Dog to Dog Aggression –
Why and How to Stop It

When dealing with dog-to-dog aggression, it is important to listen to our dog.

There are many reasons why a dog may act aggressively toward another.

  • He may be afraid.
  • He may be stressed because his space is being violated.
  • He may feel the need to dominate.
  • He may be protective of us.
  • He may be very curious.
  • He may just be over-excited.

Sometimes, what we perceive to be aggression may be the result of hyper energy, eagerness, or natural inquisitiveness. Therefore, in dog-to-dog aggression cases, it is important to understand what our dog is feeling, and what he is trying to say.

When my dog meets a new dog, I observe both of them carefully. As soon as my dog starts to get stressed, I step in and interrupt before the situation escalates.

For dog aggression issues, it is best to take a dog’s age, health, temperament, and preferences into account, while coming up with appropriate solutions.

Dog-to-Dog Aggression Tip 1

Be calm and decisive.

Dogs are very sensitive to what their human is feeling. My dog picks up on my emotions and reflects them, except with much more intensity. Sometimes, I am not even conscious of feeling nervous or stressed, but my dog notices it and starts to act up. Once I consciously calm myself down, his behavior also improves.

A common mistake when meeting other dogs is to tense up, and get fearful of what our dog may do. If we are afraid, our dog will pick up on that fearful energy, and that will likely trigger an aggressive reaction.

Be careful not to put undue or continuous tension on the leash. Also, do not pull the dog straight back, as that will likely cause a lunge forward response. To remove my dog, I pull him to the side and quickly walk him past the other dog.

Dog-to-Dog Aggression Tip 2

Ignore, Ignore, Ignore – Teach our dog avoidance.

When I see another dog, I usually just ignore him and move along.

I have found that avoidance is most effective when I avert my eyes from both dog, as well as owner. I keep my eyes forward, and keep walking at a natural pace. In this way, my dog learns that when we see other dogs, we avoid rather than confront.

Be careful not to crowd our dog while walking. If he feels trapped between us and the other dog, he may think he has no choice but to react aggressively. Do not stand still while trying to tug our dog away. Move away, and he will come along with us. At the same time, we are creating space so that he will not feel trapped.

I do not let my dog obsess or stare intensely at other dogs. Sometimes, my Shiba Inu will drop into a stalking-down-position, stare, and wait for the other dog to pass. Some people think that he is such a good boy for doing a Down, when other dogs are coming toward him, but he is actually just waiting to pounce.

Do not allow this bad behavior, do not let our dog practice it, do not even let him think about it. Just move him along, and ignore. If the other dog is somehow blocking us (e.g. if the owner is unable to control his dog), then walk away in a different direction. Do not stare the other dog down and do not confront him, either through posture or by physically engaging him.

Challenging unknown dogs is a good way to get bitten.

Dog-to-Dog Aggression Tip 3

Create space or block the other dog.

We can do this by moving across the road or into a driveway, and waiting for the other dog to pass.

We may also move our dog behind a barrier, for example a car. If there are no barriers available, we can try blocking the dog’s view with our body.

By doing this, we avoid a head-on, more confrontational passing.

I have tried all of these blocking techniques, but what works best for me is to create space, and quickly move past the other dog. Whenever I wait for the other dog to pass, my Shiba uses that time to start obsessing.

Dog treats and trying to get his attention do not work at this point, because the other dog is too close, and Shiba Sephy is no longer listening. The advantage of walking Sephy briskly past the other dog, is that he has less time to stare. In addition, he cannot fully obsess, because he must partly focus on walking.

However, using barriers and blocking may work better for a fearful dog.

Some trainers suggest turning and walking away when we see another dog, rather than passing him or waiting for him to pass.

There are two problems with this method:

  • If we turn away, the other dog will be following us. This may cause some dogs to keep looking back, to make sure that the follower is not a threat. I have tried this, and indeed my Shiba keeps looking back.
  • If we keep turning away, we may meet other dogs and get boxed in; especially if there are many dogs in our neighborhood.

Dog-to-Dog Aggression Tip 4

Create neutral experiences.

