How to Train Your Dog to Not Attack Other Dogs

Medium
1-6 Months
Behavior

Introduction

You’re walking through gorgeous green fields, the sun is out, your canine friend is bounding around sniffing everything — but then, they turn rigid, their tail drops, and all of a sudden, they leap across the field to lunge at another dog. Your stomach turns and you charge after your dog, hoping to prevent a battle. It is a wholly embarrassing situation and one that can leave everyone involved feeling emotional.

Dogs that attack are often misunderstood. Fear and protection instincts often drive dogs to attack, but the effects can be devastating. Firstly, your dog or another dog may be seriously injured, causing pain, discomfort, and hefty vet bills. In some states, dogs that attack other dogs or humans are required to be put down. Getting a handle on this behavior is essential for the protection of both your dog and others. 

Defining Tasks

Training your dog not to attack other dogs might sound relatively straightforward, but it can actually be extremely challenging. This type of behavior is often a result of underlying issues that can be difficult to address. Therefore, successful training involves obedience, taking steps that reduce unsupervised physical interaction with other dogs, plus a number of other measures.

Rectifying aggressive behavior in puppies will be quicker and easier than changing the habits of older dogs, but it's absolutely vital if you want to avoid serious injury to your own dog and others. Dogs that attack other dogs can even go on to attack humans, so it's even more important you address any signs of aggression as soon as possible.

Consistency is key with this type of training, so you need to be prepared to be patient and put in the hours. It could take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months to fully train aggression towards other dogs out of your canine friend.

Getting Started

Before you get going with the methods below, you'll need to gather a few things. A secure collar and leash will be required. Make sure the collar is comfortable. You may also want to invest in a harness that allows you to have good control without the collar pulling on your dog's neck.

You'll also need a quiet place to train without too many distractions that isn't overpopulated with other pups. Treats or your dog's favorite food will also be needed to incentivize and reward them. Small, tasty training biscuits and pieces of cheese often go over well. Once you have these things and a proactive attitude, you’re ready to get to work!

The Sitting Pretty Method

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Step
1
Go to the park
Invite a fellow dog owner to an open area, such as a quiet public park. Avoid off-leash dog parks as they can exacerbate your dog's aggression. This activity is best done at a park with a dog-friendly walking trail.
Step
2
Treats count
Don't forget to bring plenty of high-value treats! (We also recommend doing this shortly before dinnertime so both doggos have an appetite.)
Step
3
Sit pretty
Put your leashed dog in a sit-stay position several feet off the trail and let the other dog walk by. Reward your buddy with a treat and praise each time they maintain a calm sit-stay without lunging or growling.
Step
4
Patience
Continue the exercise, Each calm session deserves a high five and a food reward. However, this may take several tries. The other dog will likely need to pass by several times, so be patient.
Step
5
Repeat and increase the intensity gradually
This step is a common theme in conditioning training. Once your dog understands what you want them to do, decrease the distance gradually. Continue your training and your buddy will be ready for a pup playdate before you know it!
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The Counter Conditioning Method

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Step
1
Take a walk and add treats
This method builds on the threshold concept from the Establish a Threshold training method. For your next walk, stash some of your dog's favorite treats in your pocket and head out for your walk. You can also work on counter conditioning if you have a large open space, like a big backyard, and a friend with a well-trained dog. If you're training at home, keep sessions short at first and be patient.
Step
2
Start counter conditioning
Counter conditioning teaches your dog that staying calm around other dogs earns them a tasty reward. Once you've reached the threshold distance and your pup sees the other dog, start feeding them treats and giving praise. It's important to start slow and to always use positive reinforcement. If they get aggressive, take away the treats and move to a safe distance.
Step
3
Walk and walk again
Remember, this process will take some time. You may need to go on dozens of walks or host several training sessions before the concept sinks in. Never punish your dog by yelling at or hitting them; this will only perpetuate the behavior and make them fearful of you. If they react calmly, continue lavishing them with treats and praise so they know they're on the right track.
Step
4
Repeat
Repeat step two as many times as necessary. Eventually, your dog will associate seeing another dog at the threshold distance with getting a treat. This is known as a conditioned emotional response. Once your pup is consistently calm, decrease the distance gradually and assess your dog's reactions. Over time, once your pup is able to walk calmly past another dog, you may want to add another dog to the mix. Continue to build on this skill by increasing the time and decreasing the distance.
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The Establish a Threshold Method

