"Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

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Stormi
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"Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby Stormi » Tue Feb 09, 2010 2:42 pm

Dog-on-dog Aggression

I’ve noticed more and more threads about the concept of “dog aggression” and decided a to offer a helping hand to those confused about whether or not their dog is “dog aggressive”.

A phrase we hear all the time in the bully community, the term “dog aggression” is a highly loaded term used to describe a dog that doesn’t get on well with other dogs. Sounds pretty straight forward, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t. Dog-on-dog reactivity is a very complex issue than can stem from a wide variety of different motivations. Assuming reactive behavior is simply dog aggression and that’s it can more often than not be a faulty assumption. Why might a dog react towards another dog?

Resource Guarding – a term used to describe a dog that guards items he or she considers highly valuable. These items can be nearly anything, although the most common are food or food dishes, bones, toys, beds, or water. It’s a very natural and adaptively significant behavior in the animal kingdom- he who shares his prize with everyone who comes along doesn’t exactly secure his position to live longer and procreate. This day in age, it’s not usually a needed behavior from our perspective, but it is still genetically hardwired in many of our canine creatures. Although
it is a normal behavior for them, it’s generally not something that is well accepted amongst us humans. Your best line of defense is to be sure all valued items are put away when dogs are playing or interacting – especially if they’re not familiar with each other. If you’re interested in learning more, order a copy of “Mine!” by Jean Donaldson.

Fear – Fearful reactions can stem from two different issues: lack of socialization, or learned experience. Puppies who are the only dog in the litter or who don’t have much exposure to other dogs when they are young can often develop reaction issues with other dogs simply because they are unfamiliar and uncomfortable around them. Learned experience can crop up when a dog has been punished one too many times for exuberant greeting, or had a traumatic encounter with another dog. Many owners want their pup to be the best behaved dog he can (and really, who doesn’t!), but misguidedly use leash pops and corrections every time their dog encounters another. When the dog’s only experience with seeing other dogs involves pain, frustration, and confusion, they’re likely to learn that other dogs only bring unpleasant aversives and anxiety, so they’d best warn them to go away. A leashed dog only has two options to express his concern – fight or flight. Being restrained by the leash, he has no option to flee, and thus is only left with the option to react.

Tarzan – “Tarzan” is a phrase used to describe a dog that missed parts of their early socialization window, and honestly just doesn’t know how to interact with other dogs. He tries to play, and often winds up entangled in a scuffle due to his lack of play skills and misunderstood signals he gives off to the other dog. Traditionally, a well socialized dog will exhibit well pronounced play signals, such as play bow, hip check, t-stance, bouncy and loose body movements, and a wide open grin. A “Tarzan” dog, may only be able to replicate a couple of these, or maybe none at all, and will literally get “stuck” during play. They can be taught play behaviors with the use of operant conditioning, but the dog will never offer them in the proper play context. Often, the best option for these dogs are to limit social interaction with other dogs, and allow only supervised play sessions with another dog who has well developed skills and a forgiving nature.

Barrier Frustration – Ever notice those dogs that are in their yard, pacing the fence, and barking and lunging as any dog walks past? Could it be territorial? Maybe, but more likely than not, what you are seeing is barrier frustration. This is a very frequent occurrence in dogs that spend parts or all of their lives in the yard behind a fence. They have very little stimulation in the yard, so people and other dogs passing by are very exciting things. The problem is, however, they rarely get to interact with these exciting things, and over time this inability builds up anxiety and frustration. Have you ever seen something you really wanted, but couldn’t get it? Imagine having to deal with that every day, all day. Eventually, the dog begins to associate the presence of passing dogs (and sometimes people, too) with anxiety. In attempts to make the trigger of his anxiety go away, he aggresses at whatever is outside the fence, and in his mind, it works! The dog or human goes away!

