Does not play well with others.


New Member
My 2 year old Shepherd is dog aggressive.
I don't mean that she sometimes snaps at other dogs, or barks, or growls.
She seems to have a murderous impluse towards all other dogs. If we see another dog walking, she will use all her strength and agilty to try to tug the leash out of my hand and eat the other dog.
I'm talking full hackles, bark-growl-snarl, no posturing or playfulness here.
We were making excellent, but slow, progress until some new folks moved into the neighborhood who walk their dogs off leash. These dogs run straight for Zena, through yards, under fences, across busy streets, etc.
I'm hoping someone here's had experience with extremely dog-aggressive dogs, and can give me some pointers on how to tone her down.
Distraction methods do not work. She is a shepherd, after all.:msnwink:

Jean Cote

Staff member
Hi there!

I have never had a problem similiar to yours, but hopefully someone else on this board might be able to guide you in the right direction.

However, I am intrigued in what has triggered this behavior - have you always had the dog from puppyhood? Do you know if he has played a lot with other dogs growing up - or does he currently play with other dogs?

It sounds to me like a socialization problem rather than a behavioral problem. However I can't really tell you what to do as it would just be just a guess ... sorry. :dogsad:

Jean Cote

Staff member
By the way - your dog looks awesome in the pictures you submitted!!!! :) Looks friendly to me!! :)


New Member
Oh she is friendly with people, absolutely trustworthy even with the worst of children.
I got her from a rescue when she was a little over a year old.She was fostered with other shepherds, and was very dominant (weird for such a young female) but not overly hostile.
The next day, one of the staff from the rescue came to check on us, and brought his dog. I opened the door, not expecting any theatrics, and Zena shot toward the door with a quickness, head down, hackles up. I shut the door in time, thankfully.
Since that day, she's hated other dogs.
I know nothing of her former people, except that they had young children. I suspect she was mildly mistreated; she was grossly underweight, and flinches every time her left paw is touched.


Experienced Member
One of our neighbours have an about 2 years old dog, wich is not only dog agressive, but human agressive too. He became agressive, becouse an old couple keeps her, and they never brought her to other dogs, and he never met other peaople then them, so he ended up like this. :msnrolleyes::msniwonder:

Jean Cote

Staff member
Hi drivingtenacity,

It's very hard to say what is causing or caused this behavior in your dog.

I would suggest seeking a dog behaviorist who is able to bring your dog to a peaceful state of mind around other dogs. The name Turid Rugaas comes to mind when I think about this, she is an expert on calming signals.

I believe your dog is currently seeing other dogs as either hostile or he might be fearful himself. The best way would be to change what he associates other dogs with - which is why I think interacting (under professional supervision) with other dogs would help.

As for your dog flintching when you touch her paw, you can use clicker training to change that. You just have to create a positive association with you holding his paw.

To do it:

  1. Touch your dog in an area where he remains calm.
  2. Immediately click your clicker.
  3. Immediately give him a treat.
Start on the shoulder blade, and then gradually move to the top of the leg, and elbow and then the paw. It's important that your dog remains in a calm and peaceful state without flintching, so that's why you start where he is currently comfortable (say the shoulder blade) and then moving slowly to a more sensitive area.

Please read and look at my video in which I get my dog to accept being touched while standing. It is the same principle except you are going to do it with his paw.


New Member
Hi DrivingT, you will be amazed at what you dog is feeling down his lead. I know this may sound feeble, but seriously, I have had many successes with aggresive dogs in the past.

Correct me if Im wrong, but when you see a dog approaching, Ill guess you shorten the lead up, possibly grab it with two hands, ready for the 'assault'. You must stop doing this immediately. When police dog trainers want to switch their dog 'on' to go for a bait, that is exactly what they do. Shorten the lead, point toward the target, and start the growling noises (like you saying 'leave' or 'no'?)

It may be that your dog started this initially, but now, you are the one that is perpetuating the behaviour. Some easy steps;

First, spend a lot of time, alone, ensuring your dog walks comfortably to heel on a loose lead. Does he do this at the moment? If he starts to pull, change direction, and say heel. When hes in the correct position, always tell him good boy, or treat. Once you are confident your dog walks everywhere (with no distractions) at heel on a loose lead, take him back out to your doggy walks to meet other animals.

