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Why Dogs Can Be Aggressive To Some Dogs But Not Others: A Dog Behaviorist Explains - PawSafe

Why Dogs Can Be Aggressive To Some Dogs But Not Others: A Dog Behaviorist Explains

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why dogs can be aggressive to some dogs but not others

As a behaviorist and trainer that often works with “problem” dogs, dogs that get along with some but not others is actually a problem I encounter quite often.

Have you ever wondered why your canine, who is usually the life of the party, suddenly turns into a grumpy growler around certain dogs? My Bull Terrier, Amy, is a classic example of what many dog experts call “dog selective” behavior.  A dog that is dog selective will be fine with some dogs, but possibly dangerous and reactive with others.

From a tender age, Amy showed signs of aggression towards other dogs, which seemed to be part of her genetic makeup, considering her breed’s history. But it’s not as simple as saying she doesn’t play well with others; there’s a complex tapestry of reasons that influence whom Amy decides to befriend and whom she’d rather not deal with. Let’s dive into the canine social sphere and understand the ‘whys’ of selective aggression in dogs like Amy.

Amy’s social interactions are a puzzle. She might snarl at a large, imposing male dog, possibly because of a scary encounter she had when she was younger. Then again, she might steer clear of overly friendly dogs that jump into her personal space without so much as a ‘by your leave.’

Some dogs, like Border Collies and Huskies, have a habit of making direct eye contact, which in dog language, can come off as a throwdown challenge — something Amy doesn’t appreciate.

Her lineage plays a role too; bred from fighters, she’s naturally a bit more on edge around other canines. And it’s not just about genetics or past trauma. Day-to-day things like guarding her favorite toy or feeling overwhelmed by a hyperactive playmate can trigger her aggression.

Yet, she’s perfectly capable of harmonious relations with dogs who exude calmness, respect her space, and understand social cues — take Jeremy, my rescue, who shares fetch time with her in peaceful coexistence. Just like people, not every dog will get along with every other dog, and that’s perfectly fine.

Common Reasons That Your Dog May Get Along With Some Dogs But Not Others

The picture above shows Amy with a muzzle at a beach. I had to keep her muzzled in public areas, because while she could play with Jeremy (the dog in the background), she could be fiercely aggressive to any strange dogs that might approach us. So part of responsible dog ownership was always keeping the muzzle on Amy in public spaces.

Here are the most common reasons for canine selective aggression:

1. Past Negative Experiences

Dogs, much like humans, have long memories when it comes to traumatic events. An encounter with an aggressive dog can leave a lasting impression, leading to anxiety or fear-based aggression later on. 

Amy, for instance, was attacked by a larger dog at a young age, which might explain her wariness around big, imposing male dogs.

2. Personal Space Invasion

Dogs value their personal space, and a breach of this space by an overly enthusiastic dog can be met with hostility. When another dog greets them too energetically, it can be perceived as threatening or disrespectful, prompting an aggressive response from dogs like Amy who prefer a more polite introduction or just to be left alone.

3. Eye Contact

In the dog world, sustained eye contact is often considered a challenge. Breeds that naturally hold gaze, like Border Collies and Huskies, may unintentionally come across as confrontational. Dogs sensitive to this behavior may react with aggression as a defense mechanism.

4. Genetic Predisposition

Some dogs are bred for traits that can lead to aggression, such as protectiveness or dominance. Amy’s background as a Bull Terrier, a breed historically involved in dog fighting, may make her more prone to aggressive reactions towards other dogs.

5. Resource Guarding

Dogs often exhibit aggression to protect resources they value, such as food, toys, or even their human companions. If they feel another dog is a threat to these resources, it can trigger an aggressive response.

6. High Energy Levels

Dogs with a lot of energy can be overwhelming for more laid-back dogs. The constant movement and excitement of a high-energy dog can be too much for some, leading to aggression from dogs who prefer a quieter, more controlled environment.

7. Breeds with Short Noses

Dogs with shorter snouts, like bulldogs or pugs, may seem rude or too invasive when sniffing others, especially during the common canine greeting of butt-sniffing. Their approach can be off-putting for some dogs, leading to aggressive behavior if they feel their personal space is being violated too intensely.

8. Strange Dogs

It’s a common misconception that a well-socialized dog will automatically be friendly with all other dogs. However, this isn’t always the case. Just like people, dogs may not appreciate unfamiliar dogs suddenly invading their space. Dogs with selective aggression, like Amy, may react poorly to strange dogs approaching them without warning, which can lead to altercations.

9. Individual Dislikes

Sometimes, dogs simply do not get along with certain other dogs, without any clear reason. Just as some people naturally don’t click, the same is true for dogs. Individual personality clashes can result in aggression, and it’s essential to recognize that not every dog will be friends.

