Everything comes down to poo

And dog “aggression” may be no exception.


With the City of Austin’s municipal animal control shelter killing only 1/20th of 1% of dogs out of over 8,000 for perceived “aggression,” we know the number of dogs who are deemed by pounds as “aggressive” should be rare.

We also know that even if we concede particular dogs are exhibiting “aggression,” roughly 90% need nothing more than getting out of the shelter and into a foster home for less than a month and, similarly, the average amount of time for rehabilitation in dogs whose cases are deemed “severe” such as those who have faced profound trauma from physical abuse, dog fighting, hoarding, and puppy mills is only 12 weeks.

Finally, we know that pounds do not kill dogs for “aggression” as determining whether a dog is “aggressive” in a shelter is not, at this time, reasonably possible, given the traumatic environment of the shelter and the lack of predictive ability of current testing methods.  Instead, they kill them for fear of liability, because doing so is easier or more convenient than investing in rehabilitated care, or other reasons unrelated to the dog’s behavior.

These things may soon change (or at least be profoundly impacted) further in favor of dogs, eliminating “aggression” as an excuse to kill, increasing our ability to test for it, and eliminating the actual behavior. And it all comes down to poo.

Researchers looked at the poo of dogs who displayed “aggressive” behaviors and those who did not and found a difference in their gut microbes: “microbial composition differs based on aggressive and non-aggressive evaluations.”

This is “important because they indicate that either (a) aggressive dogs manifest physiological conditions in the gut that influence the composition of the gut microbiome, (b) the composition of the gut microbiome may influence aggressive behavior, or (c) that aggressive dogs are subject to some biased covariate relative to non-aggressive dogs that also influences the gut microbiome.”

The hypothesis centered around (b) is the most exciting. If it is true, not only can we better determine what is going on with dogs in shelters, we may be able to treat physical issues and thus reduce or eliminate the behavior. As a result, fewer dogs will be killed in pounds and their quality of life in a human-centric world will increase.

These avenues still require more investigation, say the authors, because all they can conclude right now is that perceived “aggression” is correlated with a particular make-up of gut microbes found in poo: “we need follow-up experimentation to determine if there is a causative role.” And while it is still too early to tell, since the lives of dogs hang in the balance, we need to pursue this research with all deliberate speed.

The study, “The gut microbiome correlates with conspecific aggression in a small population of rescued dogs (Canis familiaris),” is here.

And for all cat lovers out there, a new study of behavior in cats confirmed what many of us already know: “it’s not them, it’s you.” While cats are often unfairly deemed anti-social and aloof, it turns out that for a lot of cats, they are responding to your aloofness. Pay more attention to them, interact with them more, and they will respond, even the grumpy ones.

That study, “The quality of being sociable: The influence of human attentional state, population, and human familiarity on domestic cat sociability,” is here.


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