Try as we might, sometimes challenges arise with a dog that are very difficult to train out of them. Dog to dog aggression can often be one of those challenges. Even dogs that were social as puppies can develop dog aggression or selectivity due to bad experiences, over zealous play, or maturation that creates intolerance.
Our culture seems to deem these dogs that are not able to play with every other dog as ‘bad dogs’, when in fact it is the majority of dogs that are unable to tolerate these types of interactions with strange dogs. Living with a dog who has a propensity for dog aggression can be frustrating due to these standards, but keep in mind you are not alone! And, there are many things you can do with your dog to work on socialization so your dog can enjoy every bit of life that a dog social dog can.
Neutrality on leash is one of the most important training factors for working with a dog reactive dog. Too often I see people insisting their dog meet another dog on the end of a leash, when in fact these types of interactions can exacerbate aggression. Teaching your dog to focus on you while walking, and being able to redirect attention if a trigger should arise, is paramount to being able to take any dog into new places, regardless of their level of sociability. For a dog with very heavy leash reactivity though, this can be a challenging task to train, so working with a professional can be extremely helpful when working with a dog that has already developed these problems. With puppies or young dogs, I never give them the chance to leash greet new dogs, so they never see it as an option on a leash. This helps to discourage bad habits from starting and bad interactions from occurring.
Handler engagement is another very useful tool in working a dog aggressive dog around triggers. Teaching a dog to focus (give eye contact) to you instead of fixating on triggers is a great skill. If a dog continues to think they have to interact with stimuli in their environment, many dogs will react more quickly than if they are only giving their handler attention. Work up to close proximity – always begin with distractions farther away so the dog can be successful there, and as they improve and maintain consistency, begin to work your way closer to the distractions.
“…as they improve and maintain consistency, begin to work your way closer to the distractions.”
Management is probably the most important skill in successfully living with a dog aggressive dog. You never want to set your dog up to fail – don’t put them in situations where they might make their aggression active and get into a dog fight. It not only can cause major harm to other dogs and people, but it can also increase their efficiency in fighting which can make them even more dangerous. Exercise, train with, and play with your dog in areas that are less frequented by large groups of dogs. Find spaces where you can adjust your proximity based on your dog’s threshold. Learn how to appropriately use training tools, and learn how to identify and react to your dog’s triggers. Always, always, always be respectful of your dog and don’t put them in environments where they will not be successful.
Keep in mind that while these are great starting points, in any case that is dealing with aggression, is it very important to work closely with a professional trainer who is known for their ability to work with these challenges. Many chain pet stores are not equipped to work with aggression successfully, so often more specialized type training is necessary.
If you enjoyed this post, you should read Choosing The Right Breed here.
Do you have coping mechanisms with your aggressive pup? Share below.
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