I Need Help with Aggression towards other Dogs

maggies mom

Well-Known Member
My 1 yr. old Sheltie has been displaying aggression when meeting other dogs. (Snapping and actually trying to fight). I discussed it with my trainer and she stated I should stop the behavior before she has a chance by giving the command "Leave It" and showing her I'm in control of the situation. However, I have been rather unsuccessful. It is getting so bad that I'm afraid to let her come in contact with other dogs. She lunged at my daughter's English Mastiff and accidentally bit my grand-daughter on the arm. I am afraid if this behavior continues, it will become a REAL problem. I don't want to feel as if I can't trust my dog with kids. Any suggestions as to how to stop this behavior would be appreciated.

Angie: :msnsad:

Jean Cote

Staff member
I think redirecting her attention away from a dog around her might work better for you. This will require attention on your part, when she becomes distracted by another dog present, you can start walking in the other direction and getting her to look at you. Use your touch and your voice to entice her to look up and to follow you.

Eventually you want to make a game out of it. So that when other dogs are present she focuses on you and not on the other dogs.

I'm not exactly sure as to how your training sessions are when you go to your classes, but training with other dogs around should definitely help. When you trainer says "Stop the behavior before it happens", it means that before she lunges, growls or shows her teeths. She'll look at the other dog. This is the time to get her attention back on you.

I've never actually had aggression problems with my dog, so these are only suggestions of what I believe might work. Hope you find your solution!


We actually had a Sheltie (female) and Border Collie (female) in our Basic Obedience Class that would go after each other when we did activites such as passing by each other etc. Our trainers have them go towards each other and say "Leave it" etc as they go by and keep walking with your dog under control like you're walking with a purpose. I found that each week got a little better and by the last class, they could actually sit next to each other with no bad behavior or acting out. I know it's hard since you always meet new dogs out and about, but maybe something like that could actually help with dogs your dog will be coming in contact with on a regular basis.


New Member
Sorry to hear about your problem. There is a great book out there called "click to calm" by Emma Parsons, you may want to pick up a copy. Aggression is such a difficult problem to manage, but there are some things you can do. Believe it or not, having your dog walk on a loose lead is a great start. Think of the leash as a stressor in a potentially bad interaction. The leash frequently is the last straw in that interaction leading to an aggressive episode. The lead is a factor you can control so reinforce calm leash walking extremely well. One thing I always try to teach is a "walk away". The walk away is a glorified "leave it" except the dog has to give up whatever he is obsessing about, reorient towards you and then give you eye contact. To teach it, you must first reinforce the heck out of eye contact. I refer to eye contact as "my keys to the city" behavior meaning anything my dog wants, whether it is to go outside, eat his dinner or come out of his crate, he has to give me eye contact first. This process makes eye contact a default behavior in many situations....make sure you reward it well and often. To teach the walk away, take some things your dog really loves (chicken works great for me) and make a small pile of it in the center of a room. With your dog on lead, walk towards it until your dog notices it and tries to get it. gently apply some leash pressure as you walk backwards, be prepared to click and reward when your dog "gives up" the distraction, you'll be able to tell when he does. Repeat this step often and do not add a verbal cue until your dog is reliably coming away from the distraction with only leash pressure. When you are at an 80-90% success rate at this step, add in a verbal cue and repeat the previous step until your dog is coming away from the distraction with only the verbal cue. At this step, your dog does not have to give you eye contact, but should be reorienting towards you just the same. When your dog is good at this step, add in the eye contact to finish the behavior. Increase the intensity of your distractions until you can start doing some distance work with other dogs. Try to never give the command if your dog is over threshold as he will probably not listen to you and you will only weaken your cue.


New Member
Another thing you can do is click and reward your dog for looking at other dogs. I would advise getting the help of an experienced trainer for this step just to make sure you are not accidentally reinforcing some bad behavior. The premise behind this option is to form a positive association between your dog and whatever is causing your dog to trigger. Start by just clicking when your dog looks at another dog and rewarding him for that. You may need to start off by having alot of distance between you and the other dog. Never reinforce your dog if he goes over threshold. After a while of doing this your dog will start to look at you after you click, looking for his reward. When he starts to do this add in a verbal cue like "look at the dog" and click and reard him for doing so. This will become a game to him over time and should give you some relief with your aggression problems. These two things have worked well for me in the past and have made dogs more workable in certain situations. The clicker is going to be a vital part in your dog's rehab and make sure you use very high value rewards when there is a potential of seeing other dogs. Good luck!


