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previously friendly dog extremely aggressive towards all other dogs

1642 Views 7 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  Nil
I've had my dog, Rowen, for about three years. I got her from a shelter when she was 4 months old. She's a 55 pound 'pit' mix of some sort. I think she's part great dane. She looks less like a pit than many pit mixes I've seen, but she definitely has some in her.

Anyway, for the first year I had her, I was unemployed and living in Naples Florida - the lamest place on earth - so I had nothing to do but take her to the local dog park. I took her every day. She loved going. When she was there she exhibited absolutely no aggressive tendencies. Other dogs would growl at her, bark at her, take toys away from her, and she wouldn't mind at all. It was like she was completely oblivious to the various dominance games all the other dogs were involved in. She just loved to play. Sometimes fights would break out, and Rowen would excitedly gallop towards them, thinking it was another form of playing. There were dogs that frequented the park that only Rowen was able to play with because only she would tolerate their roughness or barking.

Eventually, she did end up getting into a fight with another dog. It had bitten on to her neck and wouldn't let go. Somehow the other dog got flipped around, and twisted Rowen's skin in the process. This hurt her, so she went into snarl mode. It only lasted a couple seconds and as soon as it was over, she was back to her happy-go-lucky self. The other dog wouldn't snap out of attack mode, and had to leave the park. But, not before trying to attack Rowen again and even one of the other dog's own siblings. Rowen didn't respond to the second attack with any sort of aggression. No dogs were hurt.

When I moved away from Naples, I stopped going to the dog park every day, but still went pretty frequently. Rowen did get in a few more fights. But, it was always because another dog attacked her. When I say fight, I really just mean a snarling match. It was always with dogs that had no business being at the park. Once, an off-leash dog ran up to us in the woods and started snarling at her. That resulted in a snarling match.

When we moved again, I still took her to the dog park. But, at the new dog park the fights seemed to happen more frequently. The first couple were when some mean little dogs attacked her just for being too close to them. However, more and more it became hard to tell why the fights were happening or which dogs were causing them. I probably should have stopped going earlier, but after going to the dog park literally hundreds of times it was hard for me to accept that she could have an aggression problem. After the skirmishes she would always go back to normal immediately and continue playing with the dogs she had just been fighting with as though nothing had happened. She never hurt another dog or got hurt herself.

But, everything came to a head when we got a puppy, Freya. The reason we got Freya was to provide a companion for Rowen to play with. Rowen always seemed pretty depressed when she was inside. She's very awkward indoors. She doesn't really move around comfortably. She gets scared of harmless things. Any sort of unusual movement or sound scares her. At first, she wouldn't even cross over a wire if it were laying on the floor. She also doesn't seem to derive much comfort from her interactions with humans. She responds very timidly or awkwardly to any kind of affection. When I pet her, I get the feeling that she thinks it's some sort of examination or something. She just prefers to be left alone. Outdoors, it's very different. I still don't think she likes the affection, but I can roll her over or really do anything without her feeling threatened.

My girlfriend and I thought getting a puppy would help to lighten the mood up indoors, and it actually has helped a little. But, when we first got her, Freya, despite being a lot smaller and younger than Rowen, was extremely dominating. She wouldn't let Rowen do anything. When we first brought her home she attacked Rowen over a toy almost immediately. They get along pretty well now. When Rowen isn't feeling especially nervous, they'll play indoors. But, outside, they are able to play pretty well together.

However, seemingly coincidental with our acquisition of Freya was Rowen's complete rejection of anything but negativity and aggression towards strange dogs. She snarls at every dog we pass on the street. This started before we got Freya but wasn't as complete until Freya came around. It might just be pure coincidence. It seemed to be going in this direction before we got Freya.

The underlying mental state behind the behavior is hard to understand. Sometimes we'll see a dog on the street and Rowen will start whimpering and whining and wagging her tail like she wants to go meet the other dog or play. But, when she gets near it she'll just start snarling. Today, a little off leash dog came running up to us in the park. Everything was going fine. Freya was excited. I was petting it, saying "nice puppy." Rowen was sniffing it. The little dog was excited. Suddenly, Rowen starts snarling for no reason at all. I'm not sure even she knows why she does it.

Rowen is very obedient. She doesn't pull on the leash. She listens to everything I say. This aggression is the only behavior of hers I would change.

