Aggression without a pattern

Posted by CandisD
Aug 8, 2010
Meggy was abandoned outside our bookstore last year. Having no luck finding her owners, we decided to keep her. She was about 6 months, fairly emaciated, and full of anxiety. We are certain she is a german wire haired pointer but haven't identified what she is crossed with.

She has shown to have moments of interdog aggression and with strangers, though less often . We really have found no pattern, other than she detects fear or a lack of confidence. But this can't be universal. She is a sweet looking thing - not convincingly scary in appearance. Her leash, small dogs and baseball hats have been possible factors at times, but not always. I have never used aggression with her and she is both well fed and heartily socialized and exercised. Also, her anxiety has passed largely, she's generally very calm, and always friendly to people who visit our home.

She makes a scene with about 1 in 20 dogs and 1 unsuspecting person in 1000. We live downtown where she encounters many people and is exercised in a popular dog park. She is now about a year and 6 months and is listening better each day, but there are times which I am either distracted or not right at hand to handle her. Furthermore, I am beginning to feel some anxiety with each new person or dog we encounter and this may only be aggravating the problem.
Posted by KOPCaroline
Aug 10, 2010
Hi CandisD,

First off, I’d like to ask a few questions to get a better grip on your situation. When you say Meggy is showing interdog aggression, and aggression to people, is she growling, or lunging at the person/dog, trying to bite, or is she just alert and maybe trying to hide or get away? These signs can indicate different things. If she’s lunging and trying to bite, you should probably consider putting a muzzle on her when she’s out, or at least getting a halti head collar for walking her. I’d advise not to let her off lead very much. If she’s hiding and obviously nervous, its best to ignore her; making a big deal out of it only reinforces the behaviour to her.

Can you try to identify if the interdog aggression is aimed at one sex more than the other? If she’s not already, I’d recommend speying her to take some hormonal pressure off her in public.

Second, and I’m sure you’ve realized, an abandoned dog comes with “baggage”! Some of her aggression might be triggered by random every day things that remind her of something bad that happened to her when she was on her own. If you found her when she was 6 months old and she had obviously been alone for a time, chances are she didn’t develop great relationships with people or other animals. She probably was at least verbally abused if she was on the street, and who knows what scary situations she found herself in? Triggers like the baseball caps could indicate a person wearing one hit her or scared her when she was little. Dogs, like anything, hold onto these memories. The best way to work on this problem is to form a tight bond with her yourself. You should try to bridge the broken link between her and people. Once she trusts you and feels comfortable in her friendship with you, she’ll trust your attitude in public and be much better. You mentioned your own anxiety about this problem is building, you should try to remain relaxed around her. Dogs can tell when their owners are uncomfortable, and typically respond by “protecting” them from whatever they are anxious about, which is typically another dog or person in the area. When people/dogs approach you, speak to them in calm, quiet tones, which will reassure Meggy that they are ok to be around.

A year and six months old is right in the middle of dogs’ social development period. I’d recommend enrolling in obedience courses with Meggy. The classes will expose her to new situations, sights, sounds, smells, people, and dogs. The more you can expose her to and get her comfortable with, the less she will react in public. You could try getting a buddy dog to walk with her, if your friends or family have dogs. Her breed background (the known bit, anyway ) typically is a low aggression, low reactivity, but high trainability dog. You should train her to do lots of things, tricks and commands, and when you’re out in public have her do them. This will give her something else to focus on, instead of her surroundings. It will also boost her confidence heaps! And a confident, happy, attention-paid dog is what we’re aiming for.

I hope this helps. Its going to be a gradual process, just keep a close, close eye on her in public for now. Good luck!