Dog-Dog Aggression

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Dog – Dog Aggression

As humans we may tolerate most people but we certainly do not like everyone. Some people are just too rude or scary or there is something about them that we do not like. We, on the other hand expect unbelievably high standards from our dogs in that we expect them to be nice to all other dogs. Worst of all, we get cross with them if they try to interact with other dogs in their own way.

We force our dogs to go say, “Hi” to other dogs and want them to meet face to face not caring if it is very rude in dog manners. When an older dog wants to teach a puppy some manners we get cross with him or her. Their bones are taken away and given to a lower-ranking dog and then they are scolded if they object, growl or try to take it back. We decide who the “Alpha” is and who goes through the door first.

We will never know why some dogs dislike each other. We can only guess because they will not tell us. Sometimes, an incident like having been attacked without provocation as a young dog may be the reason why a dog can react aggressively
towards every black dog or big dog it sees or Labrador or German Shepherd.

There are, however, dogs that seem to dislike every dog it sees on a walk. It does not matter the colour, big or small, old or young – they are disliked instantly. As soon as they notice a dog on the horizon they already start straining on the leash, snarling and barking. If released they will charge at the oncoming dog without checking for signs of submission or if it is a puppy or an old dog. They are ready for a scrap at the drop of a hat.

Rushing in to attack could well be a form of protection for such dogs. The owner’s reaction could also have a marked influence on his behaviour. Many owners do not really enjoy their dog walks because they dread meeting other dogs on the
way. The moment they become aware of an approaching dog they get a firm grip on the lease and start scolding their dog.
This has the effect of increasing the anxiety of their dog and confirming that the other dog is a problem.

Dominant territorial dogs are capable of causing severe injuries. They are out to kill even if the other dog tries to be submissive. It is as if these dogs are not able to read the common dog social signals of submission.

Chances of rehabilitation are based on the Dunbar assessment: Dogs that show clear signs of having bite inhibition have a good prognosis. They may have had plenty of awful sounding fights but without inflicting serious damage to the other dog. Dogs without bite inhibition kill or cause life-threatening injuries each time. Chances of rehabilitation are very poor.

What can be done to help?

Prevention is better than cure: It is highly recommended that allpuppies must attend puppy training classes where they learn to socialise with many other puppies and as many people, adults and children of all ages, as is possible. Training must include bite inhibition training. If the dog is too old for puppy classes, then the owner must make the effort to follow the suggestions listed under Puppy in this blog.

Puppy training, after completion of the course, must continue at home until the dog has matured. At age around 8 months when dogs enter what can be called doggie adolescence, a change often takes place when the dog can become either spooked by other dogs and things or it can become very aggressive. Do not stop your training too soon.
Training your dog is a lifelong activity.

At my club we find that near the end of a class the dogs, having been training together for a while, have formed a “feral pack” and can be socialised close together more easily. They will bark at dogs arriving early for the next class as if saying, “You cannot join our pack.” Dogs that initially appear to dislike each other now can calmly stay close together. More reason to join a club.

Fear biters respond well to desensitization programmes where they are taught to relax and accept the controlled presence of another dog.  My recommendation is to use a benign member of the opposite sex to begin with. If the
problem dog is a male then we find a bitch to assist. The aim is to begin to praise the dog near another dog instead
of fighting with it around other dogs.

Dogs that show extreme fear may need a course of anti-anxiety medication.

The late John Fisher made use of what he called herding. Because dogs are pack animals and want to be part of a pack, we place the problem dog, securely held by its owner, in the centre of a ring where at least 5 friendly, calm, dogs slowly
follow each other around in silence – no talking. Dogs walk anti-clock wise so that the dogs walk on the inside of the circle. The problem dog is watched closely to see if he is disturbed by one of the dogs circling, usually by following him visually and/or trying to attack him. That dog is then removed. When the dog stops focusing attention on any particular dog, the session ends when he has calmed down. The therapy dog is taken some distance away from the other dogs by its owner.  Sessions are repeated ten minutes later. If all goes well the second and third time, the problem dog is then quietly walked
into the circle to join the others and becomes part of the pack. The owner can now praise her dog as they move amongst the other dogs. I have used this method a number of times with reasonable success. What is important is to have repeated sessions over a few weeks. Much depends on the owner and the severity of the case.

Dogs that have persistent and severe dog – dog aggression issues and do not respond well to remedial programmes, can be walked with head collars and be taught to perform other tasks.  On walks, as soon as the handler sees another dog approaching, he uses the halti to turn his dog towards himself and commands a “Sit” close to his body and at the same
time offering a treat. His dog now has its back to the other dog and is force-held in that position if necessary. With his left hand on his dog’s collar and treating with his right, he can prevent a confrontation and wait for the other dog to pass.

Enforcing a “Sit” teaches the dog to obey a very useful command because he cannot go walkabout or disturb another dog when sitting. Treats are offered in the beginning to reward the dog for sitting and to help to distract the dog that may begin to struggle to get at the other dog.

From experience I have found it soon to be possible to have the dog sitting on leash next to you in the heel position when strange dogs are used to pass by a few times in a training exercise. By repeating the “Sit” command until the dog sits and then to praise and a treat, will soon have your dog remain sitting even if he may still stare at the other dog.

Treats should be given while the other dog is in the area, but only when your dog “Sits.” Sitting gets ample praise and at
the same time teaches the dog that when strange dogs arrive, “nice things can be expected from my owner.” The bar
opens and mom pours drinks.

It is important not to praise your dog in the car on the way home. The dog must associate praise with having obeyed the
“Sit” command.

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