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Moody Mutt

Hi John,

I have a 3 year old Sheltie. She is very gentle and easy going with people of all ages but she does not like other dogs in her space!  If they come within sniffing range she stiffens up and when they get too close to her (esp. backside) she growls and snaps at them.  Sometimes quite nastily.  She could care less if there are other dogs around and will not go looking for them.  She may even plays with them. However, if they initiate an interest in approaching her she gets annoyed.  We have tried scolding her to no avail.  I spoke with a couple of trainers and they both say pretty much the same, she is an adult dog and not interested in fraternizing in that way with other dogs and is just letting them know.  We, however, find it annoying and people have commented on her behaviour at these times.  We are concerned that the aggression will escalate and are at a loss as to how to handle this. –  Dawn

Dear Dawn,

You get dogs that are picky about which or how other dogs approach. Coincidentally, I knew a Sheltie that only liked other Shelties. One day she encountered what was the byproduct of an ‘interracial’ marriage between a Sheltie and another breed. It was ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.’ all over again.

Sometimes it’s in a dog’s nature. They just don’t like other dogs that want higher status. They’re natural Alpha dogs. You often find this in dogs that have been used as breeders and have developed a honed and heightened sense of, ‘only the king and queen get to breed.’ and so have a lower tolerance for other dog’s in their proximity.

Then there are the dogs that past experience has impressed upon them that other dogs can’t be trusted and it’s best to get the other guy before he gets you. I see this in dogs that have been attacked by other dogs and dogs that have been to puppy socialization classes. Some dog trainers think it’s a good thing to let the pups have a post class free for all and “socialize.” All too often a pup is intimidated, roughed up or even hurt. Because they’re in a critical imprint stage it sticks.

Your Sheltie seems to be fine with other dogs as long as it on her terms and while I understand what the trainers likely meant by her not being “interested in fraternizing in that way with other dogs” they should have added that what she’s interested or not interested shouldn’t matter as much as what you’re interested in her doing. Sometimes Elmo, my Jack Russell isn’t interested in coming when I’m interested in him coming. Too bad for Elmo. Whether he understands them or agrees with them, I have my reasons and it’s not open for discussion.

I had a German Shepherd named Bo that was to other dogs what Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are to underwear. He couldn’t get rid of them fast enough. He wasn’t subtle either. Given the opportunity, without giving the dog another chance to submit, the fur and flesh would be flying in the blink of an eye which of course wasn’t the best advertising for me, a dog trainer. So I felt compelled to address our problem.

No one could change Bo’s nature but he, like your dog could be taught to exert better self control. Bo, never turned into a dog lover but after a lot of effort on my part conveying to him that I was the teacher and he was the student he did eventually when spotting another dog look at me and ask, “May I kill this one?” If you want the same then sign up for some advanced group training classes emphasizing “Stay!” and Look at Me!” and practice, practice, practice.


-John Wade the Dog Trainer 

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