How to deal with dog aggression towards other dogs


Dog aggression towards other dogs is a fairly common issue that many dog owners have to deal with at some point. While some dogs growl or snap on rare occasions, others exhibit consistently reactive or aggressive behavior around other dogs that can put both animals at risk of injury if not addressed properly. Fortunately, with the right professional guidance and consistent training methods from owners, deal with dog aggression calmly and avoid confrontations with other pooches.

We will consider various types of dog aggression, possible underlying causes, and, most importantly, proven strategies owners can use at home to help socialize and desensitize their dogs to minimize reactivity and encourage positive interactions with other dogs. While consulting with a certified dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist is strongly recommended for serious cases, with dedication and time, this do-it-yourself training approach can still help improve the situation and make progress toward a less stressful coexistence between your dog and other neighborhood pets.



Types of Dog Aggression

Before delving into solutions, it’s important to understand the different types of dog aggression. Identifying the specific behaviors your dog displays can help tailor training methods appropriately.


Fear-Based Aggression

Dogs that are fearful or anxious around other dogs may display avoidance, cowering, trembling, or even snapping/biting if they feel threatened and have no escape route. This type of reactivity usually stems from lacking proper socialization as a young puppy or from traumatic past experiences.

Resource Guarding Aggression

Some dogs feel the need to guard high-value items like food, toys, or even owners/family members from other dogs. They may growl or snap if another dog gets too close while they are possessing something precious. This behavior often results from inconsistent handling or not teaching dogs proper dog-dog etiquette regarding sharing.

Protective Aggression

Dogs who feel the need to “protect” owners or territory from other animals may act aggressively, even when there is no real threat. This could emerge from a perceived lack of control over their environment during formative months. Proper supervision and socialization are key to preventing this response.


Dominance Aggression

Rarer than the other types but still possible, some dogs try to assert perceived social rank or “dominance” over other dogs through aggressive displays. This results from a lack of teaching calm, submissive body language during interactions from a young age in most cases.

Common Causes of Dog Aggression

Understanding why certain dogs develop aggression, can help address root issues through training. Here are some of the leading potential contributors:

Lack of Early Socialization

Puppies are most impressionable and willing to accept new experiences between 3 and 16 weeks of age. Missing chances for positive exposures to other dogs, people, sights, and sounds during this critical period makes reactivity to novel things much more likely as an adult.


Fearful Temperament

Some naturally wary or timid dogs may be predisposed to feel anxiety around other animals. Early and gradual counterconditioning is key to helping them build confidence.

Pain or Illness

Medical problems like joint pain can cause dogs to feel defensive. A vet exam can rule out any underlying physical issues contributing to reactivity.

Traumatic Past Experiences

Harsh discipline, teasing, or aggression from other dogs not properly addressed as a pup leaves mental scars. This primes them to expect the worst in future interactions.

Inconsistent Training

Without clear rules and reinforcement from owners, dogs lack an understanding of what behaviors will get them positive or negative attention. This leads to frustration and inappropriate responses.

Lack of Proper Socialization as an Adult

Even well-socialized dogs may display fear of unfamiliar dogs later in life if not routinely and gradually exposed to meeting novel dogs in controlled, positive ways.

Preparation and Safety Considerations

Addressing aggression requires patience, understanding normal canine behavior, and actively managing the training environment for safety:

  • Consult a certified trainer if the aggression is severe to ensure using appropriate methods.
  • Consider behavior modification medications in cases with significant fear or reactivity on the advice of your vet.
  • Work one-on-one with your dog, without other dogs present, during the initial training stages.
  • Use a well-fitted basket muzzle as a precaution if needed once introductions to other dogs commence, especially for guarding or protective cases.
  • Meet unfamiliar dogs in a large, fenced area to allow for space and escape routes in case of reactive responses. Never allow a “meet and greet” off-leash until reactivity is fully under control on-leash first.
  • Remove potential triggers (like toys or treats) that could elicit guarding behaviors during sessions.
  • Watch body language closely and end sessions positively before your dog gets over the threshold. Small successes regularly are better than big setbacks.
  • Consider enrolling in a private training session with a positive reinforcement-focused trainer who will remain calm to help guide interactions.

DIY Training Strategies

With preparation and safety measures in place, here are some of the most effective techniques owners can use on their own or in combination to help socialize and desensitize aggressive dogs:


This involves changing the emotional response from fear to pleasure through positive classical conditioning. When the trigger (other dogs) is near but below the reaction threshold, reward your dog with high-value treats for calm, focused attention on you. Gradually decrease distance over sessions so they associate other dogs with good things.