New Member
there are two components to "dealing" with a dog's aggression, both are equally important:

1. Management - this means physically preventing the behavior from starting in the first place so that you won't have an incident on your hands. Examples of preventing the behavior include just keeping the dog away from other dogs, or muzzling the dog when around other dogs. Management doesn't make the dog any less aggressive so it's not curing the dog, but it is necessary to prevent injuries or prevent the aggression from worsening. Management also needs to be done while the dog is undergoing a rehabilitation program so as to prevent setbacks to the rehabilitation process. And, for most if not all dogs who have aggression issues, management should be a lifelong thing as well even if they have made great strides towards rehabilitation.

2. Rehabilitating the dog, treating his underlying cause of aggression. Also called "behavior modification." The goal here is to re-program the dog's brain to feel less aggressive in the first place, think of it as being like psychiatric treatment for dogs! However note that being "cured" is a vague term and not all dogs can in fact be fully cured or even substantially cured. However, with the proper treatment they can certainly get better meaning they can become more tolerant and less aggressive than they were before. And any improvement helps because it lessens the management burden just a little or increases your margin of safety during management.

It sounds like your trainer is talking about mainly about management...?

Some things that fall under management include:
1. Obedience training - training the dog to make eye contact with you and to hold eye contact, can be very useful. Because then you command the dog to pay attention to you, and if he is paying attention to you he can't also be watching and concentrating on the other dog. However, there are limits to how effective and appropriate this technique is, e.g. if the other dog is right up against yours, you can't expect him to maintain eye contact! this is a good and useful thing to get through quick and low-intensity situations before your dog has started getting worked up. e.g. letting another dog and owner pass you by in the distance. It will probably fail under high stress situations e.g. if your dog is already going over the top reacting at another dog...

you can also use "leave it" command too, same thing, you are training the dog to divert his attention away on command. But you don't want to have your dog do this IF something is going to happen that will stress him out so completely he fails the exercise, because then this can hurt his trust in you and make it harder to use this technique in future. so using the dog's obedience training to control his behavior and prevent situations from escalating is appropriate for a lot but not all situations.

But the good news is that the more gradual and successful/positive practice sessions you and your dog do in this, the easier it will get and the more the dog will be able to do it in future. it's really about the dog's trust - he is trusting that when you tell him to do something in a stressful situation that he can do it and nothing bad (from the other dog) will happen to him.

2. Muzzling - this is always the safest route and gives you the most peace of mind. However it may make other people react to you in a negative way because a muzzle looks like you're saying your dog is Cujo! Many trainers will muzzle the dog (and the dog is gradually acclimatized to the muzzle so he doesn't mind wearing it) while rehabilitating, just for the safety of everyone involved.

3. Some trainers recommend using a Gentle Leader or Halti head collar on the dog, this is so that you can gently manipulate your dog's head to be looking away from whatever he would otherwise fixate on. Again, preventing the dog from staring and obsessing at the other dog helps to prevent him from getting worked up and buys you time to let the other dog pass by without incident or you can take your dog away from the situation.

4. Just avoiding situations where your dog can come into contact with other dogs, such as walking at different times of the day or choosing less crowded areas to go to. this doesn't solve the problem, but it certainly prevents it getting worse....

As for rehabilitating the aggression, you would probably be best working one on one with a trainer or behaviorist. I like the book Sammy recommended (Click to Calm by Emma Parsons) and also what Sammy suggested. Here are a couple more books along the same lines: "Cautious Canine" by Patricia McConnell, "Feisty Fido" also by Patricia McConnell, "Scaredy Dog!" by Ali Brown.

The reason for the titles of these books is because often aggression has an underlying fear component (the dog is uncomfortable around other dogs, if he were comfortable he wouldn't be reacting). The counterconditioning process is a long-term process and can be tedious, it's all about taking baby steps where you expose the dog to other dogs (but in a highly controlled setting) and make it a positive experience.

So for example with your daughter's mastiff, one thing you could do is set up a controlled session where the mastiff is either on leash or safely behind a fence or your dog is muzzled (these are precautions for safety in case your dog lunges and bites). Then you bring your dog on leash to a distance where she sees the mastiff but is not yet stressed or bothered much, you guys should be far enough away from the mastiff that your dog can still listen to you and take treats gently from your hand. Chomping down on your hand when taking treats is a sign of being worked up and that you should probably back up some more. Then just feed steady stream of really good food while your dog is looking at the mastiff. Then end the session completely. next session repeat and try to go a couple steps closer to the mastiff. Or just stay at the same level (distance), whatever keeps your dog comfortable enough that she can see the mastiff yet remain calm and be able to be happy about the really good treats. each dog progresses at a different rate. eventually - if there are no setbacks in between sessions - your dog should gradually get more comfortable and be able to go closer to the mastiff without getting so stressed. but again, how much and how fast the dog will progress is highly individual to the dog and your specific situations so it's much better to be working with a trainer or behaviorist so they can give you a better idea and plan.