Can anyone shed any light on the situation?
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I would first like to know if this dog has seen a vet recently and if you have gotten blood tests done. A change in behavior, especially one that seems this drastic, can be caused by imbalances in hormones. So I would suggest first getting blood work done and having the dog specifically get the thyroid checked. Barring any issues there I would like to ask a couple questions/say some things.

1. How do you train Rowen?

2. Do you leave Freya and Rowen home alone together when no one is there to watch them?

3. Did this behavior happen before you got Freya and you were in this new house? Could there be something in the environment around your house that could be getting her worked up? (Sometimes neighbors might have those silent bark things that sends out unpleasant sounds to get dogs to stop barking. Could something like that be happening?)

4. Pits are terriers and terriers have a very feisty personality. Pits are also prone to dog aggression (DA). I'm not saying she is DA though. It sounds like she is scared or anxious to me. Putting on a big aggressive display gets other dogs to back away from her. The whole idea of "look tough, act tough" and no one will bother you. As to why she is doing this, who knows.

5. I would stop taking her to the dog park. Dog parks are really not that great for a lot of reasons. They can be great when the dogs are trained to some extent and the owners are willing and able to remove their dogs and watch them. A lot of people just throw there dogs in there then just don't pay any attention which can lead to dogs picking fights, being a bully, etc. They are great when the owners are on the same page and are all committed to watching their dogs and moderate the play, but when they are not it can be disastrous. IF something were to happen and someone or some dog gets hurt, that dog is most likely going to be labeled dangerous and either gets put down or has to live the rest of its life with a muzzle per law.

There is counter conditioning techniques to use that focus on changing her emotional state when you have dogs approaching. These videos might help to explain more clearly too.

Behavioral Adjustment Training (BAT): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMc-zyNfRO0

'Look At That' Game: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdraNF2hcgA (Teaches the dog to see a trigger (in this case other dogs) and not react. Rather it becomes a game to look at another dog then look at handler for food reward. Now you have a dog who is willingly looking at other dogs and choosing to look back at you versus aggress).

Do you have any one on one time with Rowen without Freya?

Does Rowen appear more comfortable without Freya around? Does Rowen have an area that is "hers" where Freya isn't allowed?

Edit: I wouldn't allow her completely off leash unless she has a real solid recall either. I would also limit her interaction with smaller dogs for awhile. I'm not saying she will hurt them BUT if she did aggress towards a small dog, a small dog is more likely to be hurt due to their size. I don't trust my dog around small dogs at all. She is fine with them mostly but she plays rough and even rough play can hurt/scare/even kill a smaller dog so I just prevent it.
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She's been to a vet recently, but didn't have a blood test done. I'll get on that. She has always seemed very lethargic or almost depressed when she's inside. The thing is, as soon as she's outside she becomes pretty energetic, though she doesn't get as excited as she used to. She gets plenty of exercise.

1. We use a prong collar for corrections during our walks. When we take her off leash (which we haven't been doing recently) we use a shock collar for corrections. We make her do a few tricks for her breakfast and dinner. I'll give her verbal praise when she obeys a command on walks. She's never really needed that much training though. She's never really done much of anything that we didn't want her to do. We taught her to come when called when she is outside off leash by using the shock collar. When she exhibits the aggressive behavior towards other dogs I'll correct her with the prong collar and the utterance of "Hey!"

2. Yes, but when they are alone, Freya is in her crate, while Rowen freely roams around the apartment.

3. It's hard to say for sure, but things did seem to start escalating from just random encounters to a pattern of increased fighting and aggression when we moved this last time. She definitely starting snarling at dogs on the street before we got Freya. But, I remember a few snarling matches that occurred on the street even before we moved. It's hard to pinpoint exactly when she started initiating it and when it became a problem. At first, it seemed like just a preemptive thing she was doing because she was expecting the other dog to do it to her. That started after a few run ins with mean little dogs on the street and at the park. It seemed like it was just little dogs at first that she didn't like. I think that was before we got Freya. But, it seemed like right when we got Freya that she started indiscriminately doing it without any reason.

It is possible that there's something around here that's bothering her. There's a very noisy beagle across the street that Rowen especially doesn't like. She got in a fight with it at the dog park. At the time I thought it was just an anomaly since she recognized the beagle from the neighborhood and perhaps thought it was threatening her home territory. Plus, it was really loudly barking at her.

