Dog to dog aggression is a problem that causes suffering for many dog owners, and their dogs.
There are two main concerns I have noted as big causes during my 25 year career.
Owners Who Inadvertently Cause Dog Aggression
Yes, it is true… you can actually be the CAUSE of your dog’s dog aggression.
The first way you can cause this is a total lack of socialization and exposure while the dog was a puppy.
Puppies need socialization and exposure.
If you take your puppy home and lock him in the house for a year, chances are he will not know how to act and react when he sees another dog.
Social skills are built early.
Imagine locking up your child and not letting them out of the house until they are about 12. They have literally never seen another child.
Chances are this child would never be able to have “normal” relationships.
You see, we learn social interaction from one another, and if we don’t have it when we are young, we don’t understand it.
Dogs are the same.
You cannot teach your dog how to communicate and socialize with other dogs; this has to be learned through interaction with other dogs!
So please safely socialize your puppies.
Owners often, inadvertently, create leash reactivity.
The problem starts when owners don’t begin by teaching their dogs “leash manners.”
For your dog to not pull on the leash, he must be given those skills and taught how to walk nicely.
But, instead, people slap a leash on their dog and take him out for a walk.
When the dog sees another dog, he begins to pull.
The owner pops the leash, corrects, yells, and gets frustrated (this is the beginning of teaching the dog to be aggressive).
The dog doesn’t understand why the owner is acting like this (he just wants to see and play with the other dog), but instead he is feeling pain, and sensing frustration and anger from his owner.
The next time a dog comes into view, the owner pulls his leash tight and he goes through the same yelling and popping routine and the frantic, fearful feeling from his owner.
The dog, being a smart mammal, associates pain, frustration, fear, and owner frustration with the sight of another dog.
But he is a problem solver, and decides if he shows an aggressive display, he can keep that scary other dog away from himself and his owner. The dog lunges, and barks, and acts defensively.
The other dog owner promptly turns and takes his dog in the other direction; effectively teaching the first dog that aggression will keep other dogs away.
In essence, the first dog has learned, with the help of his owner, that other dogs are bad and that aggression will keep them away.
This dog also feels he is in charge of the situation, and it is his responsibility to keep you both safe.
It is sad because if this dog had just been taught how to walk on a leash without pulling and with distractions, this never would have happened!
Owners that Ignore and Rationalize Aggression
Some dogs are just dog aggressive.
Interestingly, my current dog (a five-year-old Malinois) has NEVER liked other dogs.
Even at six months, he had to be separated and monitored with my animals.
Some dogs just have aggression issues, and it has nothing to do with their owners, it can be genetic.
The problem comes when these dog owners ignore it or rationalize it.
I will be honest with anyone.
My dog doesn’t “like” other dogs. In someone else’s hands, he would most likely be severely dog aggressive. However, I have the training knowledge and skill to keep his focus on me so that he can completely ignore other dogs.
But many people write aggression off.
Just last week, in the veterinary clinic where I work, there was a 30-pound dog barking, snapping, and lunging at two other dogs in the waiting area.
The owner was discussing how sweet her dog, was and how he loved other dogs.
Now, this may have some validity in normal life, but I can assure you this was not true at this moment. The dog would have gladly bitten either dog.
Don’t Ignore the Signs
Don’t ignore the signs!
If your dog is barking, lunging, and growling at other dogs, he is giving you information about how he feels about that dog at that moment.
If your dog does this often, he is telling you how he feels about most or all dogs.
Don’t ignore his information.
Don’t push him to be “social.”
He won’t trust you as an owner if you force him to do something that makes him uncomfortable.
And, you are leaving him with two options
- Get over it
- Use his teeth to get his feelings across
It really isn’t the best idea to force an animal, whose language you don’t speak, to do something that makes it very uncomfortable.
And, it is unfair!
Aim for Focus
Teach your dog to “socialize” by focusing on you!
If your dog is paying attention to you, and he knows you won’t FORCE him to socialize, you both win!
He has a coping mechanism, focus on you, and you have a dog with good behavior.
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