How to solve that aggressive trait?

Posted by Maggie
Jul 15, 2008
We have two "rescued" dogs Roxy and Sadie and have had them for about 2 1/2 years. When we adopted them we were told Roxy was approx 2 years old (she had 5 puppies with her when rescued) and Sadie was approx 1 year old. Both were spayed prior to adoption. We believe Roxy is a German Shepherd/Rottweiler cross and Sadie a Border Collie/Lab/Pit bull cross. Sadie was not allowed to be adopted on her own as the rescue organisation had identified that she had separation anxiety and whined a lot if left alone. Roxy and Sadie had been together for about a month so we were delighted to take them both. After a few months for them to get used to us I worked with a trainer and she was very pleased with the way they progressed, however she did notice that Roxy showed some aggression to some other dogs. Over the last year and a half the aggression seems to be worse and Sadie has picked up on it and is now also aggressive. But it is only to SOME dogs and I cannot identify a pattern. Out on a walk we can quite happily walk past most dogs but every so often when approaching one the barking, snarling and lunging starts and I have a difficult job controlling them. It is usually over fairly quickly and I think Roxy knows she has done wrong as when I manage to get her attention again her ears go back and she has a look that almost says "Sorry, I know that was wrong but I couldn't help myself". I do believe they pick up "vibes" from other dogs and if another dog sends out that "I don't think I like you" vibe then my two initiate the aggressive reaction. They do "play fight" a lot between themselves which involves a lot of neck biting and teeth gnashing but if one accidently gets nipped and yelps they immediately back off. I have always adopted the "alpha" dog principle and in training sessions they are very good but they are far from perfect as they are easily distracted in everyday situations. I do have short training sessions on a fairly regular basis just to remind them of basic commands. When out walking I use 6 foot leashes with choke collars but if I sense that they may react to another dog I immediately shorten the leashes to about 2 feet but if they are going to react the choke collar does not stop the reaction and they are quite strong. My usual way of dealing with this if I see a situation arising is to turn around and go another way but I would like to be able to control the chance meeting and encounter so they do not pull me over!
Posted by KOPsRobyn
Jan 29, 2010
Hi Maggie,

Dogs are commonly aggressive with each other due to inadequate socialization when they were younger. As your two were rescued, it is impossible to know their history and past experiences. However, it is still vital that you get the aggression under control before it escalates to something more serious.

Dogs often become more aggressive on the leash because by being restrained one of their natural responses, as in flight, has been diminished, leaving them with no option but to fight. They are also very sensitive to your body language and messages conveyed through the leash, therefore it is important that you act very calm and don’t get excited. It is great that you have been training them with the alpha dog principles. By constantly reinforcing that you are leader of the pack, they should come to realize that they do not need to protect the pack, as this is your job, and they will become more relaxed dogs in general.

Keeping them up to date with daily training sessions is also really good, as this will keep them sharp and responsive to your commands. You may want to incorporate ‘random walking’ into your training sessions, which forces your dog to think and try to anticipates your moves. This is another great way of re-asserting your dominance, as it enforces your leadership over them by determining their exact movements. You can do this by taking your dog to an open space with few distractions, putting him on a short leash, and then walking off, constantly changing the direction that you are heading. To make things really interesting you could even change the speed that you are going. This forces your dog to look to you for directions, instead of assuming that he knows where to go. Keep in mind that this is mentally very taxing on your dog so keep the sessions short and sweet. You will find it much easier to concentrate on one dog at a time, so you may have to tie one of them up or if possible leave one of them at home during these training sessions. It is natural for them to be more distracted and less focused on you when they are out, as there are many other interesting things to look at! To overcome this, you must make sure you reward them well when they do behave. Taking them to many different places for training and exposing them to a variety of situations will also help, because they will become desensitized to novel things and so less likely to become excited when going to new environments.

Distracting them when the other dogs go past is a good way of stopping them lunging at them. You should give them a command, such as ‘sit-stay’, and make them hold this until the other dogs have passed. If they remain sitting calmly, you must praise them and give them a reward. You may also find that teaching them the ‘watch’ command is useful, because they will be focused on you, instead of becoming agitated and watching the other dogs. If they do start lunging or barking at the other dogs, you are definitely doing the right thing by turning around and heading for home. They will soon come to associate misbehaving with a shortened walk, which will hopefully become a deterrent for future bad behavior.

If you continue to find that they are pulling you over, it may be a good idea to try a ‘halti’ or ‘gentle leader’ on them. This doesn’t hurt them or restrict their breathing, but allows you to control their direction of movement because they won’t be able to fight you. It may take them a little while to get used to the ‘haltis’, but if you persist with them you will see a difference in a very short time.

I hope this helps and all the best with the training!