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.

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.

2. 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.

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.

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.

5. Protect our Dog

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.

6. Keep Greetings Short and Sweet

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.

7. Be Aware of Aggressive Triggers

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.

8. Desensitize our Dog to 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, here is more on how I help my dogs get along.

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  1. Courtney says

    This website is amazing!
    I’ve been reading articles all morning looking for advise on how to help my dog Jasper.

    Jasper is guilty of All the shiba traits and tricks but I have used a lot of your methods (or similar methods) in the past and most behaviour problems are an easy fix. Not letting him think he’s the boss and keeping him busy with play time and walks usually is enough.

    Jasper was bitten by a large dog about 6 months ago.

    Before that he showed little dog aggression, we lived with another dog at the time and they got along great. We took him to leash free parks and he usually found a large playmate and burned off lots of energy!

    Since the incident Jasper has attempted to attack many dogs and even attracted aggressively toward the owner of the dog who attacked him (our neighbour who prior to the bite was very close with Jasper)

    We thought it was an issue with that dog in particular or our living space being too small and noisy. We have been living in a much larger home with lots of walking spaces and Jasper is much happier. However we often get chased by other dogs. Lots of people walk their dogs without a leash in the parks near our home. These are not leash free areas. We try avoidance and keeping calm but of course we simply cannot control other dogs and owners. Quite often the other owners lose control and their dog comes to say hello. I call out (calmly) that my dog is not friendly and to please get their dog. Sometimes it works out fine and they will call their dog back and leash them and we can pass each other without any problems. Most of the time they cannot get their dogs to come back and I have no choice but to scoop up Jasper as he will not bite me but WILL bite the other (much larger) dogs. This leads to big dogs jumping on me trying to get to Jasper who is barking at the stranger dog. I know picking up the dog causes confusion and I only do when the situation requires it but I would love to try other methods if you have any suggestions! Jasper used to love to play with other dogs and still loves small children. I’m sure since his incident with our old neighbour he feels threatened and I know protecting him from situations isn’t helping that mentality. Are there any ways to work with Jasper to be less aggressive with loose dogs? Jasper has a bite record from our old neighbour (who attempted to pick him up days after her dog attacked him- I know biting is wrong but Jasper barked and warned her not to touch him) that being said he will be put down no matter what (animal control legally wanted us) if he ever bites another human or dog. I believe avoidance is best, but when that is not possible what can we do?

  2. Raquel says


    Thank you for your helpful tips and info about shiba inu’s behavior. We have 1 year old shiba inu and we are experiencing the same aggressive behavior sometimes.

    Your shiba inu looks healthy and I would like to ask if you have food recommendations. I would like him to gain a little weight, right now he’s about 22 pounds.

    Thank you in advance!


    • shibashake says

      Currently, I am feeding my Shiba Wellness CORE regular. I also use plain boiled chicken as treats (cut up in little pieces).
      More on how I pick kibble for my dogs.

      What does your vet say about your Shiba’s weight? I would consult with your vet first before trying to add any weight.

      My younger Husky is also very slim. I talked to my vet about it, and he advised me to keep her on the slim side. Also, my Shiba looks a lot more skinny after he has blown his coat.

  3. Mary says

    Hi there-
    I was hoping you could offer some advice on my dog, Kaya. She was bit by another dog roughly a month ago. Before this event, she was always very submissive with other dogs. She would lay down and let other dogs approach her, and then she would feel out the situation and was almost always friendly and playful with the other dog. Since she was bit however, she has become nervous and dog aggressive. The hair stands up on the back of her neck, she barks, growls, and begins lunging and tries to bite the other dog in the extreme instances we have seen.
    We saw a trainer who told us to keep her away from other dogs, essentially to isolate her. However, we don’t live an environment where we can properly do this. We are always seeing dogs in our yard, during walks, and so on. And she has continued to be aggressive, I would even say it has gotten worse as she starts barking and growling from as far as a mile away.
    Do you have any advice? She is a very independently minded dog, and isn’t very food driven- so we have found it hard to try and distract her. I would appreciate anything you can offer!

