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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.
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.
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
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.
Don't forget to bring plenty of high-value treats! (We also recommend doing this shortly before dinnertime so both doggos have an appetite.)
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.
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.
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!
The Counter Conditioning Method
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Establish a Threshold Method
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.
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.
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.
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.
By James Barra
Published: 11/05/2017, edited: 01/08/2021