She doesn't seem any more stressed or uncomfortable in the new place than she has in any other place though. But, she's always seemed very uncomfortable inside and very happy when she's outside. The aggression is the only thing I can tell that is new.

4. I definitely wouldn't call her a feisty dog. She's very mellow and a little distant. She also doesn't seem to be interested in dominating other dogs. She's never once put up any resistance against Freya's dominant behavior. She will get a little aggressive with Freya if she thinks Freya has crossed the line, but she'll let Freya take her toys without seeming to care.

I do think it's an anxiety problem that has developed due to various negative interactions with other strange dogs. I don't think it's in her nature because of more than 2 years of nothing but positivity towards other dogs. She used to just love other dogs.

5. Yeah, I've grown to dislike the dog park. The one in Naples was great because it was just the same few regulars all the time. It was also clean. I think I've accepted that we shouldn't go anymore.

Occasionally I'll take them out separately. She doesn't seem to be that much more comfortable without Freya. She doesn't seem too uncomfortable with Freya either. They'll wrestle over sticks and chase each other. She's not really afraid of Freya at all. They'll even wrestle a bit inside and it seems completely normal. Freya sometimes seems to be offended by Rowen's insubordination during play, but Rowen never seems to really notice. Never has Rowen led me to believe that she cares one way or the other about the whole dog social hierarchy thing. It's like Rowen doesn't really care enough to put up a fight or be bothered by Freya's domination attempts, but doesn't acknowledge Freya's dominance at all.

For instance, if Rowen is chewing a toy that Freya wants, Freya will start running around Rowen and barking. Rowen will just keep on chewing without even acknowledging Freya. But, eventually Freya will just take the chew toy, and Rowen will just let her and go find another toy. But, if Rowen felt like playing, she'd have no problem going and taking her toy back to try and initiate play.

Rowen has a chair that she spends a lot of time on. Freya doesn't really sit on it that often. I don't know if she considers it hers or not.

Thanks for the links. I'll look over them. I'm definitely going to keep them on a leash until I feel completely safe. When she's off leash she does seem to be less aggressive though. The thing is. She plays very rough too, especially when it's both her and her sister. This causes some dogs to exhibit a little aggression in defence, which I think Rowen interprets as pure threat which causes her to "attack." But, yeah, I'll be keeping her on leash.
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1. We use a prong collar for corrections during our walks. When we take her off leash (which we haven't been doing recently) we use a shock collar for corrections. We make her do a few tricks for her breakfast and dinner. I'll give her verbal praise when she obeys a command on walks. She's never really needed that much training though. She's never really done much of anything that we didn't want her to do. We taught her to come when called when she is outside off leash by using the shock collar. When she exhibits the aggressive behavior towards other dogs I'll correct her with the prong collar and the utterance of "Hey!"
These are the things I notice. Keep in mind though, I am a random person off the internet who hasn't seen your dog so what I say is just based on what I know about the situation from what you have described.

Correcting aggression is bad. Aggression in dogs is very ritualized and integral to their communication, meaning that rarely do all out life threatening fights happen, as you noticed. Mostly it is posturing, some noise, a flash of teeth, then it’s practical over before it begins. Aggression is a dog’s way of saying “go away, knock it off” or warn another dog of something. It is very normal and natural. HOWEVER, if Rowen for whatever reason feels threatened, scared,, or unsure and growls at a dog and then you correct her, she is going to become MORE nervous, more unsure, and will put on a more vicious display (that is what this sounds like) in order to get the other dogs away from her so she doesn’t get corrected. Sometimes dogs will pair the correction to the advancement of another dog too. So when she sees another dog she is thinking “I have to get this dog away or else I will get corrected so BARK BARK BARK”. Correcting aggression can also escalate it. If she growls and gets corrected for it she learns “I can’t growl” so instead of growling she will escalate to biting. Now you have a dog that will not growl or warn before it bites. Yikes. Not good. Also, when you use corrections like that you are essentially setting yourself up to have to use MORE force to get the correction to work. What would you do if Rowen growled? Leash pop? What if she went to bite another dog? Stronger leash pop? Now she is confused, being corrected for things she doesn’t understand, and is learning that all dogs out there are a danger to her because she could get corrected. I feel like you have in some ways set Rowen up to behave like this. That is what it sounds like, at least.

Where do you train?

