How to Train Your Dog to Not Attack Other Dogs

Medium
1-6 Months
Behavior

Introduction

You’re walking through gorgeous green fields, the sun is out, your canine friend is bounding around sniffing everything — but then, they turn rigid, their tail drops, and all of a sudden, they leap across the field to lunge at another dog. Your stomach turns and you charge after your dog, hoping to prevent a battle. It is a wholly embarrassing situation and one that can leave everyone involved feeling emotional.

Dogs that attack are often misunderstood. Fear and protection instincts often drive dogs to attack, but the effects can be devastating. Firstly, your dog or another dog may be seriously injured, causing pain, discomfort, and hefty vet bills. In some states, dogs that attack other dogs or humans are required to be put down. Getting a handle on this behavior is essential for the protection of both your dog and others. 

Defining Tasks

Training your dog not to attack other dogs might sound relatively straightforward, but it can actually be extremely challenging. This type of behavior is often a result of underlying issues that can be difficult to address. Therefore, successful training involves obedience, taking steps that reduce unsupervised physical interaction with other dogs, plus a number of other measures.

Rectifying aggressive behavior in puppies will be quicker and easier than changing the habits of older dogs, but it's absolutely vital if you want to avoid serious injury to your own dog and others. Dogs that attack other dogs can even go on to attack humans, so it's even more important you address any signs of aggression as soon as possible.

Consistency is key with this type of training, so you need to be prepared to be patient and put in the hours. It could take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months to fully train aggression towards other dogs out of your canine friend.

Getting Started

Before you get going with the methods below, you'll need to gather a few things. A secure collar and leash will be required. Make sure the collar is comfortable. You may also want to invest in a harness that allows you to have good control without the collar pulling on your dog's neck.

You'll also need a quiet place to train without too many distractions that isn't overpopulated with other pups. Treats or your dog's favorite food will also be needed to incentivize and reward them. Small, tasty training biscuits and pieces of cheese often go over well. Once you have these things and a proactive attitude, you’re ready to get to work!

The Sitting Pretty Method

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Step
1
Go to the park
Invite a fellow dog owner to an open area, such as a quiet public park. Avoid off-leash dog parks as they can exacerbate your dog's aggression. This activity is best done at a park with a dog-friendly walking trail.
Step
2
Treats count
Don't forget to bring plenty of high-value treats! (We also recommend doing this shortly before dinnertime so both doggos have an appetite.)
Step
3
Sit pretty
Put your leashed dog in a sit-stay position several feet off the trail and let the other dog walk by. Reward your buddy with a treat and praise each time they maintain a calm sit-stay without lunging or growling.
Step
4
Patience
Continue the exercise, Each calm session deserves a high five and a food reward. However, this may take several tries. The other dog will likely need to pass by several times, so be patient.
Step
5
Repeat and increase the intensity gradually
This step is a common theme in conditioning training. Once your dog understands what you want them to do, decrease the distance gradually. Continue your training and your buddy will be ready for a pup playdate before you know it!
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The Counter Conditioning Method

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Step
1
Take a walk and add treats
This method builds on the threshold concept from the Establish a Threshold training method. For your next walk, stash some of your dog's favorite treats in your pocket and head out for your walk. You can also work on counter conditioning if you have a large open space, like a big backyard, and a friend with a well-trained dog. If you're training at home, keep sessions short at first and be patient.
Step
2
Start counter conditioning
Counter conditioning teaches your dog that staying calm around other dogs earns them a tasty reward. Once you've reached the threshold distance and your pup sees the other dog, start feeding them treats and giving praise. It's important to start slow and to always use positive reinforcement. If they get aggressive, take away the treats and move to a safe distance.
Step
3
Walk and walk again
Remember, this process will take some time. You may need to go on dozens of walks or host several training sessions before the concept sinks in. Never punish your dog by yelling at or hitting them; this will only perpetuate the behavior and make them fearful of you. If they react calmly, continue lavishing them with treats and praise so they know they're on the right track.
Step
4
Repeat
Repeat step two as many times as necessary. Eventually, your dog will associate seeing another dog at the threshold distance with getting a treat. This is known as a conditioned emotional response. Once your pup is consistently calm, decrease the distance gradually and assess your dog's reactions. Over time, once your pup is able to walk calmly past another dog, you may want to add another dog to the mix. Continue to build on this skill by increasing the time and decreasing the distance.
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The Establish a Threshold Method

