Dog/dog aggression

Dog-dog aggression, misunderstanding the problem

I receive emails and phone calls regularly about dogs with dog-dog aggression.  In most cases, distraught owners are trying to “correct” an issue they do not fully understand.   You need to fully understand canine body language and aggression before you should try to correct dog-dog aggression. There are different reasons for dog-dog aggression; it is not just one simple cause.You have the dog that explosively reacts the second they see a dog (even if it is not in your sight yet), a dog that sometimes reacts then other times seems “friendly”, a dog that gets along fine with dogs off leash but not on leash, and the dog that approaches other dogs friendly then “becomes Cujo” in an instant.  These are only a few of the descriptions we hear everyday. 

Different issues cause each description above. Unlike most trainers out there, I do not blame dominance for everything.  Too many trainers are very quick to label dog-dog aggression as a dominance problem.  This is not always the case.  In most cases the dog is clearly displaying stress & fear, correcting bad manners from another dog, reacting to your anxiety, or trying to stop you from being angry.

I have been asked on occasion to go to a dog park with clients (and if you read my “dog parks & why I avoid them” article, you know how I feel during these appointments).  It is always the same scene, pent up dogs running around out of control trying to dominate each other while other dogs cower near their owners who are trying to “force” them to play with the other dogs. This in itself should explain why we have issues of dog-dog aggression.

  Dog parks aside, a dog that approaches another dog then becomes Cujo in an instant, tells me one of two things.  Either the dog approached stiffly and gave a challenging stare, or the dog rushed in and rudely tried to say hello.  Sadly too many dogs are taken from mom too early and do not learn the proper “greeting” skills they need to stay out of trouble. If your dog is approached or is approaching another dog by rushing in paws first with the explosiveness of a truck, it’s a good chance they will be bitten; not because the other dog doesn’t like dogs but because that behavior is rude.  Tell me, if a stranger came running at you with their hands extended and yelling excitedly; would you stay there and see what happened next or would you go on the defensive, maybe even run away?  Your dog makes these same decisions.  Fight or flight, it is instinctual. 

 Another issue is the dog that sees another dog on leash and reacts before they even get near.  Again, this could be a couple of different things.  One, the dog may have been severely scolded at one time for “correcting” rude behavior and now must keep them far away before it upsets you again.  Two, it may not understand how to play and greet a dog properly.  We have had a couple of clients dogs that were so unsocialized they just truly did not understand how to play, the excitement of being around another dog literally launched them into a frenzy.  These dogs can learn how to play appropriately if done correctly. 

Bonita, the overly excited pit,  learned how to be calm around her biggest challenge, Chihuahuas
Bonita, the overly excited pit, learned how to be calm around her biggest challenge, Chihuahuas









  Then we do have dogs that have taken the lead role and will not allow another dog to come close to their pack members.   This is usually seen when a dog body blocks their owner and launches toward another dog with teeth bared and hair raised. Their bark is not anxious (high pitched and quick), but a deep threatening growl and bark.  Their bodies are very tense and their tails are held very high, some of these dogs will turn and snap at the owner if corrected (they are the leader after all and they say when aggression is allowed).  Picture yourself in a bar and an attractive young thing comes up to your significant other. While you may not show your teeth, you sure will stand in the way of their path, right?  And if your significant other tries to correct you, look out, the fight is on.  A dog that has the lead role in your pack will not chance another dog coming in to “take over”. 

  The last and worst misunderstood problem is fear.  A large majority of dogs out there have fear based dog-dog aggression.  Again, this is commonly mistaken for dominance.  They are sometimes called “insecure bullies”.  This is not an appropriate term for this problem.  Anxiety and fear will cause your dog to instinctually go into flight or fight mode.  While some dogs will try to run away, still others will put on an impressive screaming display while lunging at the other dogs because they feel they must “protect” themselves. We see this with leash aggression as well.  It only takes one time for a dog to feel unprotected by you while on leash to develop into a leash aggressive dog.

If you have a dog with dog-dog aggression, we recommend finding a trainer/behavior specialist who has experience working with all types of aggression, this way they can read the signs correctly and help you and your dog get through this properly.