Her behavior inside makes it sound like a dog that is very nervous, very edgy. I think it may have to do with the shock collar/correction training. Do you train inside a lot or give a lot of corrections inside the house? It sounds like she is afraid and knowing you use corrections, that could be a reason why. A dog who doesn’t understand what is expected of them can get into that constant vigilance stage where they are unsure about everything. “If I walk in this room will I get a correction? There is a plate on the floor, will I get a correction?”. Corrections, used improperly, can make a dog afraid of its environment because the environment may bring on corrections and the dog doesn’t know how to prevent it.

She may just be getting selective in her age too. Some dogs don’t prefer the boundless energy of puppies or more exuberant dogs. Some dogs just enjoy the companionship of exploring together and not jumping all over one another. Have you tried getting together with someone who has a male dog about her size and seeing if she does well? These kinds of things are fun because the dog can get some socialization; you know the dog, know the owner, know if they get along, etc. To me she doesn’t sound aggressive. To me this sounds like frustration and confusion and then aggression that is based out of that confusion and frustration.

Edit: This link kind of explains the whole growling thing much more thoroughly: The Gift of Growl
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The first part sounds good. I'll stop trying to correct her aggressiveness. I was only halfheartedly doing it because it didn't even seem to register when I did it. One thing we tried was for either me or my girlfriend to approach a strange dog before Rowen had a chance to meet it and let her see us pet the dog so she could see it wasn't a threat. Sometimes we'd do it with Freya. Rowen would start whimpering and wagging her tail like she wanted to play but then as soon as she got a chance to meet the other dog she would start snarling. That's why I'm not even sure there even is any underlying reason. It's like she just smells a smell and goes nuts like she doesn't even know what's going on.

As for the second part, we only started using corrections of any sort when we started wanting her to be able to be offleash, which was well after she stopped misbehaving indoors. We've never used either the prong or the shock collar indoors. Regrettably I did yell at her a few times when we first got her and she had had an accident. I wasn't yelling in anger. I was just doing what I thought I should do to get her to stop. But, I stopped that within a week of getting her. She's always been nervous inside. She was a stray before we adopted her. She very well may have spent the first 4 months of her life outdoors. She was akward and nervous indoors from the very first day I brought her home. There was always the outdoor/indoor thing with her. Especially when she was a puppy, she was like a different dog when she'd get outside.
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I think she is showing fear aggression. The dog park may have a lot to do with developing fear aggression and your corrections have worsened it.
Basically, you started with a slightly nervous and unsure of herself dog. Then she went to a place where she was repeatedly attacked. She would normally look to her owner to keep her safe from a second attack, but to her confusion, you kept taking her to that place. So she figured out she needed to defend herself; make "preemptive strikes" by growling or snapping at other dogs to keep them away.
Then, you brought another dog into the home. A home that she didn't feel all that secure in to begin with and now there is this annoying creature taking her toys and harassing her. To top it off, it is a female dog and in breeds with a tendency towards dog aggression especially, same-sex pairings have a higher chance of aggression issues. female-female pairings tend to be the worst.

Steps I would take:
No toys or treats when the dogs are loose together. Only give toys and treats when Rowen can enjoy them in peace.

No more shock collar. Like explained above, she is associating the punishment with the dog, not her action towards it.

No more off-leash. Any dog showing aggression for ANY reason (fear aggression is still aggression even if the root causes and the fixes for it are different than plain old dog aggression) should NEVER be off-leash outside of a private fenced yard.

No dog parks (I think you have figured this one out :) )

Build trust. Lots of one-on-one positive training and bonding time. Try playing training games or finding an activity she really likes.

No meeting strange dogs on walks. On-leash meetings with strange dogs are stressful and serve no benefit for training the dog and have a high chance of failure (one or the other dog acting aggressively or any other negative action)
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Well, I had this giant response typed up. Unfortunately, I deleted it by hitting the Reply to Thread button rather than the Post Quick Reply button.

Thanks for the advice. I will follow it.

However, I disagree with your story. Rowen was never the least bit shy or timid at the dog park. Upon entering the park she will excitedly run full speed to the nearest or biggest pack of dogs and immediately join in whatever they are doing. She get's excited just hearing the words "dog park." In Naples, she had the reputation of being the most fun-loving dog there with the ability to get all the other dogs excited to play.

Also, I think she's become somewhat more comfortable indoors since we got Freya.