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Step
1
Brush up on obedience training
Working on obedience is the first step to conditioning your dog to associate other dogs with good things, like treats, praise, and pats. A dog with knowledge about behavior is a wonderful thing. Make sure your dog is willing to heel and sit-stay on cue. Use positive reinforcement during this process.
Step
2
Take a walk
Once you're confident that your pal will follow your commands, leash up and take a walk in an area where you'll pass other dogs, but keep your distance. Think of this walk as an experiment. You want to establish a "threshold" distance. Notice roughly how far away the other dog is when your dog starts showing signs of aggression.
Step
3
Double the threshold distance
If your dog starts growling or lunging at a distance of 20 feet, move them 40 feet away at the very first sign of aggression. (This includes the stare-down that often precedes aggressive behavior.) This teaches them that you'll protect them from what they perceive as danger. Never force your dog to interact with other dogs if they're fearful or protective.
Step
4
Mind your body language
Your dog will pick up on your emotions. Tensing up or gripping the leash tightly might make them more fearful or aggressive. Maintain a calm yet firm demeanor to let your dog know there's no danger.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Cheech
AnimalBreed object
2 Years
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Cheech
AnimalBreed object
2 Years

We live at an apartment complex and when we let him out and there is another dog he violently yelps as much as he can to get their attention and then tries to pull and he slipped out of a harness this morning gladly I had two leashes on him but I NEED to fix this ASAP.

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
91 Dog owners recommended

Hello! It sounds like he has some excitement based anxiety going on. Your dog needs to learn new behaviors to quell his reactions to other dogs or people. First we reduce his excitement around people on walks, and then we begin adding cues such as “watch me” or “sit.” Keep in mind before starting, that punishing him while he's in this state of emotion isn't ideal. Doing so will make his concerns even bigger. Dogs learn by making associations, and you want your dog to associate strangers with pleasant things — never punishment. The first step is to reframe what a stranger means to your dog. From a safe distance — your dog determines the distance, not you — have your leashed dog view another dog. As someone comes into view, drop a lot of enticing meat treats just in front of your dog’s nose. Ignore any hysterics for now, but back up and create more space if your dog is unwilling to eat. This part is hard for humans — I understand. It helps to see your dog’s behavior for what it most likely is: excitement vs. disobedience. The training reinforcer MUST be a great one, such as real meat. It is critical that the appearance of the stranger causes meat to fall from the sky. When the stranger is out of your dog’s view, all treats stop. We want your dog to predict that other dogs near him means that YUMMY FOOD will appear! Consider not walking your dog for 30 days as you reprogram his opinions of strangers. Instead, sit on your front porch or in your garage with your dog on leash, and practice treating every time someone comes into your dog’s line of sight. During this time, engage your dog’s mind with mind puzzles, obedience work, and fun stuff like games in the house or yard. You know you have made great progress when your dog sees a stranger, and he turns his head away from the once-threatening or excitable person and looks into your eyes, expecting a treat. Once your dog is looking at his (former) trigger and then looking expectantly up at you for a treat, you can begin to put this skill on cue. Tell the dog, "sit" or "watch me" or whatever command you want to use for this setting. After he starts automatically sitting or watching you when he sees a stranger approaching, you know you have success! Remember to go slowly! It could take up to a month or longer of consistent practice before you see an improvement with his behavior.

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Zeus
AnimalBreed object
3 Years
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Zeus
AnimalBreed object
3 Years

Hello, my parents got our dog 3 years ago but they never bothered to enroll him in obedience lessons until last year. We were only able to keep him in lessons for a few months but due to money issues we couldnt continue. My dog is extremely aggressive and lunges at anyone he sees, we barely invite people over because of this. He also barks constantly at the window if he sees someone outside to the point that hes broken three windows. We often dont walk him because he pulls too much and again lunges and becomes super aggressive. He is so sweet at home and we tend to just play and let him run around in the back, but I want to be able to walk him like any other dog owner is able to walk their dog. Since im only a teen and have no income there is no way for me to enroll him in obedience lessons myself but I want to train him because im always worried that he will attack someone one day and we will have to put him down. Do you have any suggestions on where i should start? Also with the previous training we did they used those electric collars, I hate it but it did seem to work when we did it consistently, but please let me know what you think the best training method should be.

