Barking or Aggression towards other dogs

Here are some examples of questions we get asked when dogs act aggressively towards owners or others

Why is my Dog Becoming Aggressive?

Hi Pippa,

In the last 6 months my dog has become more aggressive to other dogs when we go out for walks. He barks, pulls on the lead and lunges towards them. This is worrying me as he is a powerful dog.

Is there any advice you could offer me?

Any would be much appreciated.

Many thanks

Oliver

Dear Oliver,

Displays of dominance, especially from larger dogs towards smaller dogs, is a natural behaviour. Obviously in public places and in today's society this is totally unacceptable. This needs to be corrected immediately to prevent it developing into more serious aggression.

Firstly, has there been a trigger for this behaviour? You state that it has developed over the last six months. Was there an incident that you can remember that has caused this? If your dog was attacked by another dog the barking and lunging on the lead could be a demonstration of nervous behaviour as result of an attack. The treatment for which would be different to that if your dog is displaying dominant behaviour.

For most instances mild aggression is a form of dominant behaviour. Assuming your dog has been properly socialised, it could be a sign of his maturing. Changes may become apparent from the age of 6-7 months to full social maturity between 1-3 years depending upon the breed of dog. If your dog is not castrated this may be something that you should consider. Follow advice from your veterinarian, castration is never a 'quick fix' to a problem, but if your dog is young it might reduce his drive to be involved in disagreements. In addition, behaviour modification techniques are nearly always required to reverse problem behaviours that have been learnt.

Often owners do not realise that they can be encouraging the unwanted behaviour. By giving your dog attention when he starts to bark, for example, talking to him (even if you are annoyed), pulling him back on the lead or touching him, you are inadvertently rewarding him. He may have learnt that by lunging on the lead he has gained your attention and this has developed into his learned response at seeing another dog.

To treat the problem, avoid taking your dog to a very busy area. Adopt a staggered approach to build up to that. Initially take your dog in an open area, such as the seafront or a field. When you come across another dog remain calm, if you start tensing up your dog will read your body language, triggering a reaction. You need to keep your dog's attention on you. Introduce the 'leave' command or ask him to 'heel'. You must practise these commands at other times so your dog knows what is expected of him. Use 'higher value' rewards, for example pieces meat or cheese, to reward him for keeping his attention on you. If he shows any reaction towards the other dog, completely ignore him and veer away from the situation. You will begin to teach your dog that when another dog is nearby, he is positively reinforced with loads of great treats! This will become his learned response instead of the original behaviour.

This does take time. However, persistence and repetition is vital. If you would like more help or for me to show you how to do this in a practical session please call me on 01303 269172.

I hope this helps.

Why Does my Dog get Over-Excited with Other Dogs?

Dear Pippa,

I have a problem with my Springer Spaniel and just wondered whether you may be able to help. His name is Bob. He is a very lively and energetic character of 18 months. He is great at home and with people, but when I take him out he spots another dog and goes crazy, wanting to jump all over them. He does not seems to be aggressive, just over excited. Is this natural for a dog of his age or is it a problem. If so how do I fix it?

Please help, yours sincerely,

Chris Clarm

Dear Chris,

By their very nature Springer spaniels are excitable dogs with boundless energy. You said that his reaction towards other dogs isn't aggressive which is great. You have obviously socialised him properly as a puppy. It sounds like Bob is maturing; full social maturity occurs between 1-3 years depending upon the breed. It is vital at this stage that you do not reinforce this behaviour as it will carry on through later life.

Often owners do not realise that they inadvertently reward unwanted behaviour. By giving Bob attention when he starts to bark, for example talking to him (even through gritted teeth), pulling him back on the lead or touching him, you are inadvertently rewarding him. To treat the problem, you need to counter-condition his behaviour. At present he fixates on the other dog and will do everything in his power to greet the dog. You need to train him to adopt a new response by asking him to complete a command that keeps his attention on you or another object. Take Bob to a quiet area, be armed with a squeaky toy and 'high value' treats, such as pieces meat or cheese. When you come across another dog remain clam and talk to him in a sing song manner. If he starts to lunge towards the other dog ask him to 'heel'. You must practice the 'heel' in your home and garden so he knows what is expected of him. If he heels at your side reward him generously with praise and treats, constantly talk to him so his attention remains on you while you pass the other dog. If he breaks out of the 'heel' attract his attention with the squeaky toy. Most dogs are highly sound motivated. You will be teaching your dog that when another dog is nearby, he is positively reinforced with loads of great treats! This will become his learned response instead of the original behaviour. Be consistent and patient he will soon learn who is more exciting between you and the other dog! If your dog is not castrated this may be something you should discuss with your vet.

For more advice please contact me on 01303 269172.

How Do I Stop my Dog from Attacking other Dogs?

Hi Pippa,

I have an English Bull Terrier who is just over 12 months old.

Up until 6 weeks ago he was going to a "day creche" during the day while i was at work. All was fine and he played really well with the other dogs there. Then suddenly for no apparent reason he went for another dog and the other dog required 2 stitches. He was castrated the following day and banned from the day creche.

Unfortunately just after this I went on holiday for a couple of weeks which I am sure did not help the situation as he was being looked after by a young (19 year old) lad.

Since I have come back there have been a couple of incidents where he has got over excited with other puppies and latched onto the side of their necks and wouldn't let go. Neither puppy had a mark on them once they were separated so he obviously didn't mean to harm them and he didn't have any hackles up but clearly it was unacceptable behaviour.

However today we were on the walk and, meeting some other boisterous dogs, I let him off the lead to play. He saw another puppy (similar age again) some distance away and just went for her. Although she didn't have a scratch on her this time his hackles were up and I got bitten, I think accidentally, when I tried to separate them.

I am now incredibly concerned about him. He is loving and generally very good (if boisterous) but this is unacceptable behaviour and I am not sure what to do about it. Can you help me please?

Judi, Ashford

Dear Judi,

It is unlikely for a dog that has never shown signs of being aggressive just to turn on a young puppy. It sounds like he had a bad experience at the crèche, which caused the initial attack, the true details of which they will probably never admit to. This incident has triggered a reaction in him; if he wasn't corrected for the initial attack he might have begun to think that this is acceptable behaviour or that the incident left him believing that other dogs are hostile and he needs to attack first. Without seeing his behaviour it is difficult to decipher which.

As you state, close after the incident you were not able to correct this behaviour and since then it has got steady worse. He is going through puberty, which is a vulnerable/impressionable age; you need to start counter conditioning his behaviour immediately. To do this, initially avoid taking your dog to a very busy area, walk him in open ground, such as the seafront or a field, avoiding narrow confrontational pathways. When you come across another dog remain calm, and ask your dog to 'leave' or 'heel'. You must practise these commands each day in the house so your dog knows what is expected of him. When you see another dog you should be able to draw your dog's attention on to you rather than the other dog. Use 'higher value' rewards such as pieces of meat or cheese to reward him when he obeys you. You will begin to teach your dog that when another dog is nearby, he is positively reinforced with loads of great treats! If he begins to become aggressive, correct him with a sharp vocal command or use a water spray to deter him. Repeat the 'leave' or 'heel' command and reward when he obeys.

In addition it might also be of value to have him checked by the vet. Often aggression that comes suddenly out of the blue is usually a sign that all is not well physically. You must begin the new training immediately otherwise his behaviour will become his learned response to other dogs. With the stature and power of an adult English Bull Terrier that is not an outcome you want.