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Aggression in dogs towards other dogs

Dogs showing aggression in the presence of other dogs is a very common behavioural issue which owners often find difficult and embarrassing to deal with. It is extremely important that these cases are assessed early to ensure that the risk of injury to other dogs, the dog itself, or the people around them is reduced and appropriately managed.

Not all dogs who show typically aggressive behaviour (lunging, barking, growling) towards other dogs feel the same way as each other. Some may genuinely dislike other dogs, some may fear being hurt, and others may really want to reach the other dog but are highly frustrated. Understanding their motivations and emotions is key.

Does your dog actually want to be near other dogs?

This is one of the biggest questions, which will impact your dog’s long-term well-being. Most puppies are pro-social and like almost all other dogs, and as dogs reach adulthood it is normal for them to become more dog selective, not wanting to play with or be friends with everyone. There are smaller numbers of adults who still love all other dogs and an even smaller number who have no desire to have social interactions with other dogs at all.

Wherever your dog is on that social spectrum, we should respect it. The goal should not be to keep them away from all dogs forever, if they are currently scared, but do like the idea of having select friends. Equally, it is not appropriate to force a non-social dog to do group walks and daycare. Whatever their feelings about other dogs, we should be focusing on helping them express those safely and without causing themselves or others undue stress.

If your dog is leaping and barking because it has seen a dog, or one has got too close, it can be very hard to tell what they are thinking and feeling. The first step will be helping them remain calmer, then with expert help, you can start to identify more subtle signs that may give away their true feelings.

There is absolutely no need to make your dog ‘face their fears’

No experience is better than bad experience, so if your dog is struggling around other dogs, keep them away from others whilst you wait for professional guidance. It is also important to accept that there is only so much you can do to control the situation. You may have your dog on lead, but others may not, and may not be able to control their dogs. If you see another dog, politely call out to the owner that your dog requires space. You can also get jackets and lead slips which help people see your dog doesn’t cope well with other dogs.

Dogs who are not reliably able to interact appropriately or safely with other dogs, should be kept on lead in public. If they have previously bitten another dog, I would also advise that they are muzzle trained. It will take time to build their confidence wearing a muzzle so it is best to start as soon as possible. This will then reduce the risk of any injuries if another dog were to run up to you or your dog gets loose. Muzzles can also really help owners feel more confident when it comes to working around other dogs in the future.

About the Author

Sophie White, BVetMed MSc MRCVS, is a veterinary surgeon with over a decade of experience. She is also a Dog Behaviourist, specialising in human directed aggression, handling issues & cases with complex medical histories.

More articles from Sophie White

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