Need serious help with random aggression!

Posted by jen1
Mar 4, 2009

We have a neutered two year old boxer/lab (and maybe some other things) mix. We got him at the pound when he was seven months old. As a puppy, he loved every dog and every person he met. He was the perfect dog. We took him to training, worked with him, and gave him lots of exercise. When he was about a year and a half, he started showing some random aggressive behavior towards men. Every once in a while (i.e. once every few weeks or months) he will growl and bark at someone (it always seems to be a male, he loves females and kids), and he has also started being really aggressive to other dogs on leash (but only if they show the first aggression). The aggression seems to be limited to his territory (or what he thinks is his territory--his walking routes, home, other places he stays often). We have been very worried about this situation and have been trying to work with him (I bought the Sit Stay Fetch book in July), but recently the situation has escalated as he allegedly "went after" and "bit" (we don't know if the skin was broken) a jogger when he was staying at my mother's house for the weekend. Unfortunately, the jogger called Animal Control. Now we are not sure what to do, because we must have a dog who is friendly and gets along with people and other dogs. (In fact, we are both teachers and we take our dog to school fairly frequently.) The fact is, that our dog IS this dog most of the time, and we don't know how to predict those few times that he isn't. Any advice would be soooo appreciated. We don't want to get rid of our dog, but we are worried that we might have to, and this breaks our hearts.

Thank you!!!
Posted by KOPsRobyn
Dec 15, 2009
Hi Jen

From what you have said, it sounds like your dog is challenging your spot as alpha dog in the pack. It is quite common for this to occur during adolescence as the dog tries to move up in the hierarchy. The good thing is that you have recognized this quickly and so it should be easier to correct than if it was picked up later down the track.

First of all you need to re-establish yourself as alpha dog in the pack, and make sure the dog also knows that the rest of the household are higher than him in the hierarchy. This can be done by insisting that you go through doorways in front of him, feeding him after you have all eaten and only acknowledging or playing with him on your terms. If he comes to you and asks for attention, just turn away and ignore him completely. Whenever you are playing with him, make sure that it is a game of your choice that starts and finishes when you decide. Lastly, don't forget to reward him when he is behaving himself, as this gives him something to strive towards, instead of just avoiding undesirable behavior.

By confirming to him that he is in fact quite a lowly member of the pack, he will come to realize that the defense of the territory is your job and not his. If he growls at other dogs whilst on the leash, reinforce your authority by turning around immediately and going home. By doing this you are telling him that you are the leader and you dictate where he goes, therefore it is not up to him to try and 'defend' you from other dogs. This will take a lot of patience and repetition, so be prepared to be walking home early from quite a few walks initially! If this is combined with the other tips suggested, your dog will soon accept you as the alpha dog and should look to you as his protector and not vice versa. Don't forget to praise and reward him lavishly if he walks past other dogs without growling. If he is pulling quite a bit in the initial stages, you may want to try a 'Gentle Leader', which will give you more control over him, so that he will go where you want him to go without resulting in a pulling match.

I hope this helps and all the best with the training! I look forward to hearing how it goes.