When you see a dog approaching, you MUST NOT shorten his lead. Continue ahead with 'Good Boy', if his lead stays loose. As soon as he takes up the tension, change direction, heel, and continue as you have been doing regards his heel training. YOU must completely disregard the other dog. Once facing away from the oncoming dog, ask yours to sit, with you having your back to the approaching animal. Keep him in sit at all times and your back to the other dog, until it has passed. What you are showing him is that you know there's another dog, but you're not fussed by it in the slightest. If he attempts to break from the sit, thats when you give him a shout/ tell him off. He knows sit. He knows hes breaking it and that you're cross. When he sits he gets reward.

When a dog is pulling at his leash to attack another dog and you shout/tell him off, he will read that you are shouting at the oncoming 'danger'. Not at him.

Continue with this approach for as long as it takes for him to sit quietly and disregard a passing dog, just as you are. Then back to the 'walk past' exercises. Any pull on the lead, turn and heel him, reward, and turn back.

Your aim is to walk past any dog without a reaction, and on a loose lead. You will be surprised how quickly you can do this, once you take the pressure of him by removing your anticipation of trouble, tension down the lead, and possible shouts growls at the oncoming "danger"!. Good luck and let me know how you get on.

PS Its very important not to overface him by forcing him into social situations. Even if you're progressing well, dont stop to talk to other doggy owners. The key is disregard, disregard, disregard. Eventually, stopping, chatting, and saying a doggy 'hello' will come.

Jean Cote

Staff member
When a dog is pulling at his leash to attack another dog and you shout/tell him off, he will read that you are shouting at the oncoming 'danger'. Not at him.
Very well said! :)


New Member
Thanks for the helpful suggestions.
Cturner, I don't shorten the lead when I first see another dog, although I do sometimes take a detour to avoid the situation.
I can see where my being tense does contribute to the problem. I don't tense up when we see another dog walking on a leash, because I know I have control of Zena. I do tense and get nervous if we see off-leash dogs. I know I shouldn't, but it's hard to remain calm in an uncontrolled situation.
I don't address her at all when she's being aggressive; I didn't want to give any encouragement. I think I'll take your advice and have Zena sit with my back to the passing dog. I was at a loss as to what sort of tactics to try in the situation, and I must confess, I usually just hold her in place while the other dog passes, and I do make the mistake of watching the other dog pretty intently once a bark-fest has started.


Honored Member
Staff member
Hi, I know this is old, but I'm been contemplating this issue myself. If clicker training were incorporated with this, would it be successful? I plan on trying this with my somewhat dog aggressive Rottie mix.
If you have a friend with a completely dog-friendly dog, you could have them walk in Zena's "neutral zone." Let's say Zena's neutral zone is ten feet. When Fido enters it, click and reward if Zena remains calm. You could have her sit with the dog and handler roaming the neutral zone, then click and reward. When she's consistently remaining calm with Fido in her neutral zone, have them move in a little closer. Fido and his handler shouldn't jump in to 5 feet, just as much as Zena is comfortable with. If Zena goes into murder mode when they move in to 9 feet, then go back to 10 and have them slowly work their way in. You should find a very remote area to do this, with few dogs. You don't want to bombard her with unwanted company. =) If you can find a field or fairly calm park, this would be great. As I said, I have yet to have used this, but I think that it would be successful although it would take a while. Of course I'm sure you're willing to take as long as necessary to help Zena. :dogsmile: Good luck, and if you decide to try this please keep us updated on how Zena is doing!


New Member
I agree with Tx-Cowgirl about the clicker training part. My german shepherd is great with all other dogs, but has always been a bit aggressive to strangers. I freely admit that initially I worsened his aggression, because when it comes to aggression directed toward people you are more likely to get slapped with a lawsuit or be on the receiving end of bad feelings for any mis-step. Thus in my over anxiousness to fix that problem as quickly as possible I made all kinds of mistakes that ended up worsening it. But I have been using clicker training (and am still using it) to lessen it and I have seen remarkable results over the last year and half. I think his progress could be quicker but now I'm being extra cautious and going slow as I don't want to make the same mistakes I did before!