    • shibashake says

      I helped my Shiba be more comfortable around other dogs by doing dog-to-dog desensitization training. We did desensitization training in a controlled environment, with trainer chosen dogs, and under the direction of a trainer. I talk more about what we did at the end of the article above.

      The more calm and successful experiences my dog has in the presence of other dogs, the more confidence, trust, and positive associations he forms. Similarly, reactive experiences (where my dog becomes nervous, fearful, or aggressive) will undermine that confidence and trust, significantly set back training, and worsen my dog’s anxiety and behavior. Therefore, an important and necessary part of helping my dog is to carefully manage his routine and environment, and protect him from situations that he is not ready for yet.

      We drive to a quiet area and walk during off-hours if necessary. I observe my dog carefully and try to identify things that can help bolster her confidence. For example, my dog is more confident when she is closer to home, so at the start I may do shorter but more frequent walks. In general, I do everything that I can to always set my dog up for success. I want to not only maximize positive and calm experiences through structured desensitization training, but also minimize reactive experiences through structure and management.

      I talk more about what I do to create neutral experiences and protect my dog in the article above. Given what you describe, I would get help from an experienced trainer who understands desensitization training and has access to appropriate dogs that can help with retraining.

  4. Brandi says

    I have a 6 year old male doberman and a 4 year old female husky. Both have been to the dog park many times, but recently, our very docile doberman has become more agitated and snappy at the park. This seems to have started when he met a very large, playful, unneutered great dane a few weeks ago. Since then, If another dog comes to sniff or play with him or the husky, he will snarl and snap at them. He has never done this before, but this has been a constant behavior for about 2 weeks. I am nervous to take him to the park because I don’t want him to hurt other dogs. I’m not sure how to stop this behavior. Before he met the great dane at the park, he was very patient and playful at the parks and only responded this way if another dog came after him first. I would love some advice because I want my dogs to be able to play and have fun again.

    • shibashake says

      Many of the dog parks in my area do not allow un-neutered dogs.

      Other male dogs can easily detect an unneutered dog’s high testosterone level and become aggressive. This can make your intact dog a target of harassment by other male dogs. Neutering can reduce or eliminate this undesirable attention.

      As for enclosed dog parks, they can be very high stimulus and high stress, with very little supervision and structure. We stopped going after I noticed that my dog’s behavior and social interactions were taking a downward turn. More on our dog park experiences.

      There was not enough structure at the dog-park for Sephy, and he was learning a lot of undesirable social habits. The key with my dog is to set him up for success and protect him from negative experiences. Instead of doing dog parks, we did small and structured play-groups, with dogs that I know will fit in well with his temperament and play style. I am there to set play rules, supervise, and redirect bad behavior before it escalates. In this way, Sephy was able to have fun, socialize with other dogs, and learn positive social behaviors.

      While Dog Parks can be fun, they also bring plenty of NEGATIVE interactions by forcing your pet to come up against dogs that might be overly stimulated, short-tempered, outwardly aggressive or otherwise badly managed. Smart Socializing means keeping your friend dog-tolerant, and that involves AVOIDING dicey situations where conflict can spark.
      ~~[Smart Socializing]

      More on dog socialization.
      Badrap article on dog tolerance levels.

    • JT$ says

      shibashak, I’m in the same boat. It’s driving me crazy bc I have resorted to taking my guy on long walks at a nature preserve instead of roaming around the dog park. We used to go to the dog park on a daily basis and he went to daycare 3 days a week. However, in the last few weeks he has been aggressive no matter where I take him. I also noticed that once I trained him to fetch in the backyard, he has become increasingly aggressive at the dog park when balls are being tossed around. I want him to be a social guy I can take to parks, etc…. This is getting out of control.

