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Controlling Dog To Dog Aggression

Firstly I'd have to say that dog to dog aggression is a complex canine behavioral problem, with each case requiring an individual approach. It can stem from many and varied causes and can surface at any time throughout your dog's life.

Dog on dog aggression is a potentially serious problem for any dog, or human for that matter who is drawn into a conflict. In most cases if left untreated, the aggressive behavior will only escalate and become much worse. Therefore it is no point just ignoring the aggressive behavior - or even worse being in denial about it. Unfortunately it won't just disappear without your intervention.


This article discusses two of the major problem areas where dog to dog aggression occurs:

  1. At home with dogs who live with each other (sometimes called sibling rivalry).

  2. "On leash" aggression which happens on your walks.


Unfortunately I have first hand experience with "on leash aggression" thanks to my old mate "Harrison" my Dalmation. Harry's aggression towards other dogs (inter-dog aggression) severely restricted what we could do together (and our whole relationship) and in the end made him somewhat of a social outcast. Looking back on it now there's no doubt I did the wrong thing by Harry and didn't address the problem as I now would.


Types Of Dog Aggression

Keep in mind that for the purpose of this article we are dealing specifically with dog to dog aggression and not aggression towards humans or other animals. These are the most common general categories that canine aggression fall into:

Fear/Nervous Aggression Dominance Aggression
Territorial Aggression Learned Aggression
Predatory Aggression Protective Aggression
Sexual Aggression

dog to dog aggression

Any one or a combination of the above types of aggression can contribute to dog to dog aggression. In most cases though aggression towards other dogs can be attributed to poor early socialization, a bad experience in the past or maybe the result of a dominance struggle. Genetics can also be a factor in dog to dog aggression - in other words the behavior is inherited.

General Thoughts About Dog On Dog Aggression

  • Your first course of action should be a visit to your Veterinarian to rule out any medical reasons for the aggressive behavior (don't just rule this out yourself).

  • All dog aggression problems are serious and require an individualized approach. Therefore I always recommend consulting the expertise of an experienced animal behavior specialist. This applies to all forms of dog aggression - it's just too serious to take lightly.

  • As with most dog behavior problems proper obedience training is the key. Obedience training establishes you as a fair and trusted leader and improves communication between handler and dog. It also means you will have voice control over your dog in any situation.

  • Early socialization is a crucial stage for your puppy to go through. Letting your dogs learn how to interact with each other is an essential step in the prevention of dog to dog aggression.

  • Along with puppy socialization, bite inhibition training is another important skill your dog needs to learn. Your puppy's littermates will beging this process for you but you must continue to educate your dog when he arrives at your home.

  • Don't ever fall into the trap of thinking that dog to dog aggression is normal and nothing can be done about it. Each time you let your dog get away with it you are actually rewarding and therefore reinforcing the unwanted behavior.

  • Adding punishment or pain such as leash corrections or electronic shock collars to an already fired up and stressed dog is a very risky action to take. I wouldn't recommend it. There's far more effective and humane training methods we can implement instead - read on.

  • The earlier you recognize and take proper action against the aggression the better. Remember that dog to dog aggression is never acceptable and you must make it crystal clear to your dog on every occasion it occurs.

  • Head collars and a muzzle are an effective tool to prevent altercations but they don't get to the root of the problem. They are not the solution.

  • Never comfort your dog when he/she displays aggression - this sends the wrong message and actually rewards the behavior. As we know behavior that we reward is highly likely to be repeated.

  • Continue to socialize/desensitize your dog with other unfamiliar dogs throughout his life. A great place to start is puppy kindergarten, obedience training classes or the local dog park.

How To Stop Or Control On Leash Dog Aggression

One of the most common times your dog displays aggression towards other dogs is when you are out enjoying your daily walk. Lets have a look at some of the steps you can take to control your dog's on leash frustration.

  • Once again obedience training is the key. At the first sign of any anxious or aggressive behavior from your dog you can immediately call on an obedience command such as a down-stay to divert his/her attention. You are asking your dog to perform an alternate behavior which takes his focus and attention away from the other dog. It also changes your dogs body language to a passive, non threatening posture.

  • When you are in the process of eradicating on leash aggression be sure to use a suitable muzzle and do your best to avoid possible confrontations. This won't fix the problem but it's a worthwhile temporary measure.

