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Beware of Silent, Stealthy Aggressors
They can be the most dangerous.
A silent, stealthy attack is a bad sign.

Threat displays can function to thwart serious aggression, which is why many of them occur without ever leading to real trouble. By showing their weaponry or signs of strength, dogs are communicating that it would be unwise to challenge them. Dogs can assess each other, and often one or more decide that to proceed would be unwise.

However, dogs who never give any warning before behaving aggressively are the most frightening and potentially dangerous. Many dogs who attack with silent stealth (not so much as a bark or a growl) have no intention of avoiding aggression and are the ones most likely to deliver uninhibited, seriously injurious bites.

Similarly, the scariest and most dangerous dog fights are the silent ones in which all the dogs’ energy is focused on the attack rather than the loud ones in which a lot of energy goes towards barking and growling. They are the ones that are most likely to lead to critical injuries or even death. Much less likely to cause serious damage are the ones that sound, to use a phrase that is descriptive if not pretty, “like dogs in a blender.” These are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The vocalizations and visual displays that often accompany dog fights are a form of communication. As long as the dogs are attempting to communicate with one another, there is some possibility that they are seeking to end the conflict. If the dogs have no interest in working out the conflict or to de-escalate the aggression, then the dogs are most likely serious about injuring each other. Quiet fights and quiet attacks involve individuals who are most likely actually trying to cause injury, rather than trying to reach a peaceful resolution.

Although personality differences in how much individual dogs tend to vocalize can influence how loud an attack or fight is, and a victim dog may make piercing yelps and screams while the attacker remains silent, I still generally find that quiet incidents result in the most damage. Of course, there are also tons of exceptions. Regrettably, many people and dogs are seriously injured by dogs making a big ruckus.

Though I’m describing a general pattern, I know of many exceptions to it. For anyone who has been unlucky enough to witness an aggressive dog attack or a fight between dogs, what did you observe? Have you seen a quiet incident that was extremely injurious? Have you seen a loud crazy fight that resulted in little damage? Or, did you see something else entirely?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

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