Aggressive barking/bullying when off leash

Posted by Gretchen
Apr 30, 2008
I have two dogs - a four and a half year old male beagle/bassett hound named Bailey and a two year old beagle mix named Daisy (she looks like she might be part German shorthair pointer). I have had Bailey for three years now and my fiance and I adopted Daisy just over a year ago. When we adopted her, the adoption counselor told us that Bailey was the dominant one in the household, however after reading several resources, including your book, it appears that Daisy is, in fact, the dominant dog. She goes through the door first, Bailey takes cues from her, he licks the inside of her mouth, etc. I think the fact that we have been treating Daisy as the subordinant dog may have something to do with her recent behavior problems.

Since we adopted Daisy, we have tried to socialize her as much as possible. We often took her to the dog park and she did very well with the other dogs. She and Bailey would often "play fight" at home, but she never seemed to do this with other dogs at the park. During the winter, we don't take the dogs to the park so they had about a five month break. However, during this time, Daisy was still introduced to new dogs, but always in the household and she did fine with them. After the five month break, I took them back to the dog park and Daisy did fine at first, but about an hour into the visit, she joined in with some other dogs and started aggessively barking and ganging up on a smaller dog. I took her home, thinking she was just being influenced by the other dogs.

For the next few visits, it was hit or miss. Daisy would sometimes do very well and other times she would begin the barking/bullying while chasing the other dogs around (or trying to get them to run around). She didn't seem to have a particular breed preference or anything. Soon, it became a constant so I began leashing her, still allowing her to socialize, but under my control. She did wonderful on the leash, but once I took her off, the aggressive behavior was actually more intense than it had been previously. She also does fine when greeting other dogs or people during walks on her leash and does not display these behaviors in or around the home. She's actually a very sweet, calm and loving dog at home. I'm not sure whether this is important to note or not, but when Daisy acts aggressively towards other dogs, Bailey generally behaved appropriately and did not join in, or would immediately stop if I spoke to him.

I have been working on leash training the dogs together - they are generally good separately, but seem to disobey once they're together. I have also been reinforcing the basic commands on a daily basis. My fiance and I have been letting the dogs sleep on the beds and furniture, so I have been working on controlling this habit and only allowing them on when they sit and stay and then are invited on. I also never thought about letting the dogs walk through the door before me, but now have been adament about having them sit and stay and then walk through. However, my fiance is not often around during the day and I feel that these commands might need to be reinforced by him as well. I have also been wary of "play fighting" and have been trying to get them to discontinue this as well.

Though I know Daisy has made progress, I am still not confident about taking her to the dog park and letting her off her leash. Do you have any suggestions about what else I should be doing?
Posted by flix
May 27, 2008
Hey there,

look I'm afraid I don't have any answers for you, just wanted to add my questions and sympathise! We have a 3 and a half year old male (desexed)cairn terrier in a similar situation.

Since we first got him as a pup we regularly took him to the local dog park to ensure good socialization and he has always loved it and been friendly with all dogs regardless of size, gender and breed. He never used to be scared or agressive and would engage in harmless tumbles to work out dominance or just sniff about and run with groups of dogs.

He did have a couple of scary intimidating experiences with larger aggressive dogs in the past year or so, and we noticed he became slightly more hesitant about approaching other dogs, but would relax and socialise quickly as soon as he realised they would not attack him. So we forgot about it.

Over the past year we have been less regularly to the park as we wished to work on his leash training and introduce variety for ourselves! On the leash he was curious but not agressive with other dogs. Then for no reason I can pinpoint, one day about six months ago he becam growly and snappy at another dog on the leash. Thereafter this behaviour would occassionally emerge but not consistantly. I thought perhaps he felt vulnerable because he was on a leash and discouraged hs behaviour with negative reinforcement (oops?)

Perhaps I acted wrongly by scolding him when he became agressive - I thought of this when it became evident the behavour didn't dissapear and have since concentrated on conveying calm positive sounds and body language to him as he meets new dogs, on or off leash, and this is slightly helpful.

The strange new aggressive behaviour has me really worried as of today though. Recently he has had limited time off the leash and [B]like your dog he has not been to the local dog park at all for a couple of months [/B]- due to family issues which meant he stayed with my father-in-law for a month (we visited regularly!)

Today we went to the park and took him off the leash for the first time in ages. He was tense meeting the first few dogs but ok, although I thought a bit more heavy handed, verging on bullying, than his old self. Then he met a bulldog and they both stood and looked at each other uncertainly from a few feet apart. I now realise from my reading tonight that we should have interpreted the body language as neither dog relinquishing dominance (potential fight to establish dominance brewing!!!!) and we should have interrupted at this point and drawn our dog away, distracted him with training and treats perhaps? Instead we encouraged him to "say hello" with our vocal and physical gestures - as this is something we have done to encourage socialisation since he was a puppy, and to try to convey our ease and approval with him greeting new dogs. He approached the bulldog again and they both tensed up and faced off (just like the pre fight body language I have just read about through this website). They had a fight which I managed to break up by clapping and shouting then calling our dog away. Thankfully he responded and the other dog didn't chase. We called him while walking off to draw him away and at one point he turned and started back as though to meet up with the other dog again (which was still where the fight occured so does that mean the other dog won by holding ground and ours was considering challenging the outcome?) I know our little dog was afraid. The other dog was slightly larger and had him pinned at one point. But our little terrier still wouldn't stop fighting even when it looked as though he'd be the loser. I am scared he could get injured by not ever being willing to submit!

On one hand I suspect our dog is scared and almost initiating fights as a form of defense. But I don't know if dogs do that? On the other hand I wonder if our dog is just being a bully as he seems to be being overly dominating in play with smaller non threatening dogs he engages with socially too.

So does he think he's alpha dog and has to protect us/territory/pack dominance?
Or is he lacking in confidence because he's had a couple of bad experiences and hasn't been socialising as much lately? Is he trying to get them before they get him so to speak? :eek:

I think he gets a bit spoilt, although we do some of the things recommended to teach dogs their place in the pack, I know now that we need to do them all and be stronger and more consistant. So I will start doing this. But I want to know how we should speak with him and train him around other dogs at the park immediately.

Should I have him on a leash and encourage him to ignore othe dogs, give them a wide berth, or will this make him more desocialised? Should I leash him and make him sit while other dogs approach him so he learns to be submissive? Or will the leash make him feel more afraid and more likely to lash out at other dogs?

Obviously i don't want him and other dogs hurt while he relearns his (once perfect, boo hoo!) doggy manners. So I could take him to less busy parks for a while, but I can't prevent him from ever meeting other dogs so I need to know what the best method for easing him back into civillised society is!

Interesting that your dog also used to be good at the park and then after a break has become aggressive. Do you think they are being agressive out of fear because the break has made it all less familiar? Or do you think they are being domineering as a way to claim back old remembered territory, and overcompensating for the break?! If it's the first option they may need lots of reassurance and confidence boosting. If it's the second they may need to be trained to sit submissively around other dogs and share their park!

Anyone senior out there to help us please!?:confused:

Best of luck. It's very sad and disappointing to have such a huge relapse in social skills from your furry friend isn't it. Good reminder for me how it all needs constant work though. I feel like a bad parent!