I try to create as many neutral dog-to-dog meeting experiences as possible. If every time my dog sees another dog, we just pass by and nothing interesting happens, it will become a non-event.

Being consistent with neutral greetings will build our dog’s confidence. Through repetition, we are teaching him how to behave (just avoid and move along), and how not to behave (get over-excited, frustrated, lunge, and pull). He will be more calm because he is not waiting in anticipation of a highly charged encounter, either for play or for confrontation.

I try to set my dog up for success, and do not let him practice aggressive behaviors when meeting other dogs. The more he practices, the more aggressive he will be.

If my dog becomes agitated during a walk, I try to end the outing as soon as possible. Once in this mode, his adrenaline levels will be high for a fair duration, and he will likely react aggressively to all the dogs that we meet. In this state, he will no longer be capable of learning, and will only be practicing dog aggressive behaviors.

Dog-to-Dog Aggression Tip 5

Protect our dog from rude dogs and rude people.

I usually keep my dog away from people and dogs with weak energy (e.g. fearful, excited, or frustrated energy). In addition, I also try to keep other dogs and owners from coming into my dog’s space. I say a quick ‘hi’ to the people I meet, and move on.

If people with weak energy stop and want to meet my dog, I ask them nicely to please move on, because my dog is easily excitable.

It is fine and good to let a dog meet people with calm energy, but make sure to let them know how to best meet our dog. In particular, turn away when he jumps, no quick movements, and no petting from above.

Dog-to-Dog Aggression Tip 6

Use positive interrupts and keep encounters short.

While greeting another dog, we want to positively interrupt our dog every so often, and get him to refocus on us. Do this as many times as necessary, so that our dog does not get over-excited, and lose control of himself.

Whenever my dog is meeting a new dog, I interrupt him after a very short duration (2-3 seconds). I quickly move or jog away from the other dog, while giving the positive interrupt command, e.g. Hey, hey. Initially, I may have to lightly tug at my dog while moving away. I make sure to treat him well for moving toward me on a loose leash.

If our dog is too obsessed to move away and is strongly standing his ground, then we have waited too long to initiate the interrupt. Positive interrupts are also useful for dealing with human greetings, and getting our dog away from a dirty or unsuitable area.

The key to successful positive interrupts is to catch a dog early, before he starts to obsess on another dog or object.

Dog-to-Dog Aggression Tip 7

Be aware that our dog’s natural look may trigger an aggressive reaction.

Some dogs, for example Spitz-type dogs, have a natural look that may appear dominant (ears up, hair out, tail up). This dominant look may instigate other dogs to respond in kind, and start posturing as well. Conflicts may occur, and if neither dog is willing to back down, this may lead to a dog fight.

If I am unsure about a dog greeting, I just move on. Better to be safe than sorry.

Dog-to-Dog Aggression Tip 8

Desensitize our dog toward other dogs.

The problem with dog-to-dog aggression issues, is that in regular situations the “other dog” stimulus is too strong, and environment is too unstructured for any learning to occur. Often, our dog overloads quickly and becomes reactive, because the other dog is too close, is staring, is hyper, or is charging toward us.

In the desensitization process, we do training in a quiet, enclosed environment, and start with a very weak version of the problem stimulus. In terms of reactivity toward other dogs, we can use distance to weaken its effect.

In this way, we also weaken the strength of our dog’s reaction, so that he will be calm enough to listen and learn. This is necessary, to create opportunities where we can begin to teach our dog to be calm and relaxed, while in the presence of another dog.

I did quite a lot of dog-to-dog desensitization sessions with Sephy, when he was young, at our local SPCA. The trainers there had many balanced, friendly dogs, that we could do training with.

First, the trainer would engage the other dog in training exercises, so that he stays in a fixed position, and is not focused on Sephy (i.e., no eye-contact). Both dogs are on-leash.

I take Sephy a far distance away, far enough away that he is still calm and able to listen to me. Then, I get his attention by calling his name. If he looks at me, I praise, and treat him for behaving well. Sometimes, I also ask him to do very simple commands, e.g. Sit.

I let Sephy sit and watch the other dog as long as he is calm, and willing to give me his attention when I ask for it. Once we are both comfortable with this, I move one step toward the other dog and repeat the Focus and Sit exercises above.

