Dog-dog aggression: a self-help guide

Treatment protocol for dog-dog on-leash aggression
By Laure-Anne Viselé, August 2010


A friend of mine wrote to me from Thailand recently. She’d adopted a starving street dog who is  hopelessly dog-dog aggressive. Given the distance involved, I could only help her educate herself on some specific topics and point her in the right direction. In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought. I might as well publish what I wrote to her in case it can of use to somebody else without access to a behaviour therapist.

I know it’s not ideal and does not show a lot of respect for the profession to assume that a ‘civilian’ can do this on their own, but truth is, we have to make do with what we have, and behaviour therapists are extremely rare in countries other than the UK, US and Australia. So I am hoping that a little help is better than none. Time will tell.

Books to read

First of all, I would check out these books:


– FEISTY FIDO – HELP FOR THE LEASH AGGRESSIVE DOG (Patricia McConnell). She explains the protocol of desensitisation really nicely, but I would do ‘look at that’ (see book below) instead of the ‘look away’ in this book.

– CONTROL UNLEASHED – McDevitt-Learn, Leslie (only the bits about reactivity. The “look at that” game)


Some more explanations

Sorry I can’t be more specific/long in my answer, but it’s really pointless as I would need to see how he responds to whatever you’re trying. The essential thing to remember is to keep things sub-threshold and learn to read his stress signals (check out Brenda Aloff’s book) and never flood him (confront him with what makes him uncomfortable to the point that he panicks).

Basically, it’s all about counterconditionning (making what he used to find awful really nice) and desensitisation (making what he used to find awful boring/irrelevant).

Tips and pointers

Some isolated tips to bear in mind when you design your method:

  • Make sure that he never has a reason to find another dog stressful. Meaning, do not ever let another dog scare him, get in his face, bite him, etc. Get in between if you must, but it could destroy all your previous work and set you back months.
  • Protect him from negative dog-dog encounters at all costs. What’s negative for him could be very subtle (see Brenda Aloff book for reading signs of stress). If you see him sniff the floor but not look at the floor, for example, or lick his lips. Those are signs of discomfort. The better you are at reading these, the furthest away the dog will be from being ‘above threshold’ (i.e. no longer comfortable, above his stress tolerance, thus adding this negative encounter to his association with dogs).
  • Once you’ve read the books, before you get started on your theapy, write down every detailed situation where you’d like improvement, and work on the easiest, most basic first. The easiest will take weeks, then the rest will follow more easily.
  • Think of when he’s worst (e.g. on the leash and close to a barking, male dog), and make sure you don’t confront him to that situation until very late in your programme (could be months from now). It’s all about gradation and keeping the dog sub-threshold. Every single dog-dog encounter must be from very far at the beginning, and your dog can show no sign of stress.
  • You’ll be using lots of treats for this. To stop him getting fat, divide up his ration at the start of the day and take that wherever you go so you can distribute it appropriately.
  • It’s perfectly OK to avoid other dogs for the time being. It’s not a sign of failure. They call it “management” in behaviour therapy. And is absolutely essential for the therapy to work. Depending on how successful you are, you may not need any management at all towards the end (your dog is offleash close to other dogs and no problem at all).
  • Remember, make every encounter with a dog (at the beginning, from very far away) really pleasant. Always immediately follow it with treats and never push him too far.

Good luck!

Let me know if you hit a snag on the way and I’ll try to help.

Follow Canis_bonus on Twitter

This entry was posted in Dog behaviour and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Posted 19 August 2010 at 17:02 | Permalink

    Funny, a couple of days later, I got a very similar message from another friend: “Hiya LA,
    what’s the best way we can tackle dog on dog aggresion?
    It’s ruining our walks as she goes MENTAL with 99% of all other dogs, lunging, baring teeth etc, so thete’s no way we can let her off the lead!!
    in the house, she’s vv.v good, and will sit, go to bed, lie down ect no worries, so the though is that she was never socialiseduntill w got her aged 1 from the shelter.
    any tips PLEASE!!
    we go to puppy school once a week, and Drizz has run with his pack of 10 dogs NO problem!! but that man is a magician 🙂

  2. Posted 19 August 2010 at 17:06 | Permalink

    In response to Friend #2 (‘that man is a magician’). Lots of dogs show aggression only when on-leash. Miracle explained, LOL.

  3. Louise Folkard
    Posted 20 August 2010 at 11:24 | Permalink

    Hi Laure-Anne, I’ve just quickly read your Canis Bonis bit, but the trouble is, we can’t gaurantee that on our 3 walks a day we don’t bump into any other dogs, when we see a dog in the distance we will turn and go the other way but that’s the best we can do.
    Drizzle is constantly getting upset/ angry with dogs we can’t keep her away from 🙁

    • Posted 24 August 2010 at 15:12 | Permalink

      Hi Louise. That’s an issue for most of us. There’s the training recommendations, and there’s the real world. I would say do your best to avoid at least being really close to them, distract the dog, stay calm yourself, and make it a nice event when there is a dog.
      Unfortunately, there really is no quick fix, and every time she gets roused up, she’ll feel worse about the next encounter (fear of fear, kind of). But I would definitely invest the time in reading these books. Just SCAREDY DOG and CANINE BODY LANGUAGE if you’re really pushed for time, so you can digest the concepts.
      Another pointer is: remember it’s unlikely to be downright aggression, it’s much more likely to be “showing muscle before the other guy does”, so motivated by fear . Don’t know if that makes you feel better and less frustrated with the dog?
      If you do the protocol really perfectly (who does?), you can see dramatic improvements quite quickly (within a couple of weeks). But you’ll have to design a protocol that suits your own limitations.

      I find that coming up with brainy games with my dog also chills him out a lot, which helps tackling the bigger problems.

28 Trackbacks

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>