10. Competition in Multi-Dog Households

In homes with multiple dogs, competition for resources like food, toys, and attention can lead to aggressive behavior. An older dog may not take kindly to a new puppy that demands a lot of attention and seems to take over their belongings and space.

Understanding these nuances is key to managing and preventing aggression in dogs. It’s important to recognize the various triggers and ensure that dogs are placed in comfortable situations, respecting their individual social preferences and needs.

11. Size Discrimination

Smaller dogs may be more likely to display aggression towards larger dogs. This can be due to fear or a perceived need to defend themselves. Larger dogs may also display aggression towards smaller dogs, often due to a lack of socialization or a desire to assert dominance. It’s also common for big dogs to chase smaller dogs simply because of prey drive.

12. Sex Discrimination

Male dogs may be more likely to display aggression towards other male dogs, particularly if they are not neutered. This can be due to a desire to establish dominance or compete for resources such as food or attention. Female dogs may also display aggression towards other female dogs, particularly if they are not spayed.

In conclusion, while some dogs may display aggression towards certain dogs but not towards others, it is important to remember that individual temperament plays a significant role. Proper socialization and training can help prevent aggression towards other dogs.

How To  Deal With A Dog That Is Aggressive To Some Dogs But Not Others

dog is aggressive to some dogs but not others

In the picture above you can see Amy, playing with two other dogs in  a stream. This was only possible after many years of hard work to get her to be tolerant of other dogs. Even so, I still always had to be careful as she could display aggression to some dogs. This meant taking the following precautions.

Environmental Management

If your dog doesn’t get along with all other dogs, managing their environment is crucial. Avoid places like dog parks where your dog is forced to interact with many unfamiliar dogs. This can be stressful and lead to conflict.

Safe Walking Practices

For dogs like Amy, safety comes first. Walking her on a muzzle is a responsible choice, ensuring she can enjoy her walks without risk to others. Letting her off-leash only when no other dogs are around also helps prevent any potential incidents.

I also had to make sure Amy was well-trained to walk on a loose leash at all times, especially as I often had to walk two or more dogs at once.

Focused Socialization

Socializing your dog from a young age is important, but the focus should be on teaching them to pay attention to you rather than interacting with other dogs. Training Amy to be neutral to other dogs and to focus on me helps her stay calm and collected in various situations.

Home Management

At home, observe and understand which dogs Amy doesn’t mesh well with. It’s better to keep her separate from dogs she doesn’t like and only allow her to mingle with those she’s comfortable with. Giving her high-value items like chew toys in her crate prevents any resource guarding issues with other dogs.

Training for Neutrality

Teaching Amy to be indifferent to other dogs is as vital as managing her environment. This can include activities like playing fetch within sight of other dogs but at a distance where she feels secure. This helps her learn to ignore other dogs and stay under her reactivity threshold.

Managing a dog-selective dog like Amy involves a combination of environmental control, safety measures, focused socialization, and careful observation to prevent problems before they start. It’s about creating a structured environment that allows her to live peacefully without unnecessary stress.

Paying Attention to Your Dog’s Cues

Understanding and responding to your dog’s communication cues, such as growling, is essential. Growling is a clear signal from your dog that they are uncomfortable or feeling threatened. Instead of punishing this behavior, it’s important to recognize it as a valuable form of communication. For more insights on what to do when your dog growls, particularly when discipline is involved, check out this article for detailed guidance.

If your dog’s aggression stems from insecurity, building their confidence is key. Confident dogs are generally more secure and less likely to exhibit aggression out of fear. There are specific training techniques and exercises you can do to help boost your dog’s self-assurance. To understand how to help your dog become more confident and less insecure, you can read more about it in this article.

By paying close attention to how your dog is feeling and responding to their environment, you can prevent many aggressive reactions before they happen, ensuring a happier and safer life for both you and your dog.

Identifying Aggression Triggers

Identifying aggression triggers in dogs is essential to prevent future aggressive behavior. Some dogs may be aggressive towards certain dogs but not towards others. It is crucial to understand the triggers that cause aggressive behavior in dogs to prevent harm to other dogs and humans.

One of the most common triggers for aggression in dogs is fear. Fear can be caused by a variety of stimuli, including loud noises, unfamiliar surroundings, and other dogs. Dogs that are fearful may become aggressive when they feel threatened or uncomfortable.

Another trigger for aggression in dogs is territorial behavior. Dogs that are territorial may become aggressive when they feel that their territory is being threatened. This can include their home, yard, or even their owner.

Dominance can also be a trigger for aggression in dogs. Dogs that are dominant may become aggressive towards other dogs that they perceive as a threat to their status. This can occur during playtime or when meeting new dogs.

Finally, pain or discomfort can cause aggression in dogs. Dogs that are experiencing pain or discomfort may become aggressive when touched or approached. It is essential to monitor dogs for signs of pain or discomfort and seek veterinary care when necessary.

