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Dog Aggression

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Dog on dog aggression is a problem that often decreases the dog and owner’s joyful experience. Walks can quickly become a nightmare, especially if your dog is strong or large and easily overpowers you. There’s no fun in being dragged by a dog who is bent on attacking or behaving aggressively with another dog it sees.

What causes dog aggression?

There can be many factors that contribute to dog on dog aggression. Perhaps the dog is resource guarding, or enforcing its boundaries, it could be territorial or protective or reactive or fearful. Some dogs who have bad experiences during puppyhood (especially during critical fear periods) can become dog aggressive.

How do I fix dog on dog reactivity?

If you have a large powerful dog, we highly recommend finding a good dog trainer. Some trainers will come right to your home and help train your dog. A highly experienced high-quality dog trainer may be expensive, but oftentimes can produce results right after their first training session. We highly recommend Suburban K9 Dog Training (https://suburban-k9.com/) due to personal experience with them training our GSD as a young pup.

As for things you can do to help de-escalate or prevent the situation, the key thing to remember is that you should always use reward training when possible. One of the most common mistakes is to punish the dog that is showing aggression toward other dogs. This can cause heightening of the dog’s anxiety or increasing of its fear, which will only cause the problem to escalate with each subsequent exposure. For example, always carry high value dog treats with you – when your dog sees another dog, immediately praise them (before they have a chance to go crazy) and give them treats. This will help them to create a positive association with seeing other dogs.

Another way of helping your dog get used to seeing other dogs and not reacting in a controlled situation is to head to a fenced dog park. However, the key here is to stay OUTSIDE the dog park, where the other dogs are visible to your dog, but your dog is leashed and at a safe distance. Make it a large distance at first. Then reward your dog when he isn’t pulling, tugging, barking or otherwise reacting. When they get to the point where they are lying down calmly at your feet, come back the next week and make the distance from the fence shorter. Create positive associations. Throw a ball, make it fun, teach them to lower their guard. All the while, take them closer and closer until they’re right up to the fence and not reacting. Don’t take them into the dog part itself off leash until their other training is complete to the point where you feel comfortable allowing them to interact off-leash with other dogs. Your dog trainer should greatly help you determine next steps.

Leash training

Some people advocate prong collar training, and this can work well when done properly. The dog should never be hurt. Sprenger collars are generally recommended by some dog trainers for highly aggressive and hard to control dogs. When your dog sees another dog, the moment they begin to react, a quick tug yanks their attention back to you. The dog is conditioned this way to pay attention to you and not to the other dog. Over time, the dog learns to ignore other dogs that are walking by and will automatically look right at you instead. However, this is only one step of collar training. Training this way does not ensure that your dog will be trustworthly with other dogs when off-leash. Dogs that are leash trained this way do not necessarily respond to their owners when the leash is off, which is an important point to remember. Owners who use poorly made or cheap prong collars can cause serious damage to their dog. 

Another leash training method that does not involve prong collars is to carry ‘high value’ treats while on walks. High value treats are treats that are rarely given on a day to day basis. This draws the dog’s attention more easily and is a greater reward for them for behaving in a positive manner. If you have a friend who has a well-mannered dog, ask them to help you. Get them to walk into your dog’s sight, starting from a far away distance. The moment your dog first notices the other dog and perks up its head or ears towards them, immediately call their name and reward them with the high value treat. As you get closer to the other dog, each time the dog begins to act in an aggressive manner (tugging, pulling, barking), call their name in a high pitched tone of voice and dangle the treat in front of them to draw their attention away from the dog. Over time, (lots of time, perhaps months), your dog will begin to associate seeing another dog on a walk with getting a treat from you. They will start looking to you for attention and treats, rather than trying to bark at or tug the other dog. 

An important point to note about the leash method of training, however, is that your dog may behave only so long as they are not in very close proximity with other dogs. Some dogs are naturally ‘leash aggressive’. This means that they only tend to behave in an aggressive manner with other dogs when they are leashed. The same dog may be perfectly find interacting with other dogs when they are off-leash. This is due to their ability to move of their own accord (and therefore defend themselves easily without the knowledge that they are being restricted and vulnerable when on a leash) which reduces their anxiety greatly. 

All dogs are different, dogs are not inherently aggressive – there just behave in an  aggressive manner at times, and most times this is due to anxiety, fear, reactivity, pain or other factors, and not due to their breed. Skittish dogs are usually the most unreliable around other people or children as they tend to be more fearful and likely to bite than a more stable natured dog. Dogs generally provide warning signs (that are often missed by people) before they resort to biting.

Know the warning signs of dog aggression a dog shows before they resort to biting:

  • Intense eye contact
  • Showing whites of eyes
  • Growling
  • Showing teeth
  • Tense, stiff body

Signs of discomfort or anxiety:

  • Mouth closed with ears forward
  • Eyes showing the white parts
  • Body forward, tense
  • Tail high, slowly wagging
  • Hackles raised
  • Yawning when not tired
  • Lip licking
  • Sudden scratching
  • Tail tucked under body

Keep in mind that there is no easy fix for dog on dog aggression. It takes patience, dedication and lots of time to get a dog aggressive dog’s behavior modified.

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