  5. Amaly says

    My dog had puppies last year. We kept the mother and father. And we kept one puppy. He is now one year old. The father dog is 8 yrs and the mother is 5yrs. Well anyways the father always stares at the puppy and then attacks him. And the puppy has to learn to stay where is until he is allowed to they fight daily. Everyday. It is very annoying i do not know why he is doing that please help me.!

    • shibashake says

      What are the dogs’ daily routine like? Are the dogs neutered and spayed? What kind of training are they used to? What were their past social experiences with other dogs?

      Dog behavior is very context dependent so the temperament of the dog, past experiences, routine, and more will all affect his behavior. Given that the dogs are already fighting, it is best and safest to get help from a good professional trainer. A good trainer can visit with the dogs, read their body language, as well as observe their behavior within the context of their regular routine and environment. A good trainer can help to identify what is triggering the aggression, and develop a good and safe plan for rehabilitation.

      Breaking up a dog fight can be very dangerous as the dogs can redirect their energy/aggression on the people who are trying to restrain them. I would get in touch with a trainer as soon as possible.

      My dogs need structure, consistency, exercise, and supervision. I set up clear dog-to-dog interaction rules, I teach each dog what the rules are, and I supervise closely, especially early on, to make sure that everyone is following my rules. I also create positive, rewarding, and calm together time, so that my dogs learn how to behave around each other and learn to trust each other.

      I do not leave my dogs alone together until I am very very sure that there will be no issues. The more negative events there are, the more negative associations they form, and the more likely there will be even more issues in the future. When I am not around to supervise, I keep my dogs separated. As pack leader, it is my responsibility to keep my dogs safe and to make sure nobody gets hurt.

      In addition, all my dogs are neutered or spayed.

      More on how I help my dog get along.

  6. Josh says


    Very well written article, and as someone that has helped rescue dogs for several years all stuff I have found very useful when out in public or with strange dogs all-together.

    We have a different issue. My wife and I have 3 dogs (Koda, 9 year old sheltie, Deunan, 8 year old hound mix, and Isis, 7 year old maligator mix) and a 10 1/2 old son. When Koda is about to throw up, Deunan goes after him. Always the back of the neck and only when he is making the sound that he is about to throw up. There is no rhyme or reason as far as location that this is happening. Could be inside, near the couch, in the bed room…just anywhere. Isis is usually the “peacekeeper” and will bark in both of their ears and send them on their way with no issue, but not in this case. The dogs have grown up together for the past 8 years, they play together all the time when we are home, are crated throughout the day (4 hours at the most in a stretch). They are fed in their crates, but sleep in our room with us and get a fair amount of exercise and “work” throughout the evening when we are home. This has been going on for several years, but the aggression is getting worse as they age, and Jessie (our son) doesn’t seem to be any cause of this, but I am now having a hard time trusting Deunan around him.

    My main issue is that I don’t know if she is being dominate, trying to weed the weak from the pack, or if it is more a fear/curious reaction. The normal redirection I have tried, and used in the past, is becoming less and less effective.

    I do NOT want to lose Deunan, but I am at my wits end right now.

    Thank you for your insight.

    • shibashake says

      My dogs do get anxious when one of them starts making vomiting sounds. As soon as I hear this, I make sure to keep my other dogs away from the one who is about to vomit. The one who is about to vomit always moves away and does not want the others close-by, probably because he is feeling more vulnerable.

      With my dogs, I find that prevention is always best. I step in early, call them to me, and keep them calm. If necessary, I separate them. In this way, things do not escalate. 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, which helps to reduce stress and conflicts.

      For more extreme cases, doing noise desensitization exercises may help a dog to make positive associations, and teach him alternate behaviors. Desensitization training can be counter-intuitive, so when I started these exercises with my dog, I got guidance from a good, positive-based, professional trainer.

      More on how I help my dogs get along.

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