Do not move too close to the other dog, too quickly. If we move forward too fast, our dog may become reactive, and will no longer be able to give us his attention. At this point, I no-mark Sephy (uh-oh) and move back a few steps. Once we are far enough away, I try to get his attention again. When he gives it to me, I stop, praise, and treat.

Note – for desensitization to be successful, we want to keep our dog below his instinct threshold as much as possible.

I always try to make sessions short, fun, and rewarding. This helps our dog associate other dogs with being calm, and with positive experiences. I make sure to stop before my dog shows any obsessive behavior, and long before he becomes aggressive. Once a dog becomes reactive or aggressive, it is usually best to end the session soon after.

As we make progress, we can slowly increase the strength of the problem stimulus. For example, we may allow the target dog to start moving around, or we may allow him to play with his handler.

The desensitization process can be long and difficult. Dogs with lower instinct thresholds (the point at which they lose control and switch to instinct) will be harder to desensitize. However, consistent practice will also help to raise this threshold.

What to Expect from Dog-to-Dog Aggression Training

Do not expect too much, too quickly, from our dog. Make sure to treat and praise him very well, if he voluntarily engages in avoidance maneuvers, when there are other dogs around. This includes looking away from the direction of the other dog, smelling and exploring the environment, or looking at us for direction.

Initially, treat and praise even small avoidance moves, for example looking away for just 1 second. If a dog will not accept treats from us, then he is too far gone and it is best to lead him away. Treats are only effective for shaping behavior when our dog is still thinking, and not operating on instinct.

If we keep practicing desensitization exercises, and teach our dog how to behave with other dogs, he will improve. As he matures, he will become more confident, be less dog aggressive, and be more comfortable around new experiences.

For aggression issues between two family dogs, please refer to Introducing a Second Dog into the Home.

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  1. angie says

    I’m so glad I found you. I have a 8 months old Shiba “Hachi” and she is very social with human and dogs. She comes to work with me which is grooming shop and loves to play with other too. However the problem I’m having is I have 3 other mixed breed at home, they all get along but once in a while Hachi and one of dog would start fighting. Hachi become too excited when Bobby plays with her and she gets too rough and Bobby just wants out and hachi won’t listen. Then Bobby growl at hachi and she will start fight. Also they are free feeder out of one bowl but not at the shop. I would put hachi ‘ s food by my table and she gets overly protective the space with other dogs comes around even there’s no food. Today Hachi bit Bobby ‘ s ear and I’m afraid what would cost next. Please help.

    • shibashake says

      What helps with my dogs is to set up clear dog-to-dog interaction rules and play rules. During play, I supervise and throw in many play breaks, to manage my Shiba’s excitement level. He can get pretty extreme when over-excited, and overwhelm my other dogs.
      More on what I do during play-time.

      As for food, I follow the Nothing in Life is Free program, so all my dogs work for their food by doing simple commands, following house rules, following play rules, etc. Whatever is left over, I put in interactive food toys, so they work for that too. During meal-time, I supervise and make sure they give each other space. If one gets too close to another, I redirect him away.
      More on what I do during meal-time.

      Big hugs to your furry gang! :D

  2. Pat says

    I have a Jack Russell x whippet . Sometime when I let him off the lead and he plays with another he gets aggressive by growling and trying to bite the other dogs neck whilst they are running . He does not respond to any commands when he is like this .
    Desperate for help as he is a lovely dog.

    • shibashake says

      Is this at the park? How is he when playing at home in a more structured setting? Is the other dog high energy/excited as well? Does he get this way with all other dogs or with just certain other dogs?

      When my dog gets over-excited during play, he goes rear-brained sometimes and no longer responds to commands. I help control this by managing his excitement level. I have play rules, create a structured play environment, and throw in many play breaks.

      The enclosed dog park environment is too high stimulus and unstructured for my Shiba. Therefore, I do small play-groups at home, where I can properly structure the environment. I pick dogs whose play-style and temperaments fit well with Sephy, and I supervise closely during play to manage excitement levels, and make sure that everyone is following play rules. In this way, everyone has a good time, nobody gets overwhelmed, and play does not escalate into aggression.
      More on our enclosed dog park experiences.