Behavior Modification Techniques

In the image above, you can see Amy playing Jeremy as a puppy. Amy always had a soft spot for Jeremy, but with other dogs, she could quickly escalate into dangerous levels of aggression. So what kind of behavioral training did I use to help fix this behavioral issue?

When a dog displays aggressive behavior towards certain dogs, it is important to address the issue through behavior modification techniques. Here are some effective techniques that can be used:

Counter-Conditioning

Counter-conditioning is a technique that involves changing a dog’s emotional response to a particular stimulus. In this case, the goal is to change the dog’s negative response to other dogs. This can be done by gradually exposing the dog to other dogs in a controlled environment, while rewarding calm and relaxed behavior with treats or praise.

Desensitization

Desensitization is a technique that involves gradually exposing the dog to the stimulus that triggers the aggressive behavior, in this case, other dogs. The exposure is done in a controlled environment and at a distance that the dog is comfortable with. Over time, the distance is decreased, and the dog is rewarded for calm behavior.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement involves rewarding the dog for good behavior. In this case, the dog is rewarded for calm and relaxed behavior around other dogs. Rewards can include treats, praise, or playtime.

Training

Training is an important part of behavior modification. Basic obedience training can help the dog learn to obey commands, which can be useful in controlling aggressive behavior. Training can also help the dog learn to focus on their owner and ignore other dogs.

Consultation with a Professional

If the dog’s aggressive behavior is severe or has not responded to behavior modification techniques, it may be necessary to consult with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. They can provide additional guidance and support in addressing the issue.

By using the above behavior modification techniques, it is possible to help a dog overcome their aggressive behavior towards certain dogs and become more social and well-behaved.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are some common reasons why a dog may be aggressive towards certain breeds?

There are several reasons why a dog may be aggressive towards certain breeds. One reason may be due to past negative experiences with a particular breed. Another reason could be due to a lack of socialization with other dogs, which can lead to fear or aggression towards unfamiliar breeds. Additionally, some breeds may have a natural tendency towards aggression, which can be exacerbated if the dog is not properly trained or socialized.

How can I prevent my dog from chasing other dogs aggressively?

Preventing your dog from chasing other dogs aggressively requires proper training and socialization. It is important to expose your dog to other dogs from a young age and to reward positive interactions. Additionally, teaching your dog basic obedience commands such as “sit” and “stay” can help prevent them from chasing other dogs. If your dog does display aggressive behavior towards other dogs, it is important to seek professional help from a certified dog trainer or behaviorist.

What are some possible explanations for why a female dog may be aggressive towards other dogs?

Female dogs may display aggression towards other dogs for a variety of reasons, including fear, territoriality, and dominance. Additionally, female dogs may become aggressive towards other dogs if they are in heat or have recently given birth. It is important to address any aggressive behavior in female dogs to prevent injury to themselves or other dogs.

How can I manage dog aggression towards other dogs in my home?

Managing dog aggression towards other dogs in the home requires careful supervision and training. It is important to separate aggressive dogs from other dogs in the home and to provide them with their own space. Additionally, working with a certified dog trainer or behaviorist can help address any underlying issues causing the aggression.

What are some ways to address sudden aggression towards other dogs at the dog park?

If your dog displays sudden aggression towards other dogs at the dog park, it is important to remove them from the situation immediately. It may be helpful to work with a certified dog trainer or behaviorist to address any underlying issues causing the aggression. Additionally, closely supervising your dog at the dog park and avoiding crowded times can help prevent aggressive behavior.

How can I train my dog to be less aggressive towards other dogs?

Training your dog to be less aggressive towards other dogs requires patience and consistency. It is important to work with a certified dog trainer or behaviorist to develop a training plan that addresses your dog’s specific needs. Additionally, socializing your dog with other dogs from a young age and rewarding positive interactions can help reduce aggressive behavior.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is important to understand that dogs can exhibit different levels of aggression towards other dogs based on various factors. It is not uncommon for a dog to be aggressive towards some dogs but not towards others.

One of the primary reasons for this behavior is the dog’s past experiences and socialization. Dogs that have had negative experiences with other dogs in the past may be more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior towards them in the future. On the other hand, dogs that have been well socialized and have had positive experiences with other dogs are more likely to be friendly and non-aggressive towards them.

Another factor that can influence a dog’s behavior towards other dogs is their breed. Certain dog breeds are known to be more aggressive towards other dogs than others. It is important for dog owners to be aware of their dog’s breed and any potential behavioral tendencies that may come with it.

Ultimately, it is important for dog owners to be aware of their dog’s behavior and take steps to address any aggressive tendencies. This may include training, socialization, and management techniques to ensure the safety of both their dog and other dogs they may encounter. By understanding the factors that can contribute to a dog’s aggression towards other dogs, owners can take proactive steps to prevent any negative interactions and promote positive socialization.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

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Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.