Dog behavior expert explains aggression

On Tuesday a Travis County jury unanimously agreed that six dogs worked as a pack to cause the death of Erin McCleskey in 2016. We spoke with an expert in dog behavior about where aggression comes from and, how we as a community can prevent future tragedies.

Shari Elkins is the director of training at the Canine Center for Training & Behavior.

She says you need to be aware when encountering a dog you don't know.

"Don't assume that every dog out there is trained; don't assume that every dog out there wants to meet you. If you're worried about a dog: don't make eye contact, don't reach for them, don't say anything," says Shari Elkins, director of training, The Canine Center for Training & Behavior.

Many questions about dog aggression have come into play following the death of Erin McCleskey in 2016, the process server who was attempting to serve legal papers to a homeowner in Manor when she was attacked. Six dogs were on the property that day.

On Tuesday jurors agreed the dogs, as a pack, caused McCleskey's death by attacking, mauling or biting her. On Wednesday we learned an attack by four dogs left one woman dead and another seriously injured in Alabama.

We asked Elkins about pack mentality which she refers to as mimicry. "If one dog is prone to chase down a person, then all the other dogs around him are prone to do that as well. It doesn't guarantee they will but it certainly makes it more likely to happen," says Elkins.

Elkins says fear and frustration are two causes for aggression. She says its important to address the fear not just correct the behavior. For frustration, we should teach dogs how to get what they want. It's also about socialization.

"We need to be getting them used to people touching them, we need to be touching them ourselves. So if we leave them in a void, especially a void where they just live with other dogs, they can lose their ability to communicate with the human world," says Elkins.

She says praising good behavior allows dogs to better understand what you like.

"Big jump - that's a good boy," says Elkins.

For those looking for a dog, Elkins recommends only getting one. "Once you get the second or the third dog, they're now starting to pay attention more to each other, less attention to you, they get harder to control. So unless you're the person that really enjoys a lot of dog training and wants to spend a lot of time with your dogs, we recommend you have one pet," says Elkins.

Austin Animal Center says in 2016 they had 2,164 cases of dog bites, tooth scrapes or anything that can transfer rabies. So far for 2017, that number is 2,125. Elkins says because Austin is no-kill, it has certainly increased the number of behavioral problems coming out of shelters.