Proximity Sensitivity and Leash Reactivity – This is more often than not seen in dogs that are in fact well socialized, and have matured knowing what is and isn’t proper greeting etiquette. When an unruly, rude dog approaches and gets up in their face, they, in no uncertain terms, tell the other dog they need to gain control of themselves (growling and teeth and lip lifts, oh my!). This type of behavior rears its ugly head often in urban environments where dogs have no choice but to greet nose-to-nose on the sidewalk. Direct eye-contact and face-to-face greetings is considered very rude and threatening in dog language, hence why you’ll notice dogs who are off-leash tend to greet in a more circular pattern, checking out each other’s back ends first before anything else. When a dog is faced with no other option but to approach another in a potentially uncomfortable and threatening manner, especially on a repeated and daily basis, it can cause what surfaces as leash-reactivity (which also can be caused by learned experiences as mentioned above). Many dogs with leash-reactivity play beautifully in controlled off-leash sessions, but simply can’t handle the stress involved with greeting or even passing by in a restrained fashion.

Here’s an article that describes leash reactivity, its causes, and ways
to manage it:

http://www.berkeleyhumane.org/PDFs/Reso ... active.pdf

Medical issues – For dogs that abruptly exhibit abnormal behavior, such as sudden aggression, consider having a thyroid panel done through your vet. Abnormal thyroid activity (hyperthyroidism or hyperthyroidism) can cause a wide variety of side effects, behavioral being one of them. Below are a couple of links that describe each condition, if anyone has better information, feel free to share!

http://pethealth.petwellbeing.com/wiki/ ... thyroidism
http://pethealth.petwellbeing.com/wiki/ ... thyroidism

Genetics – Certain breeds, especially those that fall in the “Terrier” category, can grow intolerant of other animals as they mature. Their limits of what behavior they will put up with greatly decreases, not much different from the grumpy old man that yells at those “darn kids”. Only dogs yell with teeth. Sharp ones. And with some dogs, they won’t stop until the message is loud and clear. Terriers by nature are predispositioned to be highly active and easily emotionally aroused dogs, which can get them in to heaps of trouble in the human world. Do some dogs have such ingrained genetics that they will never be able to safely socially interact with other dogs at all? Possibly. But
for the vast majority, there are varied tolerance levels and other motivations (such as those mentioned above) at work in their reactions. A qualified behavior consultant can carefully assess your dog’s behavior to help you determine the motivations behind their behavior. Despite popular belief, dogs do not miraculously “turn” dog aggressive overnight, and rarely are genetics the sole cause for their reactions.


Things to keep in mind when modifying reactive behavior:

Every time a dog is allowed to experience and emotional response, their bodies undergo a massive chemical dump, similar to us humans when adrenaline is pumping full force in a frightening or stressful situation. In the dog body, once this occurs, it does take days for their stress level to resume back to normal. It’s important to keep this in mind, because while working with any behavior modification plan for these scenarios, management is absolutely KEY to your success. If you’ve just finished up a great training session of desensitizing and counter-conditioning your dog to the presence of another dog, and take him on a walk only to pass too closely to another dog on the trail and have him react, all of your hard work is out the window, and it may take up to a week or more for you to restart the process. You may even notice him being more reactive than usual if it occurs again before his system is able to rid itself of all the jitters. Understanding your dog’s personal threshold level and what he can and can’t tolerate will make the process go much more smoothly and effectively. When actively working towards desensitizing to the presence of other dogs, keep his interactions when not in training to an absolute minimum. This may mean going for walks during off-hours, playing ball in the backyard instead of a hike, ect. The less opportunity he has to re-engage in that emotional response, the better off you both will be.

Most importantly, all dogs are individuals, and have different levels of tolerance. Most will come around beautifully with behavior modification, but expecting a full 180 and a dog-friendly dog at the end may not always be realistic. It takes time, understanding, patience, consistency, and knowledge to make that change. Working with a qualified behavior consultant (http://www.associationofanimalbehaviorprofessionals.com) will increase your chances of success, but no guarantees should be made as it is unethical to state that a living creature’s behavior can 100% be changed in “x” amount of time.