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
91 Dog owners recommended

Hi there. Your best bet is to start with the visitors coming in your home. Then you can transfer the skills he has learned to outdoors when you are walking. You won’t be able to solve your dog’s overprotective behavior in one day. In the meantime, you don’t want to put your life on hold. You can still invite guests into your home as long as you prioritize managing your dog’s behavior. You’ll need a short-term strategy to start showing your overprotective dog what behavior is unacceptable while also keeping your guests safe. There are a few ways to do this. Leash: Keeping your dog on a leash while friends are visiting gives you control over your dog’s actions. Leash him up before the doorbell rings and keep him close as you greet your guests. During the visit, you can let the leash drag and only use it if you have to. Muzzle: If you feel his behavior warrants the use of a muzzle for the time being while you work on solving this problem, then it may be a wise choice. Separate Room: Your dog won’t get better without practice, but sometimes you have to weigh the risks versus rewards. If your overprotective dog is in the beginning stages of training, keeping him separated from guests might be best. You don’t want to put a friend’s safety at risk or needlessly stress out your dog. As long as you keep working toward stopping the behavior, separating an overprotective dog from company is a temporary management solution. Start Obedience Training Obedience training is a must for every dog, and it’s especially important for overprotective dogs. Working with your dog on things like “sit-stay,” “down-stay,” and “heel,” will help build his impulse control. He’ll start seeing you as a capable leader and will turn to you for guidance. A mistake many pup parents make is stopping obedience training once their dog masters the basics skills. Being well-trained is about more than knowing how to sit when a person holds a treat in front of their face. It’s a lifetime lesson, and even senior dogs need regular training. Commit to training your dog several times a day for short periods of time. Make Your Dog Work for Affection You can’t help but smother your dog with love every time he’s within petting distance, but that isn’t always what’s best for him. He will start to feel entitled to your attention, and that’s part of the problem. To remedy this, initiate a “work for it” program that allows you to show your dog affection as long as he earns your attention in appropriate ways. Make him sit, stay calm, and do whatever else you ask before doling out whatever it is he wants. If he’s excited for dinner, make him sit and leave it before digging in. If he wants in your lap, ask him to do a trick first. Never give your dog attention if he rudely nudges your hand or barks in your face. He needs to know polite behavior, and polite behavior only, is how he gets what he wants. You ignore everything else. Involve Other People in the Dog’s Life Most overprotective dogs choose to guard only the person they feel closest to. It’s usually the same person who fills their food bowls, takes them on walks, and handles training. They become obsessively attached, and a strong bond gradually mutates into overprotective behavior. Putting some space between you and your dog will help him learn to trust other people. Enlist the entire family’s help and take a step back in your role as primary caregiver. Have someone else feed the dog a few times a week, and encourage other people to engage her in playtime. This will help him be more comfortable with different people. Socialize Socialization is best done during the puppy stages, but even adult and senior dogs benefit from new experiences. Exposing your overprotective dog to new places, experiences, and people, will help him learn that not everyone is out to hurt you. Make sure each new experience is positive, and encourage your dog without forcing him to interact. If your dog is afraid, you don’t want to make things worse. Take socialization at the pace he’s comfortable with. If he seems overwhelmed, back up and try something a little smaller. These are some general ideas and they can be modified to fit your dynamic. These behaviors do take time, I am talking months, to correct. And sometimes the behaviors get worse before they get better. So just push through that time if that starts to happen. Please let me know if you have any additional questions. Thank you for writing in!

