By Linda Michaels, M.A., Psychology, Del Mar Dog Trainer
Dog/dog Aggression: There’s nothing pet parents like better than socializing with their dogs. They often want everyone to like their dog and they want their dog to like everyone… including other dogs. Pet parents may feel it’s a reflection on them personally if their dog is not friendly to other dogs. It’s not. Before you head off to the local dog park or dog beach there are two important questions to ask yourself: “Is it safe?” and “Is my dog really having fun?”
Your dog speaks to you through body language–ear and tail carriage, stance, behavior and vocalizations. Perhaps your dog is telling you she is experiencing an overload of stress when confronted with other dogs. If so, avoid any potentially dangerous situations while you begin a science-based behavior modification program.
Displays of aggression between members of the same species are common in animals. Conflicts over resources, such as; food, territory, mating privileges, and access to others, are well-supported in animal behavior literature. Still, we often expect our dogs to play-nice with “stranger dogs” in group situations and out on neighborhood strolls. Rules of appropriate behavior in dog society are quite different than human manners. You may need to reexamine your expectations and goals for your pup. Realistically, if your dog exhibits generalized dog/dog aggression, it’s unlikely he’ll turn into a social butterfly.
Genetics, early socialization or the lack of exposure during the critical period of social development, and traumatic experiences, shape how your dog interacts with other dogs. Use the Hierarchy of Dog Needs Wellness and Behavior Modification Guide to help prevent problems as well as to address already existing behavior problems.
Play between dogs should be a 2-way street. Dogs should take turns chasing each other–neither dog being a bully or a target. Adult dogs should be willing to “let the puppy win” now and again, and always back off if the puppy squeals. Adult dogs ought to be willing to get down to the puppy’s level, so the puppy can have fun too.
Dog/dog aggression can be a dangerous problem for you, your dog, other dogs, and anyone who tries to break up a dog fight. If your dog has an aggression issue of any kind, be sure you’ve had a recent wellness check from your veterinarian to rule out any underlying organic causes that may be affecting behavior or causing pain.
If your dog has bitten another dog or been in a number of dog fights, engage a certified behavioral consultant to help you work toward changing your dog’s underlying drives and motivation. A complete intake evaluation should be given in order to develop a plan of treatment based on your dog’s history. It’s a complex problem and each case requires an individual approach to assess on-leash aggression, off-leash aggression, territorial aggression, fear-based aggression, fence-barrier aggression, resource guarding aggression, bite hierarchies, ameliorating and exacerbating factors, and context.
The amount of time it takes to see improvement varies depending on the severity of the reactivity, your dog’s responsiveness to training, and the amount of time you devote to practicing behavior modification protocols.
Behavior modification techniques that include systematic Desensitization and Counter-conditioning will help you and your pup learn to exercise and socialize safely. Avoid harsh methods or collars that cause pain as they increase fear and anxiety and may cause aggression (Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 2006).
A realistic goal for you and your dog may be taking your dog for a pleasant walk in the neighborhood without any barking and lunging incidents. If your dog shows signs of anxiety with “stranger dogs”, it’s all right to skip the group activities and play at home. I recommend the Chase-It lure toy and upstairs fetch. Supervised play-dates with doggies friends may be another alternative. Stay safe and have fun with your dog!
All rights reserved. Originally published in the San Diego Pets Magazine.
Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, one of the top ten dog trainers in the U.S. (Top Ten Magazine) Del Mar dog trainer, creator of the HierarchyofDogNeeds.com and speaker, may be reached at 858.259.9663 (WOOF) or by email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private manners/ obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com