Aggression and Anger: the Human/Canine Connection

I’ve been blessed in my life. I’ve had eighteen dogs, all of whom were sweet and loving. I’ve never had an aggressive dog with the exception of one – Huggy Bear. Huggy was a black Great Dane that came to us when he was just a pup. Big floppy ears, giant paws, and a single white spot on his chest – he’s going to be a perfect dog for our four young children, I thought. And he was, for the most part, until he was about three months old. Huggy Bear began having difficulty walking and would lose his balance and fall down. He was unable to get up without assistance and when I would try to restore him back to an upright position he would bare his teeth and growl. I took him to a vet only to discover that he had a rare bone disorder that caused  him to be in a lot of pain. That explained the progression from growling to biting. It was no longer safe to allow him near my children, or any other person for that matter. Sadly, I had to find him a new home.

Huggy Bear wasn’t a bad dog and this experience didn’t sour me on getting other canines (as you can tell the numbers of furry companions I’ve acquired over the years). I knew enough about animals to know that an animal that is frightened or in pain will do whatever it has to do to protect itself. If possible, it will run away. If cornered, it will lash out and fight. Self-preservation is a natural instinct built into every animal and human on the planet.

Human beings have a inherent fight or flight response pre programmed into their DNA. Few are aware of the amount of latent pain and unexpressed fear they carry within them. Being beaten as a child, losing a parent to a terminal illness, making a critical error that cost your team the championship – each painful, embarrassing, humiliating, or frightening experience we have that is left untreated continues to haunt us well into adulthood. Events in later years may trigger painful memories and arouse buried feelings that cause us to lash out with anger. Fear, hurt, and frustration all have the potential to convert to aggressive behaviors. What is universal in all of us is in no way reflective of our fundamental value since behavior is merely an outward expression of inward feelings.

Aggressive humans or canines can be a threat to our well-being. We have a right to remove ourselves from their presence and in some circumstances that may be the wisest option. However, as adults we have a responsibility to first-and-foremost examine our own behavior to see if it falls into the category of aggressive or damaging. If so, we must seek the underlying causes of our anger and work towards healing it. In others, whenever possible and only if there is no immediate risk to your person, reach out with understanding, compassion, and thoughtfulness. It may be exactly what the other party needs to soothe their pain, calm their fears, and allow you into the depths of their soul where you can encourage the healing to begin.

Had I been more knowledgeable at that time, I might have been able to work with Huggy Bear to help him navigate beyond his fear. But I was young and ignorant, and fully unprepared for the task. I’ve since matured and educated myself and now feel it is essential for me to reach out to those who are struggling with their personal demons and be a healer to those who are suffering. I do so with both my human and canine connections.

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