      However, dog behavior is very context dependent so each dog and each situation is different. When in doubt, I consult with a professional trainer, especially in cases of aggression.

  3. Roxy says

    My dog, Siberian/Alaskan Malamute mix has been attacking my poodle, we have other dogs but doesn’t attack them only this particular dog when we are at home. My poodle is usually frightened around her for no reason and I don’t know if that is what triggers the aggression. We try to let my dog (poodle) be comfortable around her but we decided that it is probably bad and that we have to let them get comfortable at their own pace or she (Siberian/Alaskan Malamute) might be frustrated. She isn’t aloud to be around her when she is alone because we can’t trust her so it’s made our life very difficult. Also, when she is out walking she wants to attack other dogs or just growls at them but they just want to sniff her tail and if any dog sniffs her tail she quickly growls and we tell her “no” or “bad dog”, but she is very well with her commands. I try to avoid dogs when I’m out walking with her. She sometimes doesn’t listen to the commands at home, I don’t know how to make her listen to the commands established. She attacked a German Shepard (my brothers girlfriends) and left him a wound. Of course, we weren’t around but she only responds to my dad as the pack leader but I don’t know if the whole family has to be understood as the pack leader or just one. I try to become her pack leader but I think she believes she is the pack leader of us. We try to set boundaries and rules but she is stubborn and doesn’t listen sometimes. What do we do? How do I fix this problem, I don’t want it to be too late, she is four years old and I know I’m a horrible owner because I don’t know the breed or understand it but I love her to death and been learning about her breed and try to cooperate with her. Our past is the reason why we are inseparable. I try really hard and would do anything for my dog. All suggestions are welcome and even criticism.
    Side note: When my dog was a puppy, my other poodle who was sixteen at the time, growled and barked but aggressively like she was about to bite when she sniffed her tail when I tried to introduce them. I don’t know if this is what made her hate other dogs. Ever since then she has never been friendly with other dogs.

  4. Silver says

    Hello, I’m on the verge of a melt down. I’ve just recently taken in a 3yr old Chihuahua mix. Her owners could no longer take care of her, plus she lived outside and it was getting cold. So, being the Dog lover I am, I took her in expecting no problems, seeing as how her owner had said she had no issues towards other Dog’s or Cat’s.

    But upon getting her home, I am mortified to see that wasn’t the case at all. My Youngest Pup Katsu, who just turned a year old in October. ( He’s a medium, to small Dog. Dachshund and Beagle. ) He’s overly excitable, and loves to play. He’s a little loud, and I think he startled her a bit. That started her whole, snarling and snapping, and growling fits. She’s also not very fond of the Cat’s. I have a 7 year old Chihuahua mix, who is very small. And I’m afraid she’s gonna lash out at her soon.

    She also has a bit of food aggression.

    I don’t think her current owners, had allowed her any interaction with other Dog’s at all. She’s fine with people.

    I don’t know what too do…. I don’t want to have to be the bad guy, and find her a new home…. Can you please, help??

    • shibashake says

      Dog behavior is very context dependent, so each dog and each situation is different. In cases of aggression, it is best to get help from a professional trainer who can visit with all of the dogs, observe them in their regular routine and environment, read their body language, and provide safe guidance on how to retrain the problem behaviors.

      I help my dogs get along by-
      1. Setting up clear dog-to-dog interaction rules. I teach each new dog what those rules are. In this way, my dogs know exactly what to expect from each other, what to expect from me, and what I expect from them in return. This creates certainty, and certainty reduces stress.

      2. I want to create positive, calm, experiences together and at the same time minimize bad interactions. Success will help everyone gain confidence and learn to relax with each other. Similarly, stressful or fearful experiences will undermine that confidence and set back training.

      3. I supervise my dogs well, manage their environment, and set them up for success. I do not expose them to situations that they are not ready for and I do not leave them together unsupervised until I am very very sure that they can be calm together.

      More on how I help my dogs get along.

      ASPCA article on how to introduce a cat to a new dog-

      However, given the complexity of the situation, with multiple dogs and cats, I would really get help from a good professional trainer.

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