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Dog to dog Aggression

Hello John

We have a one year Labrador Retriever which although adorable has acquired a very bad habit which so far have defied all efforts to change. She is fearless and very aggressive towards other dogs and for that reason she is a menace to both herself and other dogs if. Is there a cure for such behavior?


Dear Stephen,

Some of the aggressive dogs I see have had bad experiences with other dogs. In other cases, a dog may be wired to see their nightly walk as more of an extended perimeter check then a walk and are keen to spot and take on a trespasser even if it’s 2 blocks from the house.

Another scenario that many people with overly friendly or aggressive dogs can relate to is when the dog already walks poorly on lead in the best of situations so when there is another dog around even if the owner spots it first, based on past experience the dog owner goes to battle stations. They wrap a couple of feet of the leash around their hands, holds it so taut you could play a note on it, dig in their heels in and in hopeful tones start with something like “Easy, easy” or “Be nice.” However, the dog isn’t listening to the words so much as the atmosphere created and the words might as well be “My money is on you boy.” A few months of that and in no time at all you have an aggressive dog.

Even dogs that can’t stand to be around other dogs, once they know who’s the teacher and who’s the student, can be taught to behave in the presence of other dogs they walk by. Not liking other dogs is no more an excuse for ignoring commands then is really really liking squirrels.

I may not like my neighbor, but I don’t throw a shovel at him every time I see him in the driveway. I exert self-control because there are consequences if I don’t. With time, patience, consequence and love any dog can learn to exert self-control. My old dog hating German Shepherd would look at another dog, then pleadingly at me, “John, may I kill this one?” even though he knew the answer to come.

The biggest contributor to the sort of problem you have or even just a difficult to walk dog is that any level of dog to dog aggression is exponentially exacerbated when the dog spends regular time in the yard and/or at the window looking onto the street watching other dogs pass. Any dog with an iota of territorial instinct is going to get its dander up and once it hits the street to go for a walk, they’re saying, “Okay, here I am. Who wants a piece?”

I train dogs like this in 3 stages starting with a long leash each time. This is a very brief overview but until I can get the dog behaving at a good level for each stage I don’t go for regular walks as a chance encounter can set me back. The first stage is the back yard, second is the front street and then 100 yards out of the dog park eventually decreasing the distance. At each stage, the dog is given its head without a word from me. However, my goal is to silently be where the dog isn’t. This generally results in the dog looking for me when it comes to the end of the lead. Slowly at first but more intently after a bit. As this becomes more so then I start shortening up the line. It’s not long before the line is leash length. If I can get 3 days consistent walking attention I’ll move to the next environment. I have a video on one of my websites of me doing this with a dog. (Email me for the url.) The dog goes from no idea of what a heel is to heeling in under 6 minutes and this is not an isolated example. You need a foundation and then incremental immersion to solve this problem.

John Wade

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