I’m sorry to hear about your problems with your dog showing aggression towards other dogs.
It sounds like you are able to see signs of aggression in your dog when confronted with other dogs. Some signs are visual, such as changes in body posture, hair raising up, etc. You may also hear signs of your dog being aggressive, such as growling and barking. In extreme cases, your dog may show aggression physically using teeth and occasionally claws.
It is important for dog owners to be aware that aggression towards other dogs can often be caused by underlying fear and anxiety.
There are several forms of aggression that have been recognised in dogs and of these there are two types of aggression that could potentially be the problem in your situation:
- Territorial aggression – the dog protects the property by barking, growling, snarling, biting.
- Fear aggression – the dog may bark, growl, snarl while backing up in a response to people, or other animals. The dog shows fearful body posture, with its tail and ears down. The dog may bite from behind and run away. It looks for escape routes when cornered.
How can aggression be treated?
Aggression can be successfully treated and managed. To do this however, it is critical to diagnose the type of aggression and it’s ‘triggers’ – the causes that provoke the aggressive behaviour.
Treatment for aggression usually requires changing the dogs behaviour in response to its aggression triggers. Positive reinforcement is the basis for changing behaviours – reward ‘good’ behaviour and avoid reinforcing ‘unwanted’ behaviour. Treatment for aggression generally does not involve the owner ‘punishing’ or being aggressive towards the dog as this is likely to make the dog’s aggressive behaviour worse.
For example, a fearful dog being walked on leash may become anxious upon seeing an unfamiliar dog at a distance, and react by becoming more aggressive as it approaches. The fact that the dog is constrained to a leash may increase its stress levels, as the dog perceives its escape options to be limited. If the owner chooses to scold or punish the dog at this stage, it could cause the dog to associate unfamiliar people or dogs with both punishment and fear, thereby reinforcing the anxiety-related aggression and making it worse.
It’s time to get some professional advice.
We highly recommend that you consult your veterinarian who can help you or can refer you to a veterinary behavioural specialist for assessment and treatment. In addition you can look at RSPCA animal training courses at your nearest RSPCA shelter. You can find links to RSPCA state and territory websites as well as shelter locations here: http://www.rspca.org.au/help/contact-us/state-societies.html
Further reading about dog aggression:
Thank you for your question Jade. We wish you and your family the best of luck figuring out your dogs triggers and finding appropriate methods for treatment.