If you’ve ever seen dogs being aggressive toward each other, you know just how disturbing dog-on-dog aggression can be. Aggression between dogs can take the form of growling, snarling, snapping, posturing and even outright fights which could cause significant injuries for the dogs. It can also be difficult for the owners to safely break up.
Dog aggression towards other dogs is troubling, but unfortunately it isn’t all that uncommon. There’s a good chance you’ve seen it, whether your own dog was involved or it was someone else’s. You might not know what causes it, however.
Dog-on-dog aggression is almost always the result of inadequate socialization while a dog is young. Socialization is the process by which a dog learns how to appropriately communicate and interact with others. It provides the key to preventing her from being aggressive toward other dogs throughout her life.
The socialization process involves exposing your dog to as many other dogs as possible. It’s important to let her meet, mingle, play with and just be around a large number of dogs of all sizes and ages. This exposure to other dogs is what teaches your dog the difference between neutral or positive interactions and behaviors that are truly threatening. Without a proper understanding of this difference, it’s easy for your dog to misinterpret another dog’s behavior.
For example, that other dog might simply want to play, but she won’t see it that way. Instead, she might think she’s being threatened, and she’ll respond to this perceived threat by becoming aggressive. Think of socialization as how your dog learns to communicate and interact appropriately with others.
Puppyhood, especially between ten and sixteen weeks of age, is the most important period in your dog’s entire life as far as socialization is concerned. A dog that isn’t thoroughly socialized during this critical period is a prime candidate for becoming overly fearful or behaving aggressively when she encounters other dogs later in life.
Typically, one of two things will happen when an unfamiliar dog approaches one that’s been poorly socialized. Because the poorly-socialized one hasn’t had enough exposure, she might be frightened by any new dog she meets. Or, she might react to encountering an unfamiliar canine by displaying aggressive behavior. A dog that hasn’t been thoroughly socialized doesn’t understand how to “talk” or behave with others. She also doesn’t understand what those other dogs are “saying” to her. Dog-on-dog aggression is often the result of this miscommunication.
If your dog has a tendency to behave aggressively toward other dogs, there are some things you can do to help prevent potential trouble. In fact, the actions you take when your dog meets up with another dog can significantly affect whether the outcome will be positive or not.
- Keep her under tight control whenever she leaves the house. This means that at a minimum, you’ll need to keep her on a short leash. Avoid using the type of leash that spools out to get longer and winds up when you want it shorter. Using a short leash will let you react to potential trouble quicker and your dog will already be close to you. With a longer leash you might have to haul your dog back to you if an unfamiliar dog appears out of the blue.
- Train your dog to heel. Once she becomes proficient, she will walk calmly by your side with the leash slack, not taut. This might not sound terribly important, but a taut leash can inadvertently communicate tension to your dog – and that tension is exactly what you want to avoid when another dog comes by.
- Watch your body language when another dog comes near. Stay calm and relaxed, because she will take her cues on how to behave from you. If you tense up whenever another dog approaches, she will sense it and she’ll tense up too.
- If your dog starts misbehaving when she sees a dog nearby, direct her attention toward you and give her something else to think about. For example, you could ask her to sit calmly and look at you for a few minutes until the “danger” she perceives has left the area. Afterward, give her plenty of praise and a treat for remaining calm despite the presence of the other dog.
Intervening to Stop Dog Aggression towards Other Dogs
If a fight does break out, don’t try to get between the dogs. Dogs’ teeth are sharp and when a dog is in a fight, she’s just as likely to bite you as the other dog that’s involved. Instead, try the following techniques:
- Shout “stop it” using a loud, angry tone. Shouting might startle the dogs into stopping or backing away enough to let you grab one. Once one dog backs away, the other one probably will too, because she’ll think the threat has been defused. Take your dog by the collar as soon as one of them backs off.
- Throw a tarp or blanket over the dogs if shouting doesn’t stop them. They’ll probably be so confused that they’ll stop fighting. You can also try using a hose to spray them with water. The longer you spray, the more likely it is that the fight will end. Be ready to grab her as soon as the fight breaks up.
- Spray the dogs with a solution they hate. Most dogs detest lemon juice that’s been diluted with water, and spraying them might be enough to stop the fight. Commercially-available citronella sprays work the same way.
- As a last resort, grab the back legs of one of them and try to drag her away from the other dog. Dragging her away in an arc will make it more difficult for her to turn and bite you.
Remember, no matter how you end the fight, you need to remove your dog from the area as quickly as possible.
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