Inter-dog Aggression - A Growing Issue?

Aggression between dogs is a problem as old as time, but case’s seem to be on the rise in Bristol. My work in Bristol and surrounding areas (2018) now has around a 50/50 split of obedience work and behavioural work, which is a huge increase on previous years. Inter-dog aggression is very difficult for the owners of these dogs, it also presents a danger to the larger dog community.

The change in dog breed trends may provide some answers to this change. The current trend seems to be towards medium and small dogs with ‘Britain's Top 100 Dogs’ revealing this week that Number 1 & 2 were the Staffy and Cockapoo respectively. Old favorites like the Labrador, German Shepherd and Collie are slipping away in favour of the medium sized breeds.

This presents a problem for dogs and owners. Dog breeds are a manipulation of human needs. We have effectively created dogs of all sizes and shapes. In essence though they are still dogs, the issue comes when two vastly different sized dogs meet in the local park. Both may want to play but the size difference will make the play experience very different for each dog involved. The owners of these dogs also play a role, people with small dogs may be more protective of their dog around larger breeds.

The fact is, big dog’s are falling out of favour and are often blamed for any issues that may arise, even when the dogs are showing no aggression signs at all. The small dog may be stepped upon (dogs are super clumsy) or experience rough play making them afraid of other dogs. This produces a fear response resulting in aggression!

A small dog can bark and yap and no one blinks an eye, but if a Rottweiler or Doberman were to do the same people act very differently. Little dogs are given a lot of leeway for aggressive behaviors that a larger breed will never have.

I am not sure of the answer to this riddle, we (people) have chosen to breed dogs to unnatural sizes so the issues are self created. I just want people to be more aware of this problem, to give owners of large breed dogs a little understanding as well as awareness of how their big dog can effect the little ones.

The No.1 cause of inter-dog aggression is when one dog attacks another, the attacked dog is usually an adolescent dog (under 18 Months - 2 Years). The young dog then becomes very frightened of strange dogs and uses the only tools available to them, which is aggression. Fear in dogs is all about control, they want to control the other dogs and they quickly learn that showing aggression will likely do this. The young dog then becomes an old dog and attacks another young dog, and the cycle continues. Its like passing on a virus.

Undersocialing is another cause of inter-dog aggression, people can be wary of getting their young dog off-lead which can delay them meeting other dogs. All socialising should be done off-lead so your dog can run away, role on their back or assess the situation rather that being stuck on a lead.

Rescue dogs in particular will often have missed out on the all important early socialisation period. Owners rarely know the past of a rescue dog and those who do often say they have come from a home where the dog was never let out! Never let out, never been able to socialize and learn the skills.

Some dogs are also very naturally anxious and this can be down to the breed (Poodle types, Collies, German Shepherds) but can also be passed from the parents or even other dogs in the household. I see lots of puppies who are very anxious from the get-go, 8 weeks old and seemingly afraid of their own shadow. This is most likely to be genes and parental influence. Make sure you are choosing the right puppy so you avoid these issues.

In conclusion, some of these issues are avoidable and others are a way of life but we can do a few simple things to help the situation.

  • Choose the right puppy, research the breeds, speak to people who own them, make sure you see the parents.

  • If you see any aggression in your dog seek a behaviourist ASAP. Don’t leave it for week/months/years!

  • Be aware of others, accept that heavy play will occur and try not to rush to your dogs aid (unless of course it's obviously in danger).

  • Don’t let off-lead dogs approach on-lead dogs! It’s not fair on dog or owner. Your dog may be friendly but there's may not! - I literally cannot stress this enough!!!!

  • Be kind to each other, the situation between dogs often gets out of control by the reaction of the owners.

  • Get your young dogs off-lead as soon as they are fully vaccinated. A trainer can help you if you are not confident enough.

Until Next time!

Enjoy your dogs, that's why we have them :)

Steve