Like people, some dogs are better at making friends than others. Your dog may be aggressive toward other dogs for a number of reasons, although the causes are most commonly instinctive. Whatever the reason, gentle, kind training will curb aggression. There will be no need for punishment or scolding.
Leash the dog. Allow sufficient slack for the dog to leave your side and interact with other dogs, but ensure that you can physically restrain him if necessary should he become aggressive. If you have other dogs in the home, let all of them mingle freely. If your dog is the only dog in the home, walk him in an area where he’ll come into contact with other dogs.
Identify the triggers for aggression. These may include territorialism, food protectiveness, dominance or lack of socialization. If your dog is aggressive only to dogs visiting the home, territorialism is a probable cause. If it happens only when he’s eating, he’s most likely demonstrating “resource protection.” If he tries to bully other dogs by playing too rough or mounting, he is most likely showing signs of dominance.
Identify aggressive body language. Look out for growling, sustained gazing, a stiff, outstretched tail and lip-licking. By knowing the precursors to an episode of dog aggression, you can pre-empt his actions and neutralize his behavior.
Isolate the aggressive dog. For dog-aggressive dogs, exposure to other dogs can be stressful to him and thus to everyone and every pet present. It’s important to give him time away from dogs to calm down. Either take him back to the house or put him in a room by himself if you have other pet dogs.
Leash the dog again and introduce him to an environment likely to prompt aggression, for example by allowing another dog into the home. Use your understanding of the causes of and precursors to aggression to distract him before he has chance to act aggressively.
Praise the dog when he behaves. Fuss him and say “good boy” in a positive tone of voice for as long as he remains passive in the presence of other dogs. This is called positive reinforcement. By doing this, you’re enriching his environment. Positive reinforcement is useful because you can withdraw it in response to aggression. When you withdraw positive reinforcement, you reduce the quality of his environment and show him that aggression results in a negative outcome.
Neutralize aggressive behavior. As soon as he shows signs of aggression, stop praising him and walk away calmly. If necessary, use the leash to encourage him to follow. He’ll associate his actions with the removal of your praise, the enriching stimulus. By walking away, you turn his focus from the other dog to you.
Give him a command, such as “calm” or “be nice,” that you use each time he becomes aggressive or when you find yourselves in a situation in which he's inclined to become aggressive.
Reward passive behavior. As soon as he turns his attention to you, issue a food treat. This tells him that calmness when he hears the command results in a positive outcome. Socialize him every day, each time extending the sessions. Eventually, he’ll learn that behaving passively has a positive outcome, while aggression toward other dogs has a negative outcome. He'll also learn to behave passively on command.
- Never yell at your dog. This may cause him to think you're being aggressive. too, causing him the misconception that aggression in the presence of other dogs is appropriate.
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.