Dog to dog aggression

(from Victoria Stilell’s “Positively”)

Dog-to-dog aggression is a common occurrence and one that causes extreme stress for dogs and owners. Multi-dog households frequently experience some kind of ‘sibling’ rivalry with short squabbles and disagreements, but these are usually mild and happen infrequently enough to maintain a comfort level that allows for everyone to live safely and peacefully.

If violence between dogs occurs regularly and one or more of the dogs are being hurt, then separation and constant environmental management is one of the most effective ways to deal with the problem. In severe cases, rehoming should be considered. Some dogs do not do well in multi-dog households and are happiest being the only dog in a home. This takes stress off all family members and allows for more harmonious living.

Why are some dogs dog-aggressive?
Dog to dog aggression occurs because a dog is either unsocialized and uncomfortable around other dogs, or has had a traumatic experience which causes her to be afraid of another dog’s presence. Some dogs might be more protective of things they deem valuable for their safety, comfort and survival such as food, locations, toys and other objects, people and territory. This leads to active aggressive display in order to make whatever threatens that safety go away.

Should I punish a dog aggressive dog?
Avoid punishing, bullying or intimidating a dog that is showing aggression.

If a dog on a leash aggresses towards another dog walking by and receives hard punishment in the form of jerking, hitting, kicking or restraining, the dog not only learns to fear the person punishing them but also sees the other dog’s presence as a trigger for that punishment, which will make the dog even more insecure and likely to aggress again the next time another dog walks by.

If the dog aggressive dog is taught that good things happen to her when she sees another dog and is taught a different active behavior from aggressing, she then begins to build up positive feelings to any approaching dog and feels less need to aggress.

How can I reintroduce a dog to other dogs safely?
Once a dog feels more comfortable walking past other dogs, then gentle introductions can be made. This is best done with a very calm dog that is good at giving signals that pacify and demonstrate low threat.

Face-to-face greetings are not recommended immediately, but simply experiencing positive things in the other dog’s presence such as walking or other activities at a comfortable distance can help build a positive association.

Parallel walking, following the calm dog and sniffing the behind before a facial greeting can have real benefits, but this is better done under the supervision of a qualified positive trainer to guide initial interactions.

Can I take my dog aggressive dog to the dog park?
Dog parks are not recommended for dog aggressive dogs or dogs that play too roughly, as smaller spaces with no place to run, can be overwhelming and cause a bad reaction. Just as some people are overwhelmed being in a crowd, so too are dogs and solitary walks or walking with a small group contributes to a much happier dog and safer interactions.

Setting Realistic Expectations
We have high expectations for our dogs and in an ideal world would like them to be comfortable around every dog they meet, but these are expectations that we ourselves find hard to follow. We do not want to greet everyone we meet in the street or have strangers come into our space uninvited, and neither do our dogs.

Keep an eye on body language and allow your dog to pick and choose which dogs he or she wants to socialize with. Some dogs are happier with their own company or the company of one or two other dogs so keeping that dog on a relaxed leash in a public place is key to giving her confidence and keeping her and other dogs around her safe.

Dog – dog aggression