Other great resources for managing and understanding dog-on-dog reactivity:

“Fight!” by Jean Donaldson, CDBC
“Control Unleashed” by Leslie McDevitt, CDBC
“Feisty Fido: Help for the Leash-Aggressive Dog” by Patricia McConnell, CAAB
“The Cautious Canine” by Patricia McConnell, CAAB
“Help For Your Fearful Dog” by Nicole Wilde, CPDT


If anyone else has other books or resources (I know Marintha with Our Pack has a great article on this topic as well), please feel free to share.

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Re: "Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby Nikki89 » Tue Feb 09, 2010 3:03 pm

My dogs are seeming to fight over me? Would that fall under resource guarding ? They are both 5 months and sisters as of now when they do fight its easily broken up most the time but as they get older and bigger Im looking into better ways to manage it they also fight over food bowls toys and somtimes just fight and im not talking rough houseing im talking full on trying to rip eachother apart but then being best friends a few minutes after this is alot of why I joined to learn to manage them better and to find out if they are infact DA ive had very many dogs who were but not at such a young age

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Re: "Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby Stormi » Tue Feb 09, 2010 3:14 pm

Squabling over food, toys, ect is absolutely resource guarding. Again, normal behavior, it just requires you to be proactive about keeping their valuable items seperate.

As far as "fighting" over you, can you describe the behavior more? What is the context of the situation? Are you playing with them? are there toys involved? Do they typically get one-on-one attention with you, or is it always together?

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Re: "Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby Nikki89 » Tue Feb 09, 2010 3:26 pm

They do get one on one attention yes so heres how it went at lunch time today I fed them thru myself a pizza in the oven they finished eating in different areas of the house i went got there bowls put em up and back to check the pizza when i closed the oven keila was sitting by it so i was talkin to her then her sissy angel ran over and keila just attacked her as soon as she came near me they also have done this when 1 is in my lap and one on the floor and a few other times im starting to think keila is the bully she usually gets fed up lets out a growl and if not backed away from will lung/attack once in awhile angel will start it but I dunno they just seem to have short fuses

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Re: "Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby Stormi » Tue Feb 09, 2010 3:37 pm

Without being able to see the behavior first hand (or if you can post a video on here, that would work, too), its really impossible to say what the motivation was. It could be playful, bullies tend to play really rough and can literally at times seem like they're trying to kill each other. It really all depends on what their body language is. She could have also been resource guarding the pizza as you mentioned you were standing directly next to the oven. Its also interesting you mention that one will guard you lap from the other - laps are most certainly resources! My own dog is a resource guarder, and I cannot sit down in an area that he is interacting with other dogs without a fight breaking out. Rather than just guessing that its "dog aggression" really look at your surroundings of the situation and try to determine what caused the outburst. Resources can be almost anything- it doesn't have to make sense to us, but whatever the item is, its valued to the dog.

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Re: "Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby Nikki89 » Tue Feb 09, 2010 4:05 pm

They do play rough that I dont mind a bit its when the rough play terns into a full on fight which it has with 1 making the other bleed It did cross my mind that the pizza started it so to be on the safe side noone got any the reason it crossed my mind was keila sat by the oven till it was done it just seems in the last month alot of fights have broken out in my house and now to be safe they are never left out if I cant see them after coming home one day to a living room covered in blood angel had torn keilas ear its finally healed but im just nervous as to what the future holds and if im going to be able to control them if the fighting continues does anyone live in a house with 2 or more dogs that dont always get along?If so what do you do

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Re: "Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby Stormi » Tue Feb 09, 2010 4:10 pm

Its a pretty general concensus around here that leaving 2 or more dogs alone together unsupervised is a bad idea. Anything can happen (dogs get into arguments just like people do), and if you aren't there to intervene, who knows what you'll come home to. There's quite a few members here who have their dogs on a strict crate and rotate system as the dogs cannot be fully trusted together even while supervised. I doubt you'd need to take such a step with 5 month old puppies, but it could be a necassary precaution in the future when they do mature.

