pathological aggression tends to be poor.
Dealing with aggressive GSPs leaves many owners feeling shaken and bewildered as they struggle to reframe their understanding of their typically gentle GSPs.
Understanding the cause of GSP aggression is essential in empowering owners to deal with their dogs.
Are GSPs Supposed To Be Aggressive?
The gundog group, which includes Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Springer Spaniels, and Chesapeake Retrievers, are known to be friendly, even-tempered dogs.
The GSP, in particular, is described as playful, intelligent dogs who show immense loyalty to their families. In other words, GSPs are not supposed to be aggressive dogs.
GSPs showing unprovoked and uncontrolled aggression should never be included in breeding programs and should immediately be examined by a vet and, if necessary, an animal behaviorist.
Primary Classifications Of GSP Aggression
Aggressive behavior amongst GSPs is divided into three broad categories:
- Behavioral aggression
- Pathological or medically linked aggression
- Idiopathic aggression
Behavioral Causes Of Aggression In GSPs
Not all aggression amongst GSPs is unexpected or pathological; many dogs, even typically sweet-tempered GSPs, may show temporary aggression if pushed past the point of tolerance.
GSPs Correcting Rude Behavior
The most common scenario to this type of irritation-linked aggression is with new puppies and older dogs. The puppy, being a proper puppy, is full of energy and desire to play.
Puppies often harass their moms or older GSP friend to come and play with them.
The adult GSP may growl and even snap at the puppy, warning them to mind their manners; in this way, the puppy learns a valuable lesson on polite dog manners.
Young children and inexperienced dog owners will often get into trouble, just like the naughty pup.
Although human-directed aggression is unacceptable, the GSP should be treated with respect and not forced to “correct” rude humans!
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Social Aggression In GSPs Linked To Dominance Issues
Dog-on-dog aggression is often seen in multi-dog households in which GSPs fight to establish dominance and a working social hierarchy.
Mild bouts of rough play need not be a cause for concern as the GSPs will stop roughhousing once they have decided whose boss.
However, GSPs who are injuring other dogs should receive the professional intervention.
Fear Aggression And Redirected Aggression In GSPs
Fearful or frustrated GSPs may inappropriately redirect their aggression towards humans or other dogs.
Fearful GSPs need to gain confidence and trust in their human handlers, while frustrated GSPs need to be allowed to vent pent-up energy and avoid triggering events, e.g., fence-fighting.
Resource Guarding Amongst GSPs
Have you ever heard the parable or story of the dog in the manger? All dogs, GSPs included jealously guard “their” humans, toys, feed bowls, beds, etc.
Many people mistakenly dismiss and laugh off puppies and juvenile GSPs who growl when friends and family approach the GSP sitting next to “their” human.
In fact, some owners encourage the behavior as it makes them feel special.
Failure to correct this behavior when GSPs are young will result in those previously indulgent smiles turning into gasps of horror when the GSP decides to escalate his threats.
This resource-guarding aggression is a relatively easy issue to resolve if addressed timeously.
Territorial And Litter Guarding in GSPs
GSPs, like all dogs, show some degree of territorial defense; they will actively chase off any animal or human intruders.
However, unlike true territorial guardians (e.g., the English mastiff), most GSPs are more bark than bite.
The exception to this rule is mothers guarding their pups; they are not bluffing!
Mother GSPs will actively defend their babies from any perceived threats.
Aggressive behavior in GSPs may be linked directly or indirectly to a medical condition. GSPs with acute or chronic pain, e.g., systemic lupus or arthritis, may growl, snap or even bite if bumped.
These GSPs may become so afraid of being bumped and the resultant pain that they start to pre-emptively growl and bite.
Some infectious diseases (.e.g, Rabies), cancers (e.g., brain tumors), and other pathologies cause symptomatic changes in personality and behavior, which may cause unprecedented aggression in typically mild-mannered GSPs.
Any aggressive GSP, but especially GSPs with no history of aggression, should be examined by a vet.
Before going to the vet, try and note:
- When did the aggressive episode occur, were there any triggers?
- How long did the fit of aggression last?
- How intense was the level of aggression displayed? Could you calm your GSP down?
- How many days, weeks, months has it been since your GSP started being aggressive?
- Has your GSP been showing any other strange behaviors?
- Have you noticed any change in your GSP’s weight or loss of condition?
It’s essential to give your vet all the information about your GSP, even if you think it’s unimportant or silly. It’s often that “silly” information that holds the key to successfully diagnosing your GSP.
Not all aggression can be linked to a specific cause; in fact, some dogs seem to have “rage” attacks.
Idiopathic aggression is characterized by random periods of extreme aggression, which may be directed at nearby humans, dogs, or even inanimate objects.
GSPs in the midst of an uncontrolled rage episode may froth at the mouth, but not all dogs will show this behavior.
It has been theorized that idiopathic rage may be a form of epilepsy, but researchers have not yet proven this definitively.
The prognosis for idiopathic rage is poor; how can you treat a condition when you don’t know the cause?
The unpredictability and ferocity of these attacks leave owners with little choice but to euthanize their dogs.
Thankfully, idiopathic rage syndrome is rare amongst GSPs.
What To Do If Your GSP Is Aggressive?
Uncontrolled aggression in a GSP is a serious issue that must be dealt with promptly before it results in injury to humans or other animals that necessitates the euthanasia of your GSP.
Most cases of GSP aggression are relatively easy to solve if caught in the early stages.
Experienced dog trainers and vet-recommended animal behaviorists are the best professionals to help your GSP become a well-adjusted, balanced, non-aggressive dog.
Trying to solve your GSPs aggression by force or by showing them whose boss is the equivalent of pouring flammable gasoline on a raging fire; it’s an approach that makes a bad situation worse!
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GSPs may show aggression for several different reasons. It’s essential to determine the underlying cause of your GSP’s aggression as this will affect what methods should be used to address aggression in your GSP.
A vet should always examine GSPs showing aggression to rule out any medical cause for aggression.
Once all medical causes have been excluded, a qualified animal behaviorist specializing in dog aggression is the best professional to help you ethically and effectively deal with your aggressive GSP.