Tara, Brandie & the Pack


8 thoughts on “Dog/dog aggression

  1. Hi there – Brilliant article! Please can you help me! I have a 7 month old Chihuahua – Pablo, who barks excessively at other dogs whilst on his lead. This is the only problem I have with him – he doesnt listen to me when i try to correct him, even though I am pack leader but he listens to me about everything else.
    He simply doesnt know how to greet other dogs properly – can you help?! X
    Best regards

    1. Hi Nadine
      We have many clients that contact us for dogs who simply do not know how to react or properly greet other dogs. We do offer socialization classes where we teach you and Pablo how to properly approach and greet other dogs, along with teaching you his body language so you can correct or prevent issues before they happen. We use our pack, one at a time, and the classes are never more then three client dogs. All the dogs are on leash, and clients dogs never greet, because they come to us for the same reasons and we do not want any rude introductions. The classes are an hour long and it is all done at your pace. Some people after one class, find they can manage and practice what they learned successfully. Others come to repeated classes just to practice with our pack, it is a calm atmosphere and our pack are trained for this so they know how to react.
      If you are interested in signing Pablo up for a social class, please email us at our business email,, and Brandie will schedule you in for our next available class.
      Thank you for contacting us, we look forward to hearing from you!
      Tara, Brandie, Amanda and the “pack”

  2. ps. forgot to mention, I have a collar and lead for him but I am weary about correcting him with his lead incase it damages his delicate neck – are there other, more effective corrections I can do whilst on the lead – I have heard spraying water at him will work but this seems a little inhumane?!

    1. Nadine,
      I do not like spraying water at a dog for a correction. While it may work in some cases, depending on Pablo’s pack drive, you may simply need to change your body posture or tone of voice to correct the issue, followed by praise for the right decisions he makes. It really can be that simple. Chihuahuas usually have a high pack drive, and are very in tuned to their owners body language, your verbal correction followed by praise may be all you need. I do not recommend using a collar on a small dog, for the same reason. Their little necks are way too fragile.

  3. Hi Tara,

    I’m interested in your ideas on why spray bottles should not be used for correction. When my dog becomes obviously aggressive, a squirt of water snaps her out of her mood much more effectively than a quick pop on her slip collar. Like you said, it depends on the dog, but I don’t want to do any psychological damage to her and want to make sure I’m doing the right thing.


    1. Steve
      Thanks for the question. It does depend on the dog, I do not like spray bottles because I also groom dogs with behavior problems. Some dogs when corrected with water, become very stressed when they get a bath. The spraying of water from a shower or hose can send them into a fight to get away. It really depends on your dogs flight drive. If your dog has a high flight drive, water may not be a good idea. On the same dog a correction on a slip may not be either, it would make the dog fear the owner instead of redirect from aggression. I would recommend finding out what your dogs drives are and take it from there. 🙂 Good luck & thank you again for the question.

  4. How do I find a good animal behavorist my dogs loved each other and since the one is pregnant they have to be kept separate.They are both boxers had the one (goaterella age 2) since puppy 9weeks and the pregnant one (emma age 1.5) I got at 9 months. My oldest dog Milley (german short haired pointer)I rescued she was 7 at the time has started growling and snatching at goaterella’s head I was really taken back because Milley whom I had first loved goaterella and they slept together never showed her aggression goat did not fight back she froze. But her and emma stare at each other and I keep separate because goat does go after her. Goaterella had a litter of puppies last July we kept none. Could it be hormonal? The boxers are both body blockers give me all the attention. How do you feel about harnesses versus collars? I live in bazetta ohio

    1. Donna
      It sounds like you have a power struggle for the alpha female role. The dominant female has the right to breed. So this could have sparked the constant challenges in your pack. I personally do not know anyone in Ohio, but when looking for a behaviorist, find out if they understand body language and pack behavior. If they tell you pack behavior does not play a role in domestic dogs, beware. For 20 years I have been studying aggression and pack behavior, as contraversial as it is I stand by my experience and refuse to go with the PC version to be in the “popular” loop. My goal is to help not “look” better.
      Harnesses were made for sled and tracking dogs LOL If you use an “easy walk” harness you may be successful but I find some boxers get into their roots with harnesses and feel like drafters 🙂

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