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Re: "Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby Nikki89 » Tue Feb 09, 2010 4:21 pm

I was re reading this and as far as her body language when theese things happen is she stiff and snarling then will lunge and grab ahold of the other animal then to get them off you have to scoop one of them up or pry apart

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Re: "Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby Stormi » Tue Feb 09, 2010 4:35 pm

Stiff posturing is generally predictive of things going south, but not always. Some dogs will stiffen up just before bouncing into play, and some use posturing as a warning signal that they are uncomfortable. The snarling could be play related, or it could be another warning signal. In your specific case, I'd guess its a warning signal, but again, I'd have to see it first hand to judge for sure. Resource guarding can be modified to a degree in puppies - start looking for those early warning signs and interrupt before the behavior escelates. For example- if you are sitting down with one and your lap and the other comes over, stand up and initiate a quick game or quick training session. Do your best to direct their attention to something else before there's a chance for them to enage fully in their guarding behavior. Start rewarding them for being polite with each other. Catch them in the act of "being good" and reward them with an extra special game or treat.

Have you begun training or training classes at all with them yet?

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Re: "Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby Nikki89 » Tue Feb 09, 2010 5:39 pm

I work on training and they are getting better they know a few basics I wish I could afford a profesional but right now am looking for a job so moneys tight but I will continue to work with them and reward with treats as well as cuddles and what not for all the good they do and continue to try and inprove on the bad im really glad I found this place I think it will help alot ive tried talking to friends and other dog owners but most are like omg you own fighting dogs or are like pitbulls should be put to sleep at the first sign of aggression I personally do not beleive that ive owned alot of breeds and have seen DA with even chis they just showed it alot older then 5 months

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Re: "Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby haircrazie016 » Tue Feb 09, 2010 6:47 pm

excellent post stormi! thank you!

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Re: "Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby Stormi » Tue Feb 09, 2010 6:57 pm

Nikki89 wrote:I personally do not beleive that ive owned alot of breeds and have seen DA with even chis they just showed it alot older then 5 months


Again, what you have described is not "dog aggression". Straight up genetic dog aggression with no other motivtors is very, very rare in such young dogs, and by your descriptions, it seems like a pretty classic case of resource guarding.

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Re: "Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby Nikki89 » Tue Feb 09, 2010 7:16 pm

Ok so I just broke up a big fight between my 2 girls I sadly have no clue who started it as there was nothing of any value around I walked in my bedroom they were out in the living room I heard it start and once I got them off eachother I realised someone got hurt as I had blood on me keila got a bite to the face right above her nose got her ear bitten and a bunch of small bleeding wounds around her mouth angel has a bite on her back and somwhere in her mouth the bleeding stopped quickly atleast and there fine now settled back down but its like all day long they have been acting bipolar happy one minute and in rage the next and keila taunts when the fight ends she will put her two paws on angels back and like stand on her till I pick her up and tell her no

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Re: "Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby Stormi » Tue Feb 09, 2010 7:56 pm

Honestly, I would suggest keeping them seperated when you are ubable to supervise them. You have no was of knowing what the trigger was if you didn't see the fight start. If you'd like, PM me your location and I can suggest a qualified behavior consultant than can visit and asses their behavior first hand once your are able to afford it. I could play 20 questions and attempt to assess what's going on via the interweb (as I mentioned, a great deal of your descriptions sound like guarding behaviors) but having someone who can witness and see the behavior would have a much better shot at diagnosing exactly what the triggers involved are.

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Re: "Is my dog dog-aggressive?"

Postby Stormi » Tue Feb 09, 2010 7:58 pm

... And clearly, phone typing is not my specialty. Pardon the typos.


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