When we adopt a dog, we envision lots of fun experiences with them out in the world. That can get cut short pretty quickly if your dog is aggressive towards dogs. Suddenly, play dates, days at the park, and doggy daycare are out of the question. Even going for walks can become taxing and stressful as you try to avoid exposing your dog towards any other dogs that may trigger their behaviour.
Owning a dog with inter-dog aggression can not only be embarrassing, but it can also be scary. You may worry about situations getting out of your control and your dog biting or seriously hurting another dog. While some aggression is normal between dogs (we can’t be expected to get along with everyone, after all), there is a point where the scales will tip towards your dog being overly aggressive.
Diagnosing aggression in dogs can be difficult since there is no official procedure for doing it, but the first step is often having an expert in dog training observe your dog and confirm that your dog’s behaviour is abnormal, and not just normal playful behaviour. If your trainer confirms your dog’s aggression is abnormal, you can start the pros of finding out why.
Here are four possible reasons why your dog may be displaying inter-dog aggression.
- Medical reasons
Animals deal with pain differently than humans. If your dog is experiencing pain, losing their sight or sense of smell, or suffering from a neurological condition, they may respond by suddenly becoming aggressive towards other dogs, and even towards people. To rule this out, your vet will use biochemistry, urine analysis, and other laboratory tests to see if any abnormalities are noticed. If a neurological condition is suspected, an MRI for your dog may be ordered.
Many people don’t realize that an aggressive dog is often a scared dog. A lack of socialization as a puppy, a past of abuse, or an owner that inadvertently encouraged fearful behaviour in a dog by say, picking them up when other dogs approached when the dog was young, that can all contribute to a dog becoming fearful and behaving aggressively.
- Owner error
Oftentimes, owners contribute to their dog’s bad behaviour without noticing it. In the example we gave above, a nervous owner may constantly pick their puppy up when bigger dogs or strangers approach. This can cause a dog to believe they should fear these interactions. Owners may also tighten leashes when walking near-strangers, bicycles, or other triggers for your dog. While the owner may think they are merely helping keep control, their dog will read the owner’s fear and may react aggressively to protect their owner.
- Resource guarding
As much as we may love the furry members of our family, it’s important to remember that they are still animals. When your dog has access to resources, he will want to keep them all to himself. This is normal, but an important habit to break. Your dog must learn that you are the boss and that he must relinquish toys, food, and furniture to you on command. If your dog has possession issues, he will react aggressively towards other dogs, since he fears they are a threat to his resources.