Joan Merriam: Aggression and fear

Two curious dogs trying to meet.

We’ve all heard of “fight or flight,” that physiological response that gives us a burst of quick energy to cope with a dangerous situation or threat to our survival, either by getting away quickly (flight) or going on the offensive (fight).

Animals react the same way: think of watching a deer peacefully browsing on spring grasses, then she hears or sees you and takes off on a dead run. Or perhaps you’ve had the experience of accidentally surprising your sleeping cat, and he leaps up and hisses at you. Even though this response is automatic, it’s not always accurate. You weren’t a threat to the cat, but in those first few seconds after being abruptly awakened, he sensed that you were. In other words, he couldn’t tell the difference between a real threat and a perceived one.