In between sessions, during 'real life', to prevent setbacks to the counterconditioning you should prevent her from getting into situations where she gets upset at the mastiff or at other dogs. this is because during the sessions she's learning it's OK to get closer to other dogs, so if in between sessions she gets upset all over again, enough to lunge and bite, that sort of cancels out whatever the sessions accomplished.... So in between sessions, the "daily life' part, this is where the management comes in.

it's really better and safer to work with a trainer or behaviorist because aggression is a serious issue that needs experienced professionals to guide you. Good luck!!

Jean Cote

Staff member
WHOAAAA! Great post l_l_a !!! This will definitely be a reference post for all members who experience dog aggression problems. Thanks for sharing it with us!

maggies mom

Well-Known Member

Thank you so much for all the help. I will definitely follow your advice. She is in group training classes and I have had trouble with her snapping at other dogs when they sniff noses. She also attacks our older Dalmation when we get out the treats.....it's so bad the the Dalmation runs to her cage and hides. The incident with the Mastiff occured AFTER they were playing for several minutes and I think the Mastiff started getting too rough with her. Sometimes I wonder if it's a fear issue because she was attacked by a Lab when she was only 4 mos. old and it scared her so bad that she yelped for a couple of minutes afterwards. BUT, that doesn't apply to attacking when treats are taken out. I'm really baffled as to the reasoning behind it. Other than this issue she is a very lovable, loyal friend. I realize I must address this immediately. I sincerely hope I can solve the problem because I don't want it to come down to no socialization with other dogs.

On the flip side of all this, there is one dog, Golden retriever/Chow mix that lives where I board my horses and she has NEVER snapped at her!!!!

I don't understand it.

Anyway, thank you again for your help. Any everyone else for all the advice. I'm impressed that so many of you have replied with suggestions!!!! I'm glad I found this website.


New Member
thanks for the kind words, Jean! But I must add that since I'm not a trainer or behaviorist, just a dog owner who has to deal with my own dog's stranger-aggression issues and also having helped friends deal with their dogs' aggression issues under their trainer's instructions - I have often played the part of the assistant or helper in setting up the controlled sessions and my dog has assisted in being the "set up dog" for the aggressive dog to work with - I've heard and implemented and helped others implement the procedures and protocols a few times! But since aggression is really something that a qualified professional has to see in person, I hope people realize that internet advice can only go so far and should not EVER replace seeing a trainer or behaviorist, just to help you understand more of where the trainer/behaviorist is coming from!!


New Member
maggies mom;7441 said:
She is in group training classes and I have had trouble with her snapping at other dogs when they sniff noses. She also attacks our older Dalmation when we get out the treats.....it's so bad the the Dalmation runs to her cage and hides. The incident with the Mastiff occured AFTER they were playing for several minutes and I think the Mastiff started getting too rough with her. Sometimes I wonder if it's a fear issue because she was attacked by a Lab when she was only 4 mos. old and it scared her so bad that she yelped for a couple of minutes afterwards. BUT, that doesn't apply to attacking when treats are taken out. I'm really baffled as to the reasoning behind it.
I'm not a trainer/behaviorist nor have I seen your dog so I could be totally wrong but to me, it sounds like these are three separate issues here:

1. With your dalmatian it sounds like "resource guarding" or possessiveness type of aggression. You could manage the problem by separating the dogs when you take out the treats. Then once you are ready and prepared you can bring them in again. You could try using "time out" method: the second your sheltie starts to so much as bristle at the dalmatian, say "ah ah!" or "woops!" in a neutral tone (it's not meant to be a scolding, just a signal) and calmly and unemotionally take her to a time-out area and leave her there for one minute. Then bring her back in and give her attention and treats again but again watch out for her starting to react at the dalmatian and immediately give the "ah ah!" or "woops!" and put her in short time out again. Soon she will associate the "ah ah!" as the time out signal, so that when in future you say it, it communicates to her exactly what it is she's doing that causes the time out. If you can be very consistent, over time she will hopefully learn that when she doesn't get possessive she continues to enjoys treats and lavish attention and other good stuff, but the second she gets hostile toward the dalmatian then that's when the treats/attention/good stuff disappears. But not all trainers agree with using time outs, some think it's a bad idea, so you should ask your trainer about it...

