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Why can dogs be aggressive with other dogs?

Two aggressive dogs advice © Shutterstock

Sometimes dogs just don’t get on. They may get bored of each other or step over an invisible line in the sand when it comes to food or their owner’s cuddles.

By Nick Whittle

Most of the time dog-on-dog aggression is seen of uncastrated male dogs. It is a symptom of the animal’s powerful hormonal drive to dominate and to reproduce. Other times, aggression just happens. The first thing to remember is that aggression between dogs is normal. It is as much a part of the dog’s life as it is the human’s. 

Dog-on-dog aggression is a common occurrence but also one that causes upset and anxiety for owners. Households with more than one dog will often experience some kind of rivalry and this will manifest itself in anything from short squabbles to sudden and violent brawls. In most cases, these moments of aggression are few and far between, but sometimes they can get out of hand.

The belligerents are usual entire male dogs that have reached or passed 'puberty'. If these dogs are not neutered their drive to mate will see them overly territorial and with a constant need to assert their dominance. Most dogs will reach their equivalent of human puberty between six and nine months of age.

How to spot aggression in dogs

You may notice some of the signs of your dog becoming aggressive to other dogs. Here is how to spot aggression in dogs:

  • Growling
  • Lip-lifting
  • Snapping
  • Lunging
  • Lip licking
  • Blocking of the other dog’s route
  • Staring at the other dog

Why is my dog suddenly aggressive to our other dog?

Dog-on-dog aggression can be triggered by either dog. Some dogs have a natural tendency to look dominant; their breeding may have given them an erect posture with tall ears and a tail that is always raised. Although not a look that is necessarily deliberate it may spur on other dogs to respond in kind, and start posturing. However, dog-on-dog aggression can sometimes be due to a dog’s lack of training and socialising, or a traumatic experience: one which has caused her to be pathologically scared of another dog’s presence, or over protective of her food and toys.

Dealing with dog aggression

Knowing why your dog is being aggressive all of a sudden is a big step in knowing how to control the problem. Owners must learn how to avoid situations that encourage aggressive behaviour in the dog. In situations where aggressive behaviour is more likely to occur the dog must be kept away from potential flashpoints. Here are a few ways by which we, as owners, can handle (and avoid) dog-on-dog aggression:

1. Stay calm when meeting another dog

Dogs are known for their sixth sense. When it comes to what their owner is feeling dogs are very good at picking up vibes. If we were to meet another dog while on a walk and we begin to tense up, our dog will feel the rising anxiety and will either become anxious herself or try to work out what is causing the anxiety. If she thinks the other dog is to blame then there may be trouble.


2. Avoid undue contact with other dogs

When you are out for a walk, you do not need to meet other dogs. Some owners seize the chance to talk to others but if you have a dog that is prone to aggression or is at the receiving end of aggression it is best to avoid such situations. Show your dog that in order to pass another dog without trouble you must look ahead, keep your head down and keep walking.

3. Create a void between the dogs

If crossing paths is unavoidable try to make sure there is sufficient space between both dogs. If you have dogs that are prone to sudden outbursts of aggression in the house, separate their cosy space, their beds, their food and drink bowls and avoid at all costs a situation in which they find themselves in close proximity.

If you are out walking and you see an owner and their dog ahead of you, avoid walking directly towards them. Cross the road, swerve around a parked car or try to block your dog’s view of the other dog.

4. Keep dog meetings short

When your dog meets another dog while on a walk keep their meeting short. Your aim in a situation such as this is to prevent your dog from becoming so preoccupied with the other dog that she forgets you are there and, more importantly, forgets you are in charge. Interrupt her every few seconds in some way and do not linger in proximity to the other dog.

Dog aggression to other dogs can be distressing.
Of dogs that are prone to aggression keep them separate. 

A dog that is prone to being suddenly aggressive in the house or outdoors may not have been brought up correctly. Puppy classes may not be everyone’s cup of tea but they are a supremely effective way to get your dog used to meeting other dogs in a controlled way. For juvenile dogs lessons of etiquette teach the dog what is expected of her behaviour when she meets another dog.

For dogs that are suddenly aggressive to other dogs living in the same house, you may need to consider fundamental changes to your living arrangements, such as keeping the dogs in separate rooms and avoiding flashpoints throughout the day (e.g. dinner, play, cuddles and sleep). If all else fails and your dogs show no promise of ever being friends, you may have to consider rehoming one of the dogs.