Dog-on-Dog Aggression (sometimes called “dog to dog aggression” or “dog dog aggression” ) can be generalized or specific to situations. You know if your dog is aggressive towards other dogs. But you may be unclear if your dog is actually fearful or anxious or whether it is abnormal.
Dogs will sometimes have spats. It is not all together out of the ordinary and it can be a whole lot of fast motion, noise and flashing teeth and over quickly. It is upsetting, but often the dogs walk away unharmed. But it is considered abnormal behavior when the dog responds to another dog whether or not the dog is challenging or appears threatening in anyway.
“Dominance” as a way to understand dogs is no longer a popular term because of all the misconceptions around it. However it was once used way to understand it as something different from fear aggression which is often learned and specific. It is probably best understood as aggression related to social hierarchies or aggression that is related to a control complex. Often these dogs are actually anxious, but their body postures and attitudes often appear to be overly confident or pushy. For example, they may hold their body erect, their tails are held up high and their eyes fixate on the other dog. Their aggression style or symptoms may be offensive (the pick the fights) rather than defensive.
But it can difficult to know if the dog is actually fearful or territorially aggressive. Some dogs are predisposed to behaving aggressively toward other dogs. Sometimes fear aggression changes over time as the dog become more confident at behaving aggressively. Only a careful, context-specific history can provide a clue to this. Dogs can become aggressive towards other dogs for a number of reasons.
There can be a genetic component. This does not mean there is no hope for the dog. It only means that there is a tendency to react in a certain way. We all know people who are more intense and passionate about things, we all know people who are cautious and shy. Adjustments can be made, but understanding your dog’s natural inclinations help you understand how your dog should be managed.
It may also be related to poor socialization. Or it could be related to a defect the dog has in being able to communicate well with other dogs. None of these conditions mean that there is no learning component to the aggression. Every experience helps shape the brain.
In all cases, similar methods can be used to treat your dog’s aggression. It’s possible your dog may never learn to love other dogs. But if you can learn to get in and out of the vet’s without a conflict; if you can learn to walk your dog on a leash down the street with out it lunging at every dog it sees; if you can eliminate stress in your dog’s life (and yours!), you have come a long way towards solving your problem. Not only is this a realistic goal for a dog-aggressive dog, but it’s all possible with out hurting or intimidating your dog.
Aggression towards strange dogs is different than aggression towards a dog living in the household. Aggression towards strange dogs may be related to control-complexes, territorial inclinations, fear, etc. or a combination of underlying motivations. Where are dogs that fight other dogs in the home may have different motivations. These motivation may be based on some of these as well, but could be more related to the breakdown of social rituals used to resolve conflict. The underlying anxieties may also be more “resource” dependent (i.e. competitions over food, toys, attention), etc.
If your dog is fighting another dog in your home, you might be interested in learning more about dog-on-dog aggression related to sibling rivalry.
**Aggression categories compiled from:
Overall, K. L., Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals , Mosby, Inc. 1997
Dodman, N.,The Dog Who Loved Too Much: Tales, Treatments, and the Psychology of Dogs, Bantom Books, 1997