2. with the mastiff, it sounds like just over-arousal or "crankiness". If they were playing nicely earlier, your dog could simply have "had enough" and was just telling the mastiff off. If you can watch for signs for when your dog is getting fatigued or losing interest in playing and then separate the dogs, this will help prevent future incidents....it's very natural for one dog to start playing too roughly and the other one to tell them off by snarling and snapping, and usually it is perfectly fine and natural and harmless (even though it sounds frightening) with no intent to maim or kill the other dog. If thats the case with your dog then it's OK to just let them do it and sort it out themselves. (but if the mastiff doesn't get the message and keeps playing too rough for her, then separate them.) And also shelties like other herding breeds have a tendency to nip when trying to "control" others. But again, I'm not a behaviorist or trainer and I haven't seen your dogs, so don't take my word that this is what's going on for sure in your case, it's just a possibility to ask your trainer about.

3. With snapping at the dogs in class: it sounds like for whatever reason your dog is uncomfortable with such interaction. Maybe it is undersocialization and off leash interaction (since many dogs are more relaxed off leash around other dogs than when on leash) in a supervised setting like a class or doggie daycare, can build up her confidence more. Or maybe that's not the issue at all, and being in a class full of dogs is just too overwhelming for her and puts her on edge to begin with...? Either way, for management during group class, I would prevent her from sniffing other dogs for now and ask the other owners to please not have their dogs come over to yours, for now. And maybe find a quiet spot to hang out in class or take little breaks where you leave the room and then rejoin the class. For actively working on getting her to be less tense around other dogs: you could have an assistant with their dog on leash, this other dog should be a very calm one who will not be barking or lunging at your dog...then with your dog on leash do the counterconditioning process. It may take ten sessions to get your dog comfortable enough to go within 20 feet of another dog without tensing up, or you may be able to go all the way up to the other dog within one session, it really depends on the individual dog and situation...which is why it's necessary to have a trainer or behaviorist see your dog in person to guide you with this.

good luck and I hope you get the assistance you need! :)


Experienced Member
I have a reactive dog that is dog aggressive and sometimes human agggressive.
She recently took a Rally class with 6 strange dogs and didn't react to one of them.
The people in the class knew not to let there dogs come very close to her, though a few times dogs were within 5 ft. I have been working and working on desensitizing her to other dogs when we are on walks. It is funny to me, that when she sees dogs from 50 ft. away on a walk she will sometimes react. I suppose there is a point where she will be comfortable and I may not get beyond that point.
I was hoping to get her to accept dogs walking by us within 15ft or so on a trail, so we could walk on narrow trails. Has anyone had success with there dog once reactive that could do this? Thank you. Debby and Belle (lab/hound mix)


Experienced Member
Absolutely, read lla's excellent post and her dog. Mine older dog is fear reactive but mostly over it after a stellar 3 years of overcoming severe puppy fear and doing great in agility and rally and getting her CGC. She was attacked by another dog and our older dog died right when we moved so she had a regression but is coming through very nicely again. Teaching leave it was my best tool. Distract, redirect to what I do want, and reward are my primary tools. Even just doing a 180 degree turn and going away is great and click treat for coming with you. My dog was acting like a werewolf, from fear, toward other dogs outside our yard and with my clicker and some treats we fixed 99% of that.

The Click to Calm book is an excellent recommendation as are lla's comments. Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt is excellent. CU is the foundation of my training combined with advice from behaviorists. Things get better faster with a certified or vet behaviorist http://www.veterinarybehaviorists.org/ and http://www.certifiedanimalbehaviorist.com/
Karen Pryor also has excellent trainers, I use one.

If you go to a non behaviorist trainer make darn sure they are POSITIVE trainers like KP trainers or similar. Interview them and watch a class before you take your dog. Make sure they are trained for aggressive dogs and can accomdate them in a class if not now eventually. Ask how they'll do that and how they train. Don't scold your dog for this or you'll ramp up the situation to worse levels. You need to do some reading and consulting. I've been to 3 behaviorists and believe me the weight of the world lifts instantly when you have a knowledgeable professional give you the method and means to fix it all. I wish you the best of luck. :dogbiggrin:


New Member
I just read the best article on Constructual Aggression Training (CAT) that I've seen so far. This is a fairly new technique developed by the animal behaviorists at UNT and it looks very effective.

