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.
i have a 2 year old boxer/red tick hound. we adopted her from an abusive owner. she is great with adults but is very cautious towards kids and she is aggressive towards other dogs except our other families dogs. it doesnt seem like she has a perod before her agressiveness takes over.as soon as she sees another dog she is in beast mode. how can we get her to calm down? she is a great dog and i dont want her to hurt anyone or their dog.
My Shiba Inu was also reactive to other dogs when he was young. Doing dog-to-dog desensitization exercises with him was helpful. I was able to slowly train him to focus on me, and to use other behaviors to deal with his stress, other than aggression.
I also did people desensitization exercises with my Shiba and taught him how to meet people.
If the dog has a bite history, it is usually best to get help from a professional trainer. In such cases, timing and reading the dog’s body language become very important, which is something that a good trainer can really help with.
Hello, I have a 7 month old Boston Terrier named Rambo. Today he showed some agressive behavior that was concerning. We live in a condo complex where there are alot of dogs. Ocassionally a few of the neighbors will all let their dogs off the leash to play together. Rambo always plays really well with these same dogs and has never had an issue. Today they were all playing off the leash together and another dog owner came walking by with her chiuaua, Rambo along with the other dogs came over to check out the chiuaua. Not knowing if the owner would appreaciate all these dogs off of the leash, coming up to her much smaller chiuaua, I went to pull Rambo away. As soon as I went to pull Rambo away he immedietly acted agressively toward the chiuaua lunging at it and barking agressively. After the owner took her chiuaua down the walk way I let Rambo back down to continue his play session with the other dogs. Less then a minute later Rambo took off down the walkway after the chiuaua. He would not come when I called him and when he got to the chiuaua he just sniffed her and walked around checking her out, but once again, when I went to pick him up he immedietly started acting agressive toward the chiuaua even more so than before. Im trying to figure out what is triggering this agression because I would like him to be able to play off the leash but still listen when called. Any advice would help. Thanks.
I observed a similar behavior with my Shiba Inu when he was young. In his case, there were several contributing factors-
1. Shiba Sephy is very sensitive to my energy. If I am feeling angry, frustrated, fearful, or worried, he picks up on that and becomes stressed himself. This often causes him to get even more reactive to other dogs.
2. When already in an excited state, putting undue tension on the leash can also cause Sephy to get more stressed and reactive. Pulling a dog directly back or other types of restraint, can sometimes cause an automatic lunge forward reaction. When I lead my dog away, I first go to the side and turn him around (in am arc), rather than pulling directly backward.
3. When Sephy was young, I took him to the dog park pretty often to play with other dogs. However, the environment in the dog park was very unstructured, and rather than learning how to socialize properly, Sephy’s behavior actually got worse. He would get over-excited, copy bad behaviors from other dogs, and redirect his excited energy onto me when I tried to calm him down.
I learned that Sephy does much better in smaller and highly supervised play groups. Instead of going to the dog park, I would invite my neighbor’s friendly dog over for a play session. I supervised them, and had many play breaks to prevent over-excitement. Play breaks are also a great way to train our dog to listen to us when in an excited state.
Here is more on Sephy’s dog park experiences.
Here are a list of techniques for recall training.
Hi, I am back with another issue!
All this day my puppy was too afraid of stray dogs (He is still a bit)and used to refuse to walk. But recently a stray puppy has appeared in the neighborhood and these two are eager to play with each other when ever I try to take mine to walk. I had to totally stop taking him on walks lately due to the same.
I am afraid that mine might get some disease from the stray pup. There is no way for me to stop them interacting! What to do?
If it is truly a stray dog, it may be best to contact a local rescue or shelter to pick him up so that he doesn’t get hit by a car. A puppy will likely get adopted pretty quickly.
In India, you would find plenty of stary pups and adult dogs. That’s very normal scenario. Now a days they have started Neutering and vaccinating (only Rabies) and this pup has got his shoot. However, I am still concerned due to possibility of transmetting other diseases including skin disease… any suggestion?
Here are some of my experiences with off-leash neighborhood dogs-
hi, i have a great dane called sasha. she is 2years old. we bought her under a week ago and her previous owners told us she doesnt get on with other dogs although she was brought up with another great dane with her previous owners. i took her to the park on her evening walk and we came across an older lady walking her dog, sasha sat bold upright and due to her size i just couldnt move her. she suddenly lunged forward and ran towards the other dog with me still holding onto her lead. she pulled me off my feet and i couldnt hold onto her. when she approached the other dog she didnt realy attack it but kind of tossed its backend up in the air. iam now too scared to take her out and have to get my partner to do so as he has the strength to control her. i was planning to buy a control collar and even maybe try the electric shock collar to see if this stops her dog to dog aggression 🙁 xx
I had a lot of issues with my first dog, and considered using a shock collar at one time. However, I decided against it after looking into its various pros and cons. Here is more on what led to my decision-
In terms of walking a very large dog, a head-halti may help. However, it has its own weaknesses, and here are some of my experiences with the halti-
Meanwhile, doing dog-to-dog desensitization exercises in a controlled environment can also be helpful. My Shiba was reactive to other dogs in his younger days, and creating neutral experiences, as well as dog-to-dog desensitization exercises helped him be more calm in the presence of other dogs.
hi i’m from iran i very very very very very very love dog akita i want a child akita please give me my wish have a akita
Akitas are indeed very beautiful dogs. They require a fair amount of training though. Are there any dog rescues or shelters in your area? Volunteering in a well-managed rescue or shelter, is usually a good way to be with dogs, and to learn some very useful dog training skills.