I know the type of dog you're thinking of and I don't think Rowen is one of them. If I had to describe her using metal illness terms I'd say she's more autistic than anxious. That's not to say that it isn't anxiety that's causing the aggression or that it wasn't the dog park that caused it to surface. But, in general, she's not one of those super shy timid dogs.

At the dog park, a really shy dog will usually stake out it's own safe zone, normally by its owner. It'll wait around there, nervously watching the other dogs play. Then, if the other dogs get too close it will lash out. Rowen, on the other hand, will run around, almost frolicking, picking up sticks, chasing other dogs, wrestling, sometimes she'll just wander off and explore. She was especially good one on one with really rough dogs because she would tolerate extremely rough play without getting upset.
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Rowen would start whimpering and wagging her tail like she wanted to play but then as soon as she got a chance to meet the other dog she would start snarling. That's why I'm not even sure there even is any underlying reason. It's like she just smells a smell and goes nuts like she doesn't even know what's going on
Are you sure she is excited to meet the dog? A wagging tail doesn't always mean friendly. This site kind of explains some of it: A Wagging Tail Doesn't Always Mean Friendly.

I'm not trying to question your judgement or anything since you are the one observing her, but being able to read dog body language is really important in trying to determine if she is giving friendly signals or if she is unsure/nervous. These links are kind of nice to get an overall idea of what she is showing you. I would suggest getting a Canine Behavior book (that has lots of photos) so you can learn 'what is what' in the dog world. It's just something nice to know and learn about and it will be of use to you probably the rest of your life between knowing what your dogs are trying to tell you and what other dogs may be trying to tell you.

Dog Body Language
Dog Body Language - PDF
Dog Body Language - ASPCA site

The being unsure indoors could have stemmed from her life as a stray too. If she didn't spend her early months in a house it could be very strange and bizarre to her. How did you housetrain her? Did you use corrections with her then? Her insecurity indoors could be from any number of things really. To work on that I would make indoors really fun. Play lots of fun games with her like hiding treats and encouraging her to find them. Do some positive training with her and basically teach her that inside the house is where the fun things are (fun toys she can only have inside, fun treats/games she only does inside, etc). She may never truly love being inside but you can make it more comfortable by showing her that it is a fun place to be. (This should be done without Freya around though to limit any guarding or bullying. Just spend 15 minutes of one-on-one time with Rowen and do some fun stuff with her.)

I agree with Shell about the dog parks, off leash, and no meeting dogs on walks.

I think play groups with other dogs are great but maybe not to the extent of the dog park. She may do great in the dog park but here is the issue, I think (which I think you already may agree with to some extent). Any dog/owner can walk into a dog park. One day a dog may be there that is having a bad day and for whatever reason Rowen and this dog go at it. IF there ever came a time when Rowen hurt or killed another dog, she will most likely be put down and/or labeled as aggressive. Pit Bulls (even mixes) have a huge stigma surrounding them and putting her in a situation where she has the opportunity to fight is kind of asking for it.

For off leash I think you should compromise for a little. Put her on a 30'-40' long line. She has the ability to run around, chase a ball or frisbee, and explore BUT you still have control over her should another dog pop up around the corner or come up to her. That way if a fight does happen you can tell the police or animal control "My dog was on a leash when that off leash dog came up to her". It just adds a little bit of security and peace of mind while you work with her.

Meeting dogs on walks is kind of a recipe for disaster. Here you have two unknown dogs approaching face first (VERY threatening in dog language), pulling on the lead (causing more anxiousness and tension), focusing on one another in a very direct manner (again very rude and scary considering these are carnivores who are bred to focus on something to kill it and eat it), and both dogs are on leash which automatically makes some dogs more prone to anxiety because when they are on leash they have no way to escape.

You mentioned she seems more nervous on lead and that is normal. A lot of dogs don't like meeting other dogs on leash because you have essentially taken away their ability to flee. When the option to flee is taken away the only thing left to do is fight (fight vs. flight - The two options all animals have when faced with something scary or dangerous)

Make some friends who have dogs and let them play together in a safe enclosed area. Tennis courts after hours work well. Or on a long line (just let it drag). She gets the enjoyment of other dogs to play with BUT these other dogs are picked by you so you can match her play style, age, and preferably find a male dog she enjoys playing with. Like Shell said, female-female pairings can cause the absolute worst fights.
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