Heroic Family Cat Derailed a Tragedy

Question:
I keep seeing this video everywhere and hearing lots of theories about the dog’s behavior. The dog is completely unprovoked, but it also doesn’t seem like he/she sneaks up on the child as I would expect a wolf to sneak up on prey. Is the dog curious and regarding the child as a toy? Is this predatory aggression? Is it fear aggression? As a dog lover I find the video terribly disturbing both because of the dog’s behavior and the people’s behavior (which has led to the dog either not being contained or being a stray).

Dr. Nichol:
This video really is unsettling; not everybody would be able to watch without emotional upset. It can be viewed on facebook.com/drjeffnichol. This family’s cat acted heroically, very likely saving the little boy from serious injury or worse.

Aggression involving a singular dog approaching a child is certainly unusual but this event was not unprovoked. When the dog first spied her quarry she slowed to a stop and surreptitiously watched his movements. Her quick but stealthy attack from behind the parked car and the shaking of her victim are clearly predatory. The cat appears to be protecting the child but may also have been reacting to the dog’s rapid movements (cats are predators too). It’s likely that the cat regarded the toddler as a young member of his colony. His protective aggression, driven by an emotional bond, derailed a tragedy.

Predatory aggression shares a behavioral category with maternal aggression. Both are considered non-affective, meaning that they lack an emotional component. True predation is not accompanied by arousal; it is methodical, dispassionate, and occurs without a warning growl. This dog looked at that little boy and saw dinner. Maybe she wasn’t always this way. She should be euthanized so her brain can be evaluated for rabies.

The predatory element lurking in the recesses of every canine brain has been crucial for survival. It’s a trait that is barely present in most modern dogs. The provocation in this case was the child’s small size, his activity, and the predator’s belief that the little guy was alone and unprotected. This dog was motivated to attack; few others, acting alone, would have been.