Why is My Dog Acting So Aggressively? How Do I Make It Stop?

17 12 2008
Gizmo & Ginger, Spike, dogs, behavior

Gizmo in the foreground, Ginger in the background

Earlier this month, a reader, Cindy, wrote me about her two dogs, Gizmo and Ginger.  Both of them are rescue dogs, Gizmo joining their family first, with Ginger joining later on as a companion to assist Gizmo’s separation anxiety.  They play well together 95% of the time, only having issues when Ginger’s energy is too much for Gizmo.  The problem Cindy is most concerned with however, is that when they go for a trip to the dog park, Gizmo exhibits some aggressive behavior, growling and mounting other dogs.

Cindy said that most people agree that Ginger is the dominant dog of the two, and she also stated that Ginger will sometimes provoke Gizmo by playing to the point that he growls at her.  When Gizmo finally has enough and growls at Ginger, Cindy corrects them, and I bet that the play stops.  A note here: Just because one dog instigates play with another, that does not necessarily make them the dominant dog in their relationship.  However, when a dog can end play with merely a growl, THAT is more likely the dominant dog.  When Gizmo does growl at Ginger, Cindy and her family correct it if they hear it.

Why correct the behavior?  Gizmo does not seem to mind if Ginger instigates the play, but when he says it is over, it is over!  Gizmo is just letting Ginger know that he, as the alpha dog, is done playing. Whenever you, the human, intervene by correcting Gizmo, then you are also questioning his authority among the pack.  He is then confused as to who is really in charge in the four-legged section of this pack.

My suggestion to Cindy and her family is this: Do not correct Gizmo when he disciplines Ginger.  She knows what the growl means.  If she does not stop aggravating Gizmo after the growl, then you can correct her by putting her into another room.  At this point, you are now showing true pack order.  You, of course, are the #1 Alpha.  Then there is Gizmo, and finally Ginger.

Cindy said all the trouble at the dog park started when Ginger came into the picture.  At the dog park, the dogs are left traditionally with minimal supervision. When you take the #1 Alpha out of the picture, you are left are with just the dogs.  In your pack, there are only two dogs.  They need a leader, and Gizmo is that leader or Alpha among the two dogs.  When you correct him for doing his job (correcting one of his pack members), then he does not really know his place in the pack, and he is confused.

This confusion carries itself over to the dog park, when you have left the house.  Since Gizmo is unsure of his place in the pack at home, he needs to find the right place in this new pack.  The easiest way for him to do so is by challenging the unfamiliar dogs.  Mounting behavior is a sign that one dog is trying to show that they are the alpha dog.  Usually, another dog will not like that, and they may growl at Gizmo, trying to start a fight with this dog who is challenging them.

In addition to allowing Gizmo show his authority at home, I suggest taking Gizmo and Ginger to the dog park when there are plenty of other dogs.  Make sure that they are both on a leash.  Have another member of your family take Ginger inside the dog park to play.  Make sure that you and Gizmo are in a position to see how much fun Ginger is having, and allow Gizmo to observe the play from outside the dog park.  If he begins to exhibit any aggressive behavior (growl, show teeth, etc.), then turn and walk away from the play area.  You could possibly return to your car or sit in another area.  Whatever you do, do not attempt to put him in a submissive position.  This did not work before, and it will continue not to work.  I am not saying that it is not ever an option, but it is not an option in a situation where dogs are showing aggression toward other dogs.  Gizmo does not care what kind of attention he gets, just as long as he gets some.  Trying to assume the alpha role was giving him attention.

When you walk away from the other dogs at play, you have now shown Gizmo that this behavior will cause him to lose his privilege of getting to watch.  Each time you visit the park, try to get closer and closer to the entrance with Gizmo.  Every time he exhibits aggressive behavior, then he must leave.  This is a behavior issue, and it takes time and repetition to modify a behavior.  You will not be able to do this exercise one or two times and assume that it did not work.  You may have to do this for several months!

Basically, what you are doing is letting Gizmo know that the true alpha will control his behavior by taking away something that he would really like to do.  Once he figures out that HIS behavior is what causes him to be taken away from something he likes, he WILL learn not to do the bad behavior again.

Over time, you will probably be able to enter the park, but only with Gizmo on a leash at first.  He must earn the privilege to be off-leash at the dog park again.  If he happens to begin to show any bad behavior, then he needs to be taken immediately away from the park.

Give it some time and let me know how Gizmo is doing.




One response

23 12 2008
Janet Roper

Great post, Spike. Thanks for sharing your wisdom

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