Dog-to-Dog Aggression

Dog-to-Dog Aggression: Getting Along with Others

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When Aggression Is a Problem

Any dog, no matter how loving and social, can get into a situation with another dog that results in a fight. By itself, this is not an indication that either dog has an aggression issue. Just like kids, our pets can misbehave at times. However, when a dog is frequently or unpredictably aggressive towards other dogs, it is a problem. Dog-to-dog aggression can be a frightening and dangerous behavior issue. Fortunately, it can often be solved with professional guidance.

Why Dogs Are Aggressive
There are many reasons for dog-to-dog aggression. Some are natural and normal and some are the result of bad experiences a pet may have had around other dogs. These experiences can cause a dog to form a powerfully negative association with other dogs. Even a friendly dog can sometimes be aggressive with others. Just like people, dogs can have personality conflicts.

Types of Dog-to-Dog Aggression
It is important to try to identify whether your dog’s aggression is defensive or offensive in nature. The outbursts can look equally violent, but the type of aggression should dictate how it is handled.

1. Defensive aggression. If your dog is afraid of other dogs and attacks in defense, then correcting his aggression can make the issue worse. When your pet is fearful or anxious, he does not process information in the same way as a happy, healthy dog. He might create an even stronger negative association with dogs—that their presence alone earns punishment from people. The key to resolving defensive aggression is to provide positive experiences that help your dog create positive associations with other dogs.

2. Offensive aggression. The most common reason for offensive aggression is to guard territory or resources. If your dog attacks other dogs offensively, he is choosing to aggress even though he has an opportunity to avoid the situation. In other words, getting to attack another dog is rewarding to him. In this case, it is best that the results are not beneficial to your dog. He will need to be effectively corrected for his behavior. Dogs that aggress offensively need to be responsibly managed and closely supervised so they cannot access other dogs and do physical or emotional harm.

Triggers for Dog-to-Dog Aggression
Identifying a consistent trigger for a dog’s aggression can be helpful in solving the problem. Possible triggers are when:

  • A dog is on-leash
  • A dog is behind a barrier

  • A dog is off-leash
  • A dog is with other family dogs
  • A dog is with any unknown dog

  • A dog is with either males or females
  • A dog is with dogs of a certain size
  • A dog’s owner is present

  • Resources are present (people, food, toys, beds)

On-Leash Versus Off-Leash Aggression
A dog that is aggressive towards other dogs when he is on a leash will not necessarily be aggressive when he is off-leash. Since dogs have a natural tendency to guard, being restrained by a leash or behind a barrier typically sets them up for failure in the presence of other dogs. They are not able to use their body language to communicate naturally. On-leash reactivity with other dogs is more often a training issue than an aggression issue. This can be a relief to people who misunderstand their dog’s behavior, but help from a professional is recommended. You need advanced handling skills to properly manage a dog on a leash when there is tension or uncertainty in a greeting situation. A professional with expertise in dog-to-dog interaction can determine if your pet is actually dog aggressive, or if he needs training to improve his manners when on a leash.

Helping Your Dog Get Along with Other Dogs
Generally, dogs are sociable creatures meant to be living in groups. Extreme fighting is aberrant behavior for canines as a species. We can learn a lot about canine body language by observing the natural interactions of playful and social dogs. Healthy communication between dogs can sometimes include warnings, such as growling or lip-curling. People often mistakenly correct their dogs for engaging in an appropriate and healthy conversation with another dog. This can result in a level of anxiety for their furry friend. It is perfectly normal for your dog to tell other dogs (by growling) that he doesn’t prefer something they are doing.

When it comes to dog-to-dog interactions, dogs can often be more effective teachers than humans. When the opportunity is available, it is best to create a situation in which other dogs can teach your pal to behave more naturally. Permitting your dog to interact off-leash with socially appropriate, experienced, confident and playful dogs can be the most effective remedy for dog-to-dog aggression. However, it is very important to choose how and where that interaction happens. Consult a training professional for advice.

Do Not Take an Aggressive Pet to a Dog Park
If you have seen your dog consistently display aggressive behavior towards other dogs, do not take him to a dog park and “let him figure it out.” Allowing an aggressive dog free access to other pets is irresponsible. Dog parks are a valuable community resource. They are for dogs that are ready to enjoy healthy play and interactions in social settings. Trying to manage an aggressive animal’s behavior in a dog park is not beneficial for you, the dogs or the community.

Instead of going to a dog park, find a reputable doggy day care that will assess your pet’s social skills. If your dog is rejected by a doggy day care, it is best to consult a training professional for support.

Fighting between Dogs in the Same Household
Dog aggression is most challenging when it happens between pets in the same household. Resource guarding or a simple personality conflict is usually the issue. If consistent or severe injuries are being inflicted from one dog to another, attempting to keep them in the same home environment is risky.  A professional should be consulted to assess the situation and determine if management, training, behavior modification or re-homing of one of the dogs is appropriate.

It can be dangerous, especially for children, when dogs within the same family group are consistently fighting. People are often bitten by their own dogs when they try to break up fights. If a fight starts, remove children from the area immediately. Do not use your hands in an attempt to pull the dogs apart. Instead, use anything that will startle the dogs, such as a water hose or banging pots and pans. If startling doesn’t work, use a chair or other items to get between them.

Keeping Your Dog Safely Away from Other Dogs
Not all dogs have to like other dogs. If you and your dog are enjoying your lives together, that is the point of having a companion animal. Your responsibility is to keep your dog properly contained so that neighboring pets are safe. It is advisable to enroll in an appropriate training program so your dog can achieve a reliable level of obedience. When away from your home environment, you should have control of your dog and confidence in his manners.

Consulting a Professional
To address dog-to-dog aggression problems, it is best to get professional advice. It is important that you find a professional who is experienced and skillful in dog-to-dog issues. Many accomplished trainers and animal behaviorists are not comfortable dealing with dog-dog aggression. The trainer or behaviorist should have access to appropriate assistance dogs to help assess and modify your pet’s behavior.

Most of us want our dogs to get along with other dogs, especially other pets in the household. Our dogs do not have to like each other all the time, but we should expect them to behave appropriately. By providing the proper support, we can often help an aggressive dog be a romping rover instead of a cranky canine.

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