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Step
1
Brush up on obedience training
Working on obedience is the first step to conditioning your dog to associate other dogs with good things, like treats, praise, and pats. A dog with knowledge about behavior is a wonderful thing. Make sure your dog is willing to heel and sit-stay on cue. Use positive reinforcement during this process.
Step
2
Take a walk
Once you're confident that your pal will follow your commands, leash up and take a walk in an area where you'll pass other dogs, but keep your distance. Think of this walk as an experiment. You want to establish a "threshold" distance. Notice roughly how far away the other dog is when your dog starts showing signs of aggression.
Step
3
Double the threshold distance
If your dog starts growling or lunging at a distance of 20 feet, move them 40 feet away at the very first sign of aggression. (This includes the stare-down that often precedes aggressive behavior.) This teaches them that you'll protect them from what they perceive as danger. Never force your dog to interact with other dogs if they're fearful or protective.
Step
4
Mind your body language
Your dog will pick up on your emotions. Tensing up or gripping the leash tightly might make them more fearful or aggressive. Maintain a calm yet firm demeanor to let your dog know there's no danger.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Finley
Sheepadoodle
6 Years
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Question
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Finley
Sheepadoodle
6 Years

She attacks other dogs unprovoked. She has done this sinne she was a puppy & even on occasion did it with my older dog. I just though it was jealousy, she does it through the fence to my neighbors dog. I don’t know what to do about it.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Karen, I would see if there is a G.R.O.W.L. class in your area. Honestly, this is something I would work with a professional trainer in person for. Look for someone who works with at least one other trainer and has access to lots of other dogs to practice obedience with you and counter conditioning around. Since they have been doing this since they are a puppy, this is probably pretty ingrained and needs a comprehensive approach. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Apollo
Lab mix
1 Year
-1 found helpful
Question
-1 found helpful
Apollo
Lab mix
1 Year

I take him on multiple walks a day-he isn't super interested in humans but when he sees other dogs he stands straight up with his tail and ears perked. He pulls as much as he can to get closer and makes noise when I don't let him go. I can't tell if it's aggression or wanting to meet the other dog.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I would see if there is a G.R.O.W.L. class in your area, which is a class for dog reactive/aggressive dogs, where safety measures like basket muzzles are in place, and social interactions and desensitizing are practiced in a structured environment. Whether pup is aggressive or just reactive or excited, this can be a good way to safely find out and desensitize pup to other dogs. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Holly
Border Terrier
10 Years
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Question
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Holly
Border Terrier
10 Years

Holly attacks others dogs, on and off the lead. We can walk past a dog/dogs and about 60 percent of the time she will lunge snarling aggressively. She will attack if off the lead.

She is crossed with an Irish Terrier

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lesley, I recommend signing up for a G.R.O.W.L. class if there is one in your area, which is a class specifically for dog reactive/aggressive dogs. With dog aggression, it's best to have the resources of other dogs to practice the training around in a controlled setting, where you can control the repetition, types of other dogs around, distance to the other dog, and other factors. With more control of these variables through a training group or aggression specific class, you can then counter condition and work on obedience commands to facilitate changing pup's emotional response toward other dogs, building pup's impulse control, attention and responsiveness to you, and teaching pup coping skills. A basket muzzle is also a helpful tool with dog aggression, that you can start desensitizing pup to ahead of time using food rewards. If she is normally fine with you without other dogs present, you can begin introducing her by placing the muzzle on the ground and sprinkle her meal kibble around it. Do this until she is comfortable eating around it. Choose a basket type muzzle for this. I like the comfort of the silicone basket muzzles for most dogs. Next, when she is comfortable with it being on the floor with food, hold it up and reward her with a piece of kibble every time she touches or sniffs it in your hand. Feed her her whole meal this way. Practice this until she is comfortable touching it. Next, hold a treat inside of it through the muzzle's holes, so that she has to poke his face into it to get the kibble. As she gets comfortable doing that, gradually hold the treat further down into the muzzle, so that she has to poke his face all the way into the muzzle to get the treat. Practice until she is comfortable having her face in it. Next, feed several treats in a row through the muzzle's holes while she holds his face in the muzzle for longer. Practice this until she can hold his face in it for at least ten seconds while being fed treats. Next, when she can hold her face in the muzzle for ten seconds while remaining calm, while her face is in the muzzle move the muzzle's buckles together briefly, then feed her a treat through the muzzle. Practice this until she is not bothered by the buckles moving back and forth. Next, while she is wearing the muzzle buckle it and unbuckle it briefly, then feed a treat. As she gets comfortable with this step, gradually keep the muzzle buckled for longer and longer while feeding treats through the muzzle occasionally. Next, gradually increase how long she wears the muzzle for and decrease how often you give her a treat, until she can calmly wear the muzzle for at least an hour without receiving treats more than two treats during that hour. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Jelly
Boston Terrier
4 Years
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Question
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Jelly
Boston Terrier
4 Years

