ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Dealing with Dog-Dog Aggression In and Out of Class

You actually have two problems. You've got the problem of changing the reactions of a dog-aggressive dog, and you've got the problem of managing a class with a dog-aggressive dog.

Let's look at the dog first...

We don't kow why the Saint dislikes other dogs. Maybe he had bad experiences as a puppy. Maybe he has had no socialization. Maybe he's "dominant." Maybe it's learned aggression from that prong. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what the motivation is. It matters only that he is in a stressed, negative emotional state when around other dogs.

Remember: The lunging and biting is a symptom. The problem is the underlying emotion. If you fix the problem, the symptom will disappear. If you deal solely with the symptom, the problem will simply manifest in other ways.

  • Get the book and video "On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals" by Turid Rugaas. The owner *must* become familiar with calming signal -- must learn to recognize them and use them.
  • Get the dog out of the prong collar. Period. Obviously it doesn't keep him from lunging, and it can only make the situation worse.
  • Fit the dog with a Gentle Leader and a basket muzzle. There is risk, because of the dog's size, of the dog getting away from its owner. If the dog is going to be anywhere near dogs, the dogs need to be protected from it. Once the problem is more under control -- once the owner has some experience and some success, then the muzzle can be removed. But at this point, to have that dog near other dogs and not muzzled is negligence on the owner's part.
  • Use desensitization and counter-conditioning to change the dog's emotional response to other dogs. Class is probably not the place to work on this because it may be difficult to get the dog far enough away from other dogs that it can be at the edge of its comfort threshhold. Here is where knowledge of calming signals is crucial. If the dog is too excited to take treats or if the dog growls or aggresses, the owner has made a mistake and gone too far too fast. The goal is for the dog never to be pushed to the point of aggressing ever again. It is the owner's responsibility to be aware of the dog's emotional state at all times -- and to remove him from the situation if he is getting too stressed.
  • If he aggresses, do what you have to to control the situation obviously. But if the aggression is minor -- growl or lunge -- don't punish the dog or yell or anything. *You* (the handler) made the mistake, not the dog.
  • Teach the dog focus, first away from other dogs, then around them. Practice in lots of situations so the behavior is well-generalized. The owner needs to be able to get and maintain the dog's attention at any time and in any situation. From this point forward, if there are other dog's present, the owner must be focused on her dog, and her dog must be focused on her.

Now about your class...

  • You are in a tough spot. You are responsible to *all* of your students. Realize that having that dog in class will be very stressful to the other dogs, particularly those who have been victims of his attacks. You might recommend that she attend a different class to work on the problem. If she needs this class, have her attend without the dog.
  • Because of the size of this dog, and his ability to overwhelm his owner, you must manage proactively. Since you know he's dog-aggressive (and strong), once you allow him into the class, you become liable for damages. Require him to be in a properly-fitted GL and a basket muzzle.
  • If the room is too small to allow him to get comfortably away from other dogs, then don't allow him back in class until he is able to be calm in that tight space. Letting him in, even muzzled and under control, will only over-stress him and undo any progress being made. Stress is BAD.
  • Make sure he is capable of focusing on his owner in the situation. If not, he doesn't belong in class.
  • Make sure his owner keeps him focused and working at all times when he is around other dogs. Have a crate available for times when the other dogs are working -- his owner cannot simply stand and watch the other teams. She either needs to crate him and watch the others, or she needs to remain 100% focused on her dog. Period. End of discussion.

Obviously, the biggest factor here is the owner. If the owner is diligent and committed, you've got it made. If not, the dog is an accident waiting to happen.

Melissa Alexander
mca @
copyright 2001 Melissa C. Alexander


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