  • Always be mindful that your dog is very sensitive to your energy, emotions, breathing and feelings. Therefore if you tense up and grab hold of the leash tightly at the first sign of an approaching dog, your dog will pick up on this and become anxious and stressed. This is a huge factor in most cases of on leash aggression.

    You want your dog to believe that other dogs are no big deal rather than something to get worked up about. Another reason to not tighten up the leash is because this changes your dog's body language (makes your dog stand upright and tall). This can be seen by the other dogs as a show of dominance or at the very least threatening.

  • Teach your dog the obedience "look" command or "focused attention exercise". When taught correctly this exercise can be called upon anytime you require your dog to focus on you and off something else - such as an unfamiliar dog. Follow these steps:

    1. As with teaching any new command start in a familiar environment to your dog, free from any distractions (don't start teaching this attention exercise when you are out and about on your walk).

    2. This exercise is all about getting and holding the attention of your dog, so grab a handful of your dogs favorite treats and lets get started!

      With your dog on leash say "Harry" (your dogs name) "look", as soon as your dog looks up at you (gaining eye contact) praise him/her and then produce the treat from your pocket and give it. Remember to keep this sequence the same everytime "Harry look!, as soon as you gain eye contact immediately praise your dog "good boy!", then provide the treat.

    3. Step 2 is the foundation of the exercise, get it right and then you just need to build on it and strengthen it. Add some variables to this basic exercise such as saying "Harry look!" then take a couple of steps to one side. When your dog follows you and looks up to make eye contact you praise and produce the yummy treat. Now you can lengthen the amount of time you have your dog's attention by repeating this exercise back to back. It goes like this, say "Harry look!" take a couple of steps to your right, your dog follows you and looks up into your eyes, you praise and then treat. Straight away you repeat this process (step to the left this time) and continue to do it 5 or 6 times.

      Keep practicing this exercise over and over and take it to different locations and gradually add some distractions such as the presence of other dogs. This may take a while, take it slow!

    4. When you've built a reliable "look" command in any environment, you can confidently call on it in many situations, including when other dogs are around. Eventually you will be able to fade out the treats and just rely on praise and maybe an occasional treat. In the end you'll find your dog will look to you whenever other dogs are around. Your dog will soon learn that there is no need to be anxious or to fear other dogs. You'll find that eventually your dog will actually learn to associate the presence of other dogs with something positive happening.

  • Another technique is to play the "find it" game. This redirects your dog's attention, breaks eye contact with any other dogs and produces non threatening body language from your dog. All you need to do is throw a treat on the ground and say "find it". Your dog will pick this game up very quickly and is sure to love it.

  • Always reward your dog for polite, calm greetings with unfamiliar dogs. Demonstrate to your dog that you are happy with him/her.

dog sibling rivalry

Sibling Rivalry - Aggression Between Dogs In The Same Household

It can be a real pest living with dogs who are continually locked in battle with each other. The noise alone is enough to drive you mad and you end up spending a ridiculous amount of time putting out these "spot fires". In reality most cases of sibling rivalry look and sound much worse to us than they probably are.

What Causes Canine Sibling Rivalry?

Many things can spark this type of inter-dog aggression, lets briefly have a look at the most common causes:

  • Instability in the dominance hierarchy between the dogs - could be that a younger dog reaches social maturity and begins to challenge the status of the older dog. Or possibly it may just be that the older dog perceives that he/she is being challenged.

  • Normal competitiveness and fighting over resources such as food, toys and attention from human housemates (you).

  • Lack of early puppy socialization, which may include poor bite inhibition which leads to rough play.

  • It's a common problem when two dogs of the same sex and age live together.

  • Often dogs fight time and time again to correct our human interference. In many cases they will work their differences out much quicker if left to do so without our interference.

Controlling Aggression Between Dogs In The Same Household

The key is to discover what triggers the inter dog aggression and then address the trigger. This way you are treating the root of the problem rather than trying to stop the symptoms. A simple example of this is if your dogs fight over a favorite toy, take the toy away.

  • Become your dogs respected and trusted leader. Do this through proper obedience training.

  • Give your dogs heaps of exercise to drain all of that excess energy out of them, calm them down a bit.

  • If you can recognize that one of the dogs has established his/her role as the dominant one in the relationship respect this, work with it. Don't interfere, they are best placed to work out these differences. You can help by respecting the position they have established by putting the dominant dogs food down first and greeting him/her first etc.


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Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.