My dog had been in fights with my ex wife’s dog and now he shows aggression to dogs on walks and randomly attacks my girlfriends dog who now lives with us randomly and out of nowhere. The other dog may just be laying on the couch and out of nowhere he wants to attack her.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Megan, I would start by seeing if there is a G.R.O.W.L. class in your area pup can attend, to work on improving pup's association with other dogs, and increase their responsiveness to you around other dogs. That class is a class for dog reactive/aggressive dogs who work on increasing socialization and being desensitized to other dogs in a structured environment while wearing basket muzzles for safety and being guided by the class instructor. At home, I would work on building trust and respect for you so that they are not making and enforcing rules for another dog, but looking to you to do so. You want to add in a lot more structure and boundaries for now, working on things like the working method linked below, teaching a 2 hour long Place, directional commands like Off, Out (which means leave the area), Down, Leave It, and Off, so that you can tell them where they should and should not be in relation to being pushy with you or bullying another dog, and both dogs should be crate trained for times when you can't supervise interactions. Working and Consistency methods: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Leave It: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Out - which means leave the room: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Keep a drag leash on pup when you are present also if they won't listen to your directional commands once learned well. Calmly lead pup where you told them to go as needed by picking up the end of the leash. If you see any signs of aggression toward you, pause and get professional help to deal with aggression toward you also. Training will likely need to be mortified to take extra precautions to keep you safe. Don't risk a bite. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Nyla
Chow Chow
7 Years
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Question
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Nyla
Chow Chow
7 Years

Hi! My dog Nyla has been extremely reactive/aggressive towards other dogs since rescuing her when she was 4. The first year of having her we were unable to even be near a dog within 50ft without her going crazy. Then I was out in a spot where I had to move in with people who had a 120lb dog as well. It took quite a bit of time going on distanced walks but eventually they were able to meet. She then lived with that dog for 2 years and they’re still best buds! My boyfriend and I are getting a puppy this week from a litter his brothers dog just had. I’m looking for any advice on the best way to approach this situation. We live in a spacious one bedroom townhome (one level). I’m wondering what I can do to make the transition easier on her and also not traumatize the puppy. I really don’t want the puppy to learn her bad behavior. Thanks in advance!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Mikayla, I would keep the dogs in separate parts of the home until they can get along in neutral territory, rotating crate time and free time, with your older dog's crate in a room where they don't see the puppy out. For introductions, I would do what's probably similar to how you introduced the other dog. Check out the article linked below and following the Passing Approach method until they dogs can do well with that, then switch to the walking together method, starting far apart again, until the dogs can finally walk together. Do one family dog at a time. I recommend starting this process now if you live close enough, because this will probably take a lot of walks, getting gradually closer overtime to get to the point where they are ready to walk together and greet. Passing Approach and Walking Together methods: https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs For safety, I would get your dog used to wearing a basket muzzle ahead of time also, and have your dog wear the muzzle when not crated around the other dog early on once they are ready to be out of the crate together. Use a basket muzzle so pup can still open their mouth and be given treats through the muzzle's holes. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s In addition to crate training and heeling walks, I would work up to a solid 1-2 hour place command, for the puppy this will take extra time. The goal once they can be in the same room together would be having both on separate Place beds (puppy in exercise pen at first) from across the room so they can get desensitized to each other safely. Life would need to be very structured and dogs played with and fed separately, to avoid competition early on. Basically home would be very obedience class-like when they were together, to prevent potential fights. I would work on building trust and respect for you ahead of time also so that they are not making and enforcing rules for each other, but looking to you to do so. You want to add in a lot more structure and boundaries for now, working on things like the working method linked below, teaching both a 2 hour long Place, directional commands like Off, Out (which means leave the area), Down, Leave It, and Off, so that you can tell them where they should and should not be in relation to being pushy with you or bullying each other, and both should be crate trained. Working and Consistency methods: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Leave It: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Out - which means leave the room: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Keep a drag leash on pups when you are present (and crate when not present) if they won't listen to your directional commands once learned well. Calmly lead pup where you tell them to go as needed by picking up the end of the leash. If you see any signs of aggression toward you, pause and get professional help to deal with aggression toward you also. Training will likely need to be mortified to take extra precautions to keep you safe. Don't risk a bite. This should help prevent a traumatic experience for the puppy too. Since your dog won't be the place puppy should be learning early doggie social skills from, even though they may learn to get along as equals later, I also highly recommend enrolling the puppy in a puppy kindergarten class that has time for off-leash moderated puppy play, or some other moderated puppy play group, simply for the social practice with other puppies - who are the best teachers for each other when it comes to dog interactions - better than even well socialized adults. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/puppy-classes-when-to-start/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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