Kellie Holland says
We recently rescued a Boston Terrier/Poodle,, Bossi-poo , He is 8 months old and his name is Bentley, he is soooooooo good in the house no mistakes, no chewing, perfect in so many ways ,,, UNTIL,,, I try to walk him, he pulls constantly, he is in dog obedience right now, but I feel like such a failure. Tonight I decided that when taking him on his walk, I would take the spray water bottle we use for the BBQ ,, he is afraid of the bottle itself and ducks and cowers everytime he sees it, I am sorry to say that , during our walk he stayed beside me the whole time, looked up at me, while I praised many times, but if I had to show the bottle when pulling he would cower on groud or jump in terror,,, is this too much for the dog,, many tell me, whatever works do it..I would like to think this is temporary and once he sees how to walk properly I can get rid of the bottle,,,,, any advice on this,, I do not seem to be getting anywhere at dog obedience, he is constantly being brought into the center of ring at class to be made an example of. Thanks !
In terms of pulling, what has worked well with my dogs is the start-stop technique (red-light, green-light). When he starts to pull, I stop walking. When he stops pulling, I start walking again. Here is more on leash training techniques –
For dogs with a softer temperament, it may be best to stick to using reward techniques. In this way, we set our dog up for success and help him build confidence. We still have rules, but we enforce those rules by controlling our dog’s resources, e.g. by controlling his freedom, access to people, etc.
For example, in the start-stop technique, we take away our dog’s freedom to roam when he pulls. When he stops pulling, then we start walking again. In this way, he learns that-
pulling = don’t get to go where he wants,
not pulling = gets to go where he wants.
Here is more on how to stop pulling.
Here are some of my experiences with training my dogs>.
We rescued a 3 y/o female shiba a few months ago and quickly found out that she was not too fond of smaller dogs right off the bat. She’s lunged at and has even pinned down a few beagles in our neighborhood when given the chance. That was due to our negligence and not knowing that she would react that way around dogs at the very beginning. She’s also done this to a small cat which I’ve read can be a predatory instinct. She also pants excessively and seems to get major anxiety when she’s around other dogs (all sizes) so we have never brought her to a dog park. At this point, we avoid interaction with all dogs. We will cross the street to avoid any kind of contact and will keep our distance. I would like to eventually attempt to socialize her with other dogs but I’m not sure what the best way is to do this. If you have any tips or advice I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks!
Yeah, small dogs do not really play well with Sephy either. Sephy likes to do rough and tumble type of wrestling, which usually overwhelms the smaller dogs. He does much better with larger, energetic dogs that are friendly and not dominant.
Dog-to-dog desensitization exercises were helpful with Shiba Sephy.
As for dog parks, it was actually not a good environment to help socialize Sephy. Rather than getting better with other dogs, his behavior actually worsened. Here is more on our dog park experiences-
I pick Sephy’s playmates very carefully. We only do small playgroups that are highly supervised and structured.
Congratulations on your new Shiba and four paws up for helping a dog in need.
I was wondering if you could help me? I have two rescue dogs, a collie x lab (Max) and a staffy x lab (Sykes), Max is fine with other dogs and behaves very calmly around them, but sykes can often get very pushy towards other dogs. At the dog park I usually let them both off lead, and when theres another dog they both like to go meet it, but sykes tends to go with his tail held high and sometimes, if the dog is larger than him, tries to mount them, I can never tell if he’s going to be friendly or not. Is there anything you can suggest I do? I want him to have the opportunity to socialise with other dogs, without having to be on a lead all the time, but i’m gettiing a bit nervous to trust him.
Another thing is that he has a problem with large black and white border collies, there are a couple that live near by that whenever we walk past one, he will try to attack it, similar to the way I mentioned before, only much more aggressively.
You mentioned simply walking away from the stressful situation, but I can never guarantee that he’ll follow me. I was wondering if you have any suggestions as to how I can train him out of it or desensitize him to them(especially the border collies)?
I think that desensitization exercises can help. That was what I did with my Shiba Inu, who got over-excited around other dogs.
What also helped with my Shiba is to do small, structured, and supervised play sessions. I invited my neighbor’s playful but non-dominant puppy to come over and play with my Shiba. I would supervise their sessions closely and teach them play manners. I also took my Shiba to our local SPCA, and we had structured play/training-sessions with the friendly dogs there.
