It's happened again. A simple outing with your beloved dog turns into a nightmare because you came upon another dog and his person going for a walk. Your dog displays aggression toward this new canine, and a fight nearly ensues. You and your dog need help before a pet or person gets hurt. With professional training and perhaps a bit of veterinary attention, the situation might become manageable.
Take your dog to the veterinarian for an examination to rule out medical reasons for his dominant and aggressive behaviors. Although rare, it's possible your dog suffers from a neurological condition causing aggressive reactions to other canines. A dog with constant or intermittent pain might also behave aggressively, especially with other dogs in the same household. Your vet might prescribe medication, such as antidepressants, to alleviate some aggression. She can also recommend a trainer or canine behaviorist to help your dog with his issues.
Spaying and Neutering
If your aggressive dog isn't spayed or neutered, schedule that surgery. Canine aggression occurs most often in intact males, with behaviors starting about the age of puberty or social maturation. Depending on the type of dog, puberty occurs at approximately 9 months of age, with a dog maturing socially by age 3 at the latest. Generally, dogs of either sex are more aggressive with canines of the same gender. Even if your dog-aggressive pet is past the age of social maturity, the hormone reduction resulting from spaying or neutering improves behavior.
Review your dog's dominant and aggressive behaviors to see if the incidents have things in common. For example, was food involved, or is your dog overly protective of you? Are genetic factors in play -- does your dog come from a dominant, aggressive breed? How well socialized is your dog -- does he know how to actually play with other canines, or is he always fearful? Is your dog receiving sufficient exercise? This is information you must share with a trainer, along with your dog's history. If you've had your dog since puppyhood, you should know whether he's suffered from a physical or psychological trauma. That's not the case if you acquired your dog when he was fully grown.
If your dog hasn't already had basic obedience training, it's imperative that the two of you start going to classes. Your trainer can determine whether your dog can participate in group classes or requires private instruction, at least temporarily. The trainer also develops a program of behavioral modification based on your dog's temperament, characteristics and the nature of his aggression and dominance. A good trainer will also advise you on how to become the leader of your particular pack, even if it consists of just you and Fido. You must dominate your dog, not through physical punishment or fear, but by setting boundaries and having him recognize you as "top dog."
While your dog undergoes training and behavioral modification, you might still have to take him for daily walks. If there are certain triggers on your route, such as particular dogs that set him off, try to alter the time or location of your walks. You might need to muzzle your dog before taking him outdoors. Avoid any instances that could stimulate his aggressive or dominant behavior.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.