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leicester
AnimalBreed object
6 Years
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leicester
AnimalBreed object
6 Years

my dog was attacked by a staffie whilst on the leash at 2yrs,he now 6yrs and he will approach another dog,they get nose to nose,then he goes for them.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
673 Dog owners recommended

Hello Karen, I suggest looking for a G.R.O.W.L. class in your area, which is a class for dog reactive/aggressive dogs. All the dogs in that class wear basket muzzles and are intensively socialized together in a structured environment over the course of the class, to help dogs overcome their issues more quickly with the trainer's guidance. Check out the video linked below for how to introduce the muzzle in a more fun way. Most dogs will need this training broken up into several sessions over the course of the week. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s If you cannot find a G.R.O.W.L. class, I do suggest hiring a professional trainer who specializes in aggression and has well behaved dogs to practice introductions and desensitization with. The training will likely still involve a muzzle. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Milo
AnimalBreed object
7 Months
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Milo
AnimalBreed object
7 Months

Every time my dog sees other dogs fighting or play fighting, my dog wants to get in between the two dogs and fights with them

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
673 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sweet, I suggest working on a high level Come command. Some dogs naturally become more highly aroused or have more prey drive. These traits tend to be genetic, so I recommend working on a high level of off leash obedience to make it more manageable. If you are going place like the dog park, your dog is also likely a dog who simply needs to not go there due to highly arousing, competitive, unstructured nature of a dog park. That type of environment can actually make the behavior get worse. Instead, look for things like canine sports and group dog walks or hikes to join through local obedience clubs, rescues, meetup.com, and friend groups. Reel In method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall Premack Principle and entire article: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-to-come-when-called/ Out: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Reyna
AnimalBreed object
6 Years
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Reyna
AnimalBreed object
6 Years

My dog got “jumped” by another dog that we have. They are both female and both “alphas”. After this encounter she’s become really frustrating on walks. Every time she sees another dog she starts barking and lunging forward. She tries pulling and hopping. I stopped tightening her leash, I don’t yell at her, but I also don’t know how to get her to stop. I started just saying no and she’s beginning to sit and bark instead of lungs and bark, but I don’t want her to be doing that either.

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
91 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Your dog needs to learn new behaviors to quell her fear. First we reduce her fear around new dogs, and then we begin adding cues such as “watch me” or “sit.” Research tells us that most leash reactivity is caused by fear, not by aggression. Dogs bark and lunge at other dogs to warn, “Go away! Go away!” Dogs fear other dogs because of genetic reasons, lack of socialization, fights when they were puppies, or any scary (to the dog) interaction with other dogs. Sometimes having low thyroid levels contributes to unwanted canine behavior. During this time, avoid any punishment for reactivity. Doing so will make her concerns even bigger. Dogs learn by making associations, and you want your dog to associate other dogs with pleasant things — never punishment. The first step is to reframe what an oncoming dog means to your dog. From a safe distance — your dog determines the distance, not you — have your leashed dog view another dog. As the new dog comes into view, drop a lot of enticing meat treats just in front of your dog’s nose. Ignore any hysterics for now, but back up and create more space if your dog is unwilling to eat. This part is hard for humans — I understand. It helps to see your dog’s behavior for what it most likely is: fear vs. disobedience. The training reinforcer MUST be a great one, such as real meat. It is critical that the appearance of the new dog causes meat to fall from the sky. When the other dog is out of your dog’s view, all treats stop. We want your dog to predict that other dogs near him means that YUMMY FOOD will appear! As you are reframing your dog’s opinion of seeing other leashed dogs, be careful where you take your dog, and be protective of what she is exposed to. One fight can create a reactive dog. Consider not walking your dog for 30 days as you reprogram her opinions of other dogs. Instead, sit on your front porch or in your garage (or somewhere out of the way if those two options aren't possible) with your dog on leash, and practice treating every time another dog comes into your dog’s line of sight. During this time, engage your dog’s mind with mind puzzles, obedience work, and fun stuff like games in the house or yard. You know you have made great progress when your dog sees another dog, and he turns his head away from the once-threatening dog and looks into your eyes, expecting a treat. Once your dog is looking at his (former) trigger and then looking expectantly up at you for a treat, you can begin to put this skill on cue. Tell your dog "watch me" every time you see another dog approaching. Your end goal is for your dog to see another dog, and remain calm, looking at you for guidance. And this will be either continuing your walk, or being allowed to interact with the other dog. Please let me know if you have additional questions. Thanks for writing in!

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