I do think you should seek a behaviorist for help, as only they can evaluate your dog in person to give detailed and specific advice.

However I see a significant problem in your situation which is the off leash and out of control neighbor dogs. I think that is going to undermine any behavioral work you do with your dog and unfortunately it is something you dont' have control over which is what makes it difficult.

It sounds as if your new neighbors are being very irresponsible if their dogs are running across streets, under fences, through yards and so on. It makes me so mad to think how you have put so all this work into Zena and have been making slow and steady progress, only to then have these irresponsible people show up and undo your painstaking work through their own irresponsibility and inconsideration. I sympathize because I get mad whenever other people undermine my own dog's progress in his aggression-treatment (for example, in the past people have wanted to pet my dog when he wasn't ready for that yet, and I would politely say no yet they would STILL rush up to us anyway and totally disregard me, and thereby they would set him off and even then continue to egg him on when he was lunging on the leash at them in a frenzy and lead to a public commotion as well as increasing his sensitivity to strangers in the future)

perhaps you could speak to those neighbors to educate them on how they should leash their dogs for their own safety (they could easily get hit by a car or attacked by another dog if they are running amok this way!), as maybe the neighbors are just clueless.

If they continue to let their dogs run amok off leash, then this is just going to be very bad for Zena. In that case, I would drive Zena somewhere else for her daily exercise and behavioral program, it doesn't have to be a big inconvenience- just maybe a 2-minute drive away will keep you safe from your neighbor's dogs. I think it might be more practical in the long run to have the inconvenience of driving her somewhere everyday for several months if it results in a successful outcome so she can eventually return to walking in the neighborhood and be able to deal with these off leash dogs without it having such a negative impact. Rather than continuing to walk in the neighborhood now with these out-of-control dogs undermining your every step with Zena. Still, it makes me mad to think that you would have to go out of your way like this just because of these irresponsible and inconsiderate people.

A really good short and concise book is "Cautious Canine" by Patricia McConnell. It explains how to go about treating aggression stemming from fear (and most aggression is stemming from fear even though it may look like the dog is very confident, as mine does).


New Member
I've tried talking to these neighbors, it has done no good.
I just don't get it; their dogs have literally surrounded Zena and me on a couple of occasions. The only reason they still have dogs is a combination of my quick reflexes and Zena's restraint (there have been situations where she could have very easily bitten smaller dogs in half, but just barks and snaps at them)
I've also noticed something about Zena's aggression (not fear based at all, based on body language) If a dog is walking away from us, standing still, or walking perpendicular, she watches intently, but does not attempt to lunge. It's only dogs coming at us that provoke her. Perhaps she's being over protective?
I have scouted out a few new locations, but I feel bad for thinking about introducing a problematic situation to people in a different neighborhood just trying to mind their own dog business.
I don't want to undermine anyone else's efforts with their dogs by introducing a new source of aggression.


Honored Member
Staff member
You could attempt to schedule your walks around them until Zena improves. If you have a friend with a completely neutral dog, ask if they mind helping you out.
This might be her being overprotective. With the dog walking away or still, they don't seem much of a threat. They aren't paying any attention to her, but they're close enough to catch her attention. When they are coming toward you, her reaction is to start barking/growling/etc. Of course, this grabs the other dog's attention. Friendly or not, her space(and yours) is invaded, and she doesn't like it. I really think the clicker training method would be very beneficial. Try using the "look at me" lesson. If you know someone with a dog-friendly but not overfriendly dog, see if they can help you sometime when you know your neighbors won't be out. After she knows "look at me" without other dogs, bring along your friend. How far away do the dogs have to be before she starts staring intently? Even if it's fifty feet, have your friend hang out there. Ask Zena to look at you, click and reward. Slowly let your friend move in, and keep asking for Zena to look at you. As soon as she starts to look at the other dog, ask for the look at me. If she doesn't, act like she doesn't know how. Go back to doing the same thing you did to teach her to look at you on command. When she does, treat heavily since her aggression seems to be relatively severe. If she gets so far as to lunge and go into her bark fest, immediately spin around and walk away from the other dog.
When I started working on my Rottie's dog aggression, I got him a muzzle just as a precaution. I got him used to the muzzle, then began using it when I brought dogs closer to him. He was much like your Zena. He didn't care at all though if dogs were far away, but if they crowded him or were overfriendly, he would lunge and try to bite them. After he improved with the muzzle, I began working without it.
You could talk to some of the regular dog-walkers at the new location and explain the situation. Hopefully they'll applaud your efforts, and be willing to help. =)

For me, working with Rusty was easy....I live in the country, right by a farmer's field. I walk my dogs in the turnrows between the fields, and virtually none of my neighbors walk their dogs. The farmer doesn't mind me using the land that he doesn't plant on to work with the dogs, so it's a good setup for me. ^^
Lucky for me, the one neighbor that actually walks her dog keeps him on-leash until she gets to the same field I use. Then and only then does she let him loose, and he always sticks close to her. When other dogs are around she leashes him again, as he tends to be pretty friendly. ^^ Good luck with Zena, and I hope this helps you. =)


New Member
Are there leash laws in your area? If talking doesn't seem to do any good, then you could try something in writing. Perhaps a semi-formal letter stating that their dogs are running loose and out of control, leading to increased risk of property damage or injury to people, other dogs, or being injured or killed themselves. If there are any leash laws in your area (should be able to find online), then add the proper quotation and reference. Then maybe even take it a bit further and ask them to sign a statement waiving any and all rights to sue should your dog bite their dogs when yours is on leash and theirs are running free.

Hmm... and if you're really feeling grouchy, a can of mace or pepper spray would do nicely especially if you're on your own property. :dogph34r: that wasn't me... that last bit was from my evil twin sister :dogohmy:


New Member
If you already talked to your neighbors and they didn't do anything and their dogs are continuing to run amok and harrass you and Zena, I would get some dog-deterrant spray like I've seen in pet stores (it's just a citronella spray so it's non-toxic to them just smells bad to them, I read somewhere that dogs are immune to either mace or pepper spray, don't know which one). Or maybe carry an umbrella with you and open it at the approaching dogs to scare them away. I've done that to scare off coyotes that were following my dog and me while we were out hiking! I really hate to "do things" to other people's dogs because you never know how they will react, like if they will react aggressively next time, or if the owners will get all upset at you (even though THEY are the ones at fault for letting their dogs harass you in the first place). But you've done all you could already - you talked to the neighbors and they still refuse to be responsible, so now you are forced into self-defense. (and you are also protecting their dogs from her possible attack due to their provocation.)

Aggression can be fear-based even though it looks very confident. The dog has learned in the past that acting confident (lunging and snapping, for example) succeeds in driving away the threat, so they continue to put on that show. Dogs walking away, standing still, or walking in an 'arc" are less threatening (in dog language) than approaching head on, so I'm thinking probably that's why she doesn't lunge in those situations. When two strange dogs meet off leash, you will often seen them approaching each other not head-on but perpendicularly, that's their way of diffusing tense situations in dog language. (Dogs on leash can't approach each other in that normal canine manner so sometimes they can develop anxiety over meeting other dogs which develops later on into leash-aggression.) If your neighbor's dogs are not doing that but simply running all the way up to Zena directly, it sounds like not only are they out of control but they are undersocialized too!!

Well, I wouldn't consider walking her in a new neighborhood as introducing a new threat into the neighborhood, since, as you said, it is only when off leash dogs come running up to her that she displays aggression. but if the new neighborhood also has off leash and out of control dogs then that is a problem.

I think Tx_cowgirl has a good suggestion to use a muzzle at least temporarily until Zena can make more improvements in her aggression-treatment program. It will put your mind at ease and ensure that dog cannot accidentally hurt someone.

Can you contact the local authorities? Surely there must be a leash law in your neighborhood? Now whether or not they will do anything is a different matter, but maybe if your neighbors get a call from the authorities with the threat of a fine it will be enough pressure on them to being more responsible.

I also like Bipa's suggestion of trying to get your neighbors to sign a statement saying that they will not hold you responsible for any injury Zena may cause to their dogs when they run up to her, since THEY are the ones refusing to stop their dogs from harassing her. Maybe right now they simply don't believe that Zena is capable of inflicting any damage, maybe they think she is all bark and no bite which is why they are so unbothered but if she did inflict damage out of self defense they may suddenly get all offended and victimized. People are weird.


New Member
I think I will give clicker training a try.Unfortunately, I have no friends with friendly dogs.
There are very strict leash laws here, and I know if something did happen, I would not be held legally liable.
I love the umbrella idea; I visualized it and started laughing.
I try to schedule Zena's walks at times when the neighbors won't be out, but they're pretty unpredictable.
I've considered the muzzle, but we have on a couple of isolated occasions ran afoul of decent-sized dogs off leash, who were also dog aggressive. I'd feel so guilty if my Zena got torn up because she couldn't defend herself, or scare the other dog away(whjich is what happened the couple of times we met other aggressive dogs. What kind of ass lets a dog-aggressive dog off leash, ever?:msnmad:
My neighborhood isn't really quite as chaotic as it sounds; we just walk so frequently that we're bound to run into a situation eventually.
She's been making some progress lately, though. We were able to get within 7 feet of a dog walking towards us yesterday before she reacted, which is an improvement for her!


Honored Member
Staff member
Great to hear! Glad she's improving.
Gah people are idiots. :dogdry: When Rusty began developing dog aggression and I immediately started working on it, I went to my friend who has a very dog-friendly lab. I carefully explained what I wanted her to do, and I thought she understood....well, evidently she didn't, because when she saw that Rusty was doing fine(with me using proper techniques) she released her usually over-friendly 110-pounder. I was so angry....all the progress we'd been making was thrown out the window and the social butterfly ran up to Rusty in a playful manner(but still, Rusty was not happy that his space was invaded).
If you're quick enough, you could remove the muzzle as soon as you spot the dog aggressive dog in the distance. The umbrella idea is good, lol!
Yes, that's the only downside of walking frequently. But the benefits for you and your dog heavily outweigh that. ^^
Also, if you chose to muzzle Zena, carry something with you(umbrella, golf club, etc) just in case. I would never want to intentionally hurt a dog, but if they're going after my dog, I would swing something at them just to scare them off in a heartbeat. This way, Zena doesn't have to protect herself, and she still doesn't hurt anyone. =) Hope things are going well!


New Member
I too have a dog aggressive dog. Yours sounds to be a bit more so than mine. Knowing that we are an extension of the leash and fully belieiving in seeting them up for success, I have been moderately successful in reacting to her agression with calm, yet alpha coreections in leash and with use of my voice. I am consistent with the commands given every time. She must "watch me." If she doesn't watch me the walk stops and (unless additional reasons concerning safety dictate differently) we do not continue with the desired behavior. Command praise, distraction,praise, command. Combined with my ensuring there is space and we are exiting the situation or stimuli causing the reaction of my dog has allowed for me to become and remain in control of the situation. Some baby steps towards less agression have been learned by my dog too. Hopes this is of some worth and value to you.


Sherwood, Oregon


New Member
Have you guys tried walking in parrallel?
At a distance when your dog can still perform operant behaviour.
I click for glances at the other dog and anything that is more desireable than the agressive behaviour.
Lots of short repititions with different calm stooge dogs are needed and a high schedule of reward with a real high value reinforcer.
I want my dogs to look at what they find scary and to choose to look back at me which is a behaviour I can reward them for.
The aim is to work your dog closer and closer to the other dog you are walking in parrallel with.
If your dog cannot focus and perform operant behaviours and take rewards then you are too close so back off.
One key thing as well is that the handler stays calm and aloof and tries as much as possible to keep slack in the lead.
TTouch is also good for dog reactive dogs.
With regard to dogs running at you you could try throwing food in their face whilst turning and making a swift exit with your dog.