Another link where a trainer describes using the technique with her people aggressive dog:

Here's the short version of that first 11 page article:

The assumption behind CAT therapy is that dogs lunge, growl, bite etc. to make the target person or animal go away. CAT says that the distance between the two will only increase if the reactive dog is calm. It's much like only letting a calm dog out of the crate, or ignoring a jumping dog until all four are on the floor. You act calmly and you'll get what you want, which is the bad person/dog to go away.

In action it works this way (much paraphrased and with my own spin): Reactive, leashed dog and owner stay in one spot. Owner does nothing, gives no commands or treats, the only reinforcement that is offered is what the dog wants anyway -- the other dog to leave. Compatriot and target dog approach to just the point that the reactive dog starts to tense and then they just stand -- peacefully being -- until the reactive dog offers some predetermined behavior such as looking at the owner. Immediately on that behavior the target dog is taken away. If the dog lunges or barks or acts at all like aggressively the target dog is returned and again just parks until the other is calm.

Repeat. Repeat with starting point 1 foot closer. Repeat, over and over getting constantly closer but trying to be sure to stay under the real eruption distance. You never want the aggressive dog to actually explode into a barking, lunging fit. Everytime the reactive dog looks at the owner the target goes away.

At some point there is what the researchers call the "switchover" the aggressive dog goes from wanting the target to go away to being attracted to the target and offering soft, please approach me, I want to play behaviors. It's not just that they're coping, it's that they are actively seeking interaction with the target.

If you have time do read the articles, they are very interesting and informative. They give me hope.


Honored Member
Staff member
This is similar to a method that I've used quite frequently with dog aggressive dogs. Interestingly enough, it's also pretty much exactly like natural horsemanship techniques.

With horses, whatever you're desensitizing them to, you keep at a comfortable distance. The "scary" object(typically a plastic bag, a towel, a rope,etc) only goes away or stops moving when the horse stops moving. For instance, let's say you're getting a horse used to a swinging rope. If you start with the scary rope right next to your spooky horse, the horse is going to blow up and will learn nothing. Many horse trainers will suggest just to stick with them until they stop moving, but this is a lot of stress on a horse and takes much longer to help them learn, if it works at all. By moving in at much slower increments, the lesson is very low-stress and the horse learns rather quickly that the rope isn't scary at all. Rather than starting with the blow up, you pay attention for the tiny "pre-explosion" signs and avoid them. When the horse is completely calm, the rope stops swinging and goes away completely. The lesson is over and from there you go to relaxing, calm training that doesn't involve the scary things.

This principle is often applied to dog training, and I live by it. With all of my animals, any kind of scary situations is always introduced at a comfortable distance away. This is the only way I work with aggressive or timid dogs and it's proved extremely successful. When working with dogs on listening to commands at a distance, it's exactly backwards---start close and work your way back.


New Member
The CAT article is a fascinating read. Thanks for the links.

Heck, Karen Pryor mentions the method in "Dont' Shoot the Dog" in teach llamas (I think) to accept approaching people. Person comes close enough to just make the llama skittish. When the llama calms down, Click! and the person backs away. Repeat a little bit closer next time. I'm surprised that the method hadn't been tried with dogs in a very systematic way before (not that I'd thought of it.)


Experienced Member
It is a great lower stress way to reframe for your dog but it requires a lot of control over the stimuli so as to make it go away when the dog responds as you desire. Unf I rarely have such luxury of a non-resident safe dog to use for this work. If you find someone knowledgeable to work with you on it I would jump at the chance. There are other ways to do the training but not all things work for all dogs. This certainly should be in many people's tool boxes.


Staff member
I just had a dog aggressive pup sent to me for foster... I am keeping him lol. he was a stray and was most likley one for his whole life.. he's around 6-8 months old. I curbed his aggression using a spray bottle and lots of treats.... if he started to show any sign's of aggression (growl, showing of teeth, an aggressive stance) I'd give the leave it and a squirt. then treat when he paid attention to me.... it worked very quickly (and actually taught the leave it for other things too lol) a week after I got him he is meeting other dogs quietly with a wagging tail. if they approach aggressively, he looks to me for "advice" I will give him a treat for looking at me, tell him he's a good boy, then walk away. I use a "Nothing in Life is Free" approach to training, so they learn very quickly to look to me for everything. Its worked for us very well and I have rehabilitated several dogs that way. I seem to have a soft spot for these kinds of dogs and adopt them lol. Both of my Terrier mixes were dog aggressive when i adopted them, both are just fine now, and can run at the off-leash park without incident.