In general, I found that dog parks are a poor place to teach a dog play manners. The environment is frequently chaotic, and the parks that I visited often had dogs who did not want to play, was overly fearful, or had other behavioral issues. Instead of socializing my Shiba in a positive way, his behavior with other dogs and with people actually worsened. He was learning many bad habits from being at the park, and I stopped taking him after a few months. Here is more on our dog park experiences-
The techniques above are on-leash techniques that I use during walks. Desensitization exercises are also done on-leash so that we have good control of our dog, and can set him up for success.
I love your dogs and love the way you write the articles.
I have a 6 months lab puppy who is giving me trouble on walks. I live in India and the neighborhood is full of stray dogs, who are quite heavy and huge! My puppy is still learning to walk on a loose lead but as soon as we meet one dog on the street, a lot of them start howling and get too close to us. At this point I try not to worry and stay really calm but my puppy gets too fearful and refuse to walk and just stand still. Treats does not work at all.
I generally give him time to watch the other dog, I do not drag him but keep calling him to follow me and praise him when he finally does! Am I doing it right? Is there anything else I can do?
The another problem is: he munch on anything he finds on the street, so I muzzle him. He does respond to drop it and leave it commands, but only indoor!
I think that it depends on the dog. With my Siberian Husky Lara, I do something similar to what you do. I stay calm, talk to her in a calm voice or just watch with her, and let her evaluate the situation. Usually, she just needs to stop for a while to make sure there are no threats. We move on when she is ready.
When she was young, sometimes she would prefer to turn back, which we will do in a calm fashion. I think doing this helped to make walking experiences positive, which helped her to gain confidence. Now that she is a bit older, she has gotten more sure of herself.
Initially, I also make sure to set Lara up for success. First I would walk her in more quiet areas in my neighborhood or drive her to a quiet place where we can walk. This also helped with leash training. Once she was more confident with walking, I slowly started walking her in the more busy and challenging areas.
The key with Lara is to catch her *before* she goes into fear-mode, and try to set her up for success. Desensitization exercises can also work well in these cases.
With my Shiba Inu, he was just reactive to other dogs. He wanted to get up to them and get them to play with him. In his case, I found that it was better to just remain calm, create neutral experiences, and move him along.
Yeah, my dogs also did that a lot during puppy-hood. Part of it has to do with the curiosity of a puppy. With my Sibes, what seemed to work well is to issue the “Leave-It” command. If my Sibe ignores me and continues eating the bad stuff (e.g. poop), I end the walk and march them home. During the march home I ignore them, do not stop, and just go. In this way, they learn
Ignore Leave-It = end of fun walk
Follow Leave-It = get rewarded really well, get more stops, get more freedom, get longer walks.
But I only do this for stuff that I *absolutely* do not want them to put in their mouth.
My Shiba was a lot more into eating street crap than even my Sibes. I would always watch him very closely and stop him from pouncing on his favorite street trash. If he gets something innocuous (not dangerous), I would just move him along at a fast clip. When I do this, he usually has to focus on walking and drops the stuff after a bit.
Muzzles can be useful in a variety of circumstances, but they are usually a prevention device. They prevent the dog from engaging in certain behaviors but do not really teach the dog not to do it.
As a result, when we remove the muzzle, our dog may resume the behavior. Muzzles are most effective when used together with behavior retraining, for example, training our dog to Leave-It with outside objects and then rewarding him if he complies. With a basket muzzle, a dog can still pant and eat.
Hi, my family just adopted a new female boxer puppy (3 months, 20 pounds). We brought my 4 year old male boxer (60 pounds) to her owners home to introduce them and they seemed to get along and play very well together. When we brought the dogs home they seemed to be doing fine until the puppy started playing with my other boxers toys. My male showed dog agression by barking/growling and pouncing on top of her. He also did the same when she would walk under him, and snapped at her when she was getting in between me and him when i was petting him. i think he is just becoming territorial. Any suggestions on how to keep them on friendly levels?
When I got a puppy last year, my adult Shiba responded in a similar manner. Several things that I did-
1. I made sure that puppy didn’t steal anything from my Shiba and that puppy does not disturb him when he does not want to be disturbed. I try to set the both of them up for success.
2. I did group obedience training sessions. When they are all calm and cooperating with me, they get the most and best rewards.
3. Finally, I also supervised puppy closely and teach all my dogs that I am the one that handles resource conflicts, so that they do not have to do it themselves with aggression. Also, all dogs follow the same rules and there is no special treatment for puppy.
Note – none of my dogs guard food or resources with people. They also have good bite inhibition so that I can train them safely. For dogs who show aggression toward people, it is best to get help from a professional trainer.
My Shiba warmed up to puppy after about 10 days.
Here is more on what I do with my dogs to keep the peace-
Congratulations on your new puppy and 4 paws up for helping out a dog in need! 😀