Inter dog aggression appears to be becoming more and more frequent. Nobody really knows why but here are some of the ideas that might be relevant:
Insufficient social exposure with other dogs at the appropriate time
Since puppies are not allowed out until after they have been fully inoculated against disease, they are largely missing the canine socialisation period, which is mostly finished by approximately 12 weeks of age. This then results in fear related aggression towards other dogs. Are vaccination protocols influencing the development of later onset of aggression, are we creating enough opportunities for carefully controlled socialisation experiences for puppies before they can go out safely?
Attendance to poorly run puppy parties in which the puppies are not well controlled or educated. This can lead to some pups becoming fearful and overwhelmed, then defensive aggression sets in later. Or, the flip side, those puppies that chose bullying as a strategy to make themselves feel safe at a puppy party go on to become confirmed bullies.
Dog owners who let the neighbourhood dogs meet their puppy without due control. For example, meeting dogs that are aggressive towards other dogs that then attack the puppy or chase it off whilst it is still very young and impressionable. Poor EARLY socialisation is particularly disastrous as this can hard wire fear into the developing puppy brain leading to later onset of aggression.
Yes, physical punishment (including pinning, scruffing, rolling, shouting, leash yanking, prong collars, e collars etc) can help dogs to learn that bad things happen when they see other dogs. This often starts with a desire to meet another dog. The owner doesn’t want the dog to meet, so pulls back on the leash, or does any of the above to deter the dog from greeting.
Even simply not allowing a dog to meet other dogs without providing an alternative behaviour can lead to huge frustration and anger that can lead to aggressive responses. Any of these kinds of punishment have no place in dog training and cause more problems than they solve.
Co-evolution with humans
It has been suggested that dogs are co-evolving with humans. What this means is that dogs are evolving to have better communication skills with humans. For example, dogs will look at the right-hand side of a human face but not when looking at other dogs, or even non-human primates. The right-hand side of the human face is where negative emotions are shown, therefore, it has been suggested they are checking out our mood. Smart dogs! Dogs follow human pointing or gazing gestures, which no other animal does without prior training, not even our closest primate relative, the ape. Could this mean that dogs are losing some of their inter dog communication skills in favour of human communication? Is there a greater requirement for dogs to get on with people than other dogs? Is this being selected for when breeding and changing behaviour through changing genes that influence behaviour (epigenetics)?
So what can be done about this epidemic of inter dog aggression?
Ideally, prevention is best. We are proud to offer excellent controlled early socialisation opportunities for puppies under 12 weeks old. We also run outdoor supervised puppy socialisation sessions for developing puppies. But there are very few places that are able to offer this kind of high-quality puppy socialisation.
However, if you are reading this, then the chances are you are looking for practical help on how to manage your dog who is already showing aggression to others.
Inter dog aggression rehabilitation support.
You will need to get your dog checked over by a vet to make sure that there is not a medical factor underlying the aggressive behaviour. There are many health factors that can contribute to aggression problems, from pain to endocrine disorders. Your dog needs a clean bill of health before being referred. Your vet should then be happy to refer you to me for behaviour modification support as I am a registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist.
As a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, if you have pet insurance that covers behaviour therapy, you should find your insurer will reimburse you for the cost of my services.
I am pleased to say that I am now able to offer Skype consultations initially for owners of dog aggressive dogs. This significantly reduces the costs of receiving help as there is no travel time. It also enables me to offer more flexible appointment times for the initial consultation. Attendance to our practical sessions are essential, as this is where you will build your and your dog’s confidence in the presence of other dogs, including a stooge dog. Of course, there are a variety of reasons dogs might be aggressive, it is not always fear. We work with all motivations for showing aggression. Our practical sessions are currently held on Thursday mornings in the Wimborne area. Very small class size with two instructors, one of which is me.
If you would like to know more, please do contact me initially via E mail with details of the problems that you are experiencing.
Denise Nuttall B.Sc (Hons) Applied Animal Behaviour M.Res (distinction) Dog Cognition and Forensic Psychology
Full Member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC)
Full Member The Canine Training and Behaviour Society (TCBTS)
Animal Behaviour & Training Council (ABTC) Registered Animal Training Instructor
Animal Behaviour & Training Council (ABTC) Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist