Q: My eight-year-old Shih Tzu bites people when he is not happy. He especially likes to do this when he’s being showered, groomed or when he has to wear shoes. Everyone in my family has been bitten by him before. Will it help if we castrate him?
A: Castration, also known as neutering, is a surgical procedure which removes a dog’s testicles (or testes). The testes are responsible for the production of testosterone during its adolescence (five to 18 months), and the levels of this hormone heighten certain characteristics such as mounting, cocking of leg while peeing, and in some cases, dominant behaviour.
While studies and practices have revealed that castration can assist in managing undesirable behaviours, it is never a permanent solution to manage aggression.
Dogs are capable of exhibiting emotions, but humans have a tendency to exaggerate the situation as we have the ability to make complex decisions and rationalise circumstances, therefore, concluding that canines think the way we do and act the way we think. So, is aggression in dogs really about being unhappy? The reasons can be varied. The causes for antagonism towards family members is usually the most difficult to determine. Aggression as an emotion can be triggered by a variety of factors or influenced by the attitude of family members. From your description, it appears that your dog may be exhibiting dominant behaviour, and surveys have shown that this is more common in entire males than castrated males.
For a start, you will need to re-establish your confidence in approaching your dog. Set some ground rules at home on how the dog should be approached; any form of activity that may trigger the dog to bite has to be stopped immediately. Family safety comes first. Once you have rebuilt your confidence, you may choose to introduce the use of a muzzle gently to your dog, never try to struggle or forcefully introduce it.
Learn to reintroduce those activities in a relaxed manner. Avoid rushing, being frantic or even showing signs of impatience and exasperation. Always remember that your attitude and approach towards your canine (beware of your facial expression, body language and breath) can bring out the best or worst in it. It is never too late to learn and change as you are the best solution to your doggy problems. If in doubt, engage your behavioural therapist to show you the way.
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