Help for a Dog-Aggressive Dog

Gradual desensitization will help a dog learn to react calmly and politely when meeting other dogs.


Q. Several months ago, we adopted a 2-year-old Irish Terrier mix named Sadie. She has aggression problems around other dogs. Whenever we're out on a walk, if she sees another dog, even in a fenced-in yard, she starts to bark and snarl and growl. We have had to assume that she hasn't had a lot of previous socialization. I was wondering if there was a training tip to help her be friendlier.

A. If a dog doesn’t have dog friends growing up, by the time she’s mature she may prefer human company and not really feel any need for dog friends. That’s not necessarily a sad situation, as long the dog gets lots of satisfying time in the company of her human friends and family.

But, just being near another dog, Sadie gets upset and reacts with an aggressive display. Reactivity like this is most often based in fear and worry about what the other dog might do. Her lack of experience with other dogs leads to this barking and snarling display, to warn the other dog not to come any closer or try anything “funny.”

What Sadie needs is help learning to be less worried in the presence of other dogs. If you can, get one-on-one help from a good professional dog trainer who is experienced with using counter-conditioning and desensitization techniques. You can work on this yourself, but hiring an experienced trainer would smooth your way.

Start by taking Sadie somewhere there will be other dogs she can see from a fairly far distance, but where they will not approach her. You need to start far enough from the other dogs that Sadie sees them but doesn’t feel the need to react.

When a dog comes into view, start feeding Sadie her favorite treats. When it disappears from view, stop feeding. Repeat that until Sadie seems to make a connection between seeing other dogs and getting yummy treats. If Sadie reacts to the dogs or won’t take the treats from you, that means you’re too close to the other dogs – find a spot that’s farther away and try it there.

Gradually you’ll be able to move Sadie closer to the dogs, still keeping her far enough away that she does not start to bark, whine, etc.

Once you’ve made some good progress with this, enroll Sadie in a reward-based training class with an instructor experienced in helping owners teach dogs to become less reactive.


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Sarah - 243618   Port Charlotte, FL

4/18/2013 10:57:52 AM

Great article, we did this with people, children especially with our female. She loves people and children now. She pulls and gets excited whenever she sees someone. However, a dog is another issue. She doesn't react on initial sight of another dog, nor when they approach, she reacts as soon as they are directly in reaching contact. I understand that when dogs lay down they are communicating they are non-threatening. She has done this with a few dogs, but they rarely

Another time she sat ridged and watched a dog approach which to my understanding of dog body language he was approaching submissively,head down low, but as soon as the dog was in reaching contact she was really upset, jumped all over the dog growling and everything. Thankfully the dog was not hurt and didn't even react to her behavior and the fight was over quickly. The dog was loose, not on a leash and approached our property.

I assume that her body language was a clue, that she wasn't agreeable to greet this dog, but I wonder why she didn't warn verbally? I haven't figured out all the clues yet to dog body language, but I do hope to find something to help me along the way to prevent situations like this from happening again.

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liantsim   Waterloo, IA

1/23/2013 3:33:48 AM

I have the exact same problem with my adopted dog, yet I know she grew previously lived in a house with several other dogs. Great article, though. I'm going to use this technique when we are out on walks.

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joy - 222669   columbia, SC

10/12/2012 8:23:56 PM

Im so glad there is info on this, my dog goes crazy when he sees other dogs- especially little ones. He is so strong it is hard to hold him, and it makes it hard to walk him because i have to turn around and run the other way when we see another dog . Definitely going to try this!

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Deb   Pittsburgh, PA

4/30/2012 5:10:53 PM

I've got what I think is a very good trainer. 12 private lessons later and we're still working to socialize our adopted stray. Great around people now but still have problems with some dogs - not all. THis takes A LOT OF TIME AND EFFORT.

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