LAT (Look at That) Protocol

Teach your dog to focus intently on you for a reward when they spot triggers from a distance. When they look at you immediately, click/treat. Slowly, work closer over time. This competes with reactivity behaviors and improves impulse control.

Classical Desensitization

With the trigger present (another dog), reward calm for mere presence with no interaction. Gradually reduce distance over multiple sessions until they can remain relaxed up close. This dampens the emotional response through repeated, controlled exposures below the reaction level.

Targeting Drill

With another dog passing nearby, reward touching a target object (such as your hand) with high-value treats to help shift focus from the trigger to the task, increasing impulse control around distractions over time.

Differential Reinforcement

Heavily reward calm alternative behaviors like sit/settle when triggers are present instead of negative reactions. This strengthens relaxation as the best option through positive reinforcement. Use engagement commands to maintain attention on you.

Chewy Treat Activities

Provide long-lasting chews or interactive food toys as a safety measure to settle and occupy dogs when other dogs are nearby at a distance, creating positive associations through independence from triggers.

Relaxation Protocol Training

Teach auto-calm behaviors like relaxation cues on mats as a default emotional setting rather than overarousal. This improved self-control helps lower guarding tendency thresholds.

With diligent practice of these techniques for a few minutes daily, most cases of minor-to-moderate dog aggression can steadily improve over weeks or months. Having patience, actively managing triggers, and maintaining a positive training environment yield the best outcomes.

Management and Prevention Strategies

Controlled exposure counterconditioning must go hand in hand with strategies to help prevent practicing undesirable behaviors between sessions:

  • Maintain a fixed daily routine with plenty of physical and mental exercise to reduce stress and reactivity levels.
  • Give your dog access to comfortable, safe spaces away from triggers to help them feel in control and relaxed indoors.
  • Walk or exercise your dog separately from others if reactivity is extreme while still socializing positively on walks.
  • Use head halters or harnesses instead of collars to improve leash reactivity control during encounters until behavior stabilizes.
  • Keep interactions supervised and separated by barriers or space if your dog is still learning unless under the close guidance of a trainer.
  • Investigate daycare or dog walker options for occasional exposure to familiar dogs once behavior has improved under control with a certified professional to safely boost socialization.
  • Avoid situations that could trigger your dog until they are reliably responding calmly to stressors through counterconditioning training first.

Regular exercise, mental stimulation through interactive toys/challenges, and time around familiar housemates help reduce the likelihood of undesirable behaviors emerging between efforts focusing directly on the target issue. Prevention and management support rehabilitation.

FAQs About Dealing With Dog Aggression

Here are some common questions asked about addressing dog aggression:

Can aggressive behavior ever be fully corrected?

With time and consistent training, many dogs show substantial improvement, though some level of caution may still be needed in very high-stress unfamiliar situations. The goal is to manage reactivity safely and help your dog feel more comfortable choosing calm inhibition around other dogs as the best response through positive reinforcement of good choices.

What if my dog has attacked/bitten another dog?

Seeking guidance from an experienced veterinary behaviorist is highly recommended due to liability and safety concerns. Behavior modification protocols will need to focus intensely on threshold management using distance and barriers between your dog and others until reactions are consistently below activation levels. Professional expertise is important in complex cases with a bite history.

How do I know if my dog is aggressive or just fearful/anxious?

Fearful dogs may display whale eyes, lip licks, yawning, or trying to flee rather than confront. Their hackles may rise, but they don’t consistently growl or snap. With space and a positive association, fearful dogs will usually calm down. Aggressive dogs pose, growl, and may lunge or bite even with an escape route. Their body language signals a willingness to engage in conflict rather than flee.

Should I still socialize my aggressive dog with other dogs?

Once training has made progress, carefully supervised positive meetings can continue rehabilitation by identifying fewer dogs with good experiences, not more dogs equaling potential trouble. Let your dog set the pace and distance, reward loose-leash walking, and pay attention to commanding other calm, friendly dogs. With time and success, more dogs can be near but chasing/playing should wait until reactions are at baseline.

How long should I expect training to take?

Timelines vary greatly by the individual dog and owner’s commitment level. While some flexible, mild cases may see improvement within a month, be prepared for a months-long process of regular sessions and management. Serious multifactorial aggression involving fear, pain, or a bite history could take 6-12 months or longer of progressive challenges overcoming difficulties. Be patient – small wins add up over consistency. The training should focus more on quality than speed of progress for lasting results.


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