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How to Socialize an Aggressive Dog

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Dog Training By Kayla Fratt 22 min read July 13, 2022 62 Comments

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how to socialize aggressive dogs

Socializing a puppy is one of the best ways to create a happy, well-rounded, and sociable dog. But sometimes, for whatever reason, you miss out on that critical socialization period and your dog ends up with frustrating behavior issues or even becomes aggressive.

While it’s far easier to socialize a young puppy than an adult dog, don’t worry, there’s still hope! Not all is not lost with an aggressive adult dog.

Let’s explore how to socialize an aggressive dog and why socialization is important (for puppies and adults alike).

Aggression, Socialization, and Other Big Words

Before diving deep into the topic of socializing an aggressive dog, let’s get our terms straight.

Term 1: Aggressive and Aggression

Let’s think of aggression as a behavior in a certain context, rather than a character trait.

When I’m talking about a specific dog, I almost never say “aggressive.” Instead, I say, “Fluffy growls at children when they try to pet her.” Being specific about our definitions helps us remain clear about what we’re discussing.

It’s important to remember that labeling your dog as aggressive doesn’t do anything to help the problem. Labeling your dog by calling her aggressive only helps the humans feel like there’s a name to it.

The “aggressive” label may have a place when trying to explain quickly to someone a behavioral problem with your dog, but when working with a trainer and really digging into your dog’s issues, it’s better to be as specific as possible.

We’ll use the words aggression and aggressive here as blanket terms that cover behaviors like barking, growling, lunging, snapping, or biting. Increasingly, you’ll also hear people use the term “reactive” in conjunction with these types of behavior, referring to dogs who react in an unusual or extreme manner to various stimuli or startling situations.

We’ll focus mainly on fear-based aggression here, since that’s the most common type of dog aggression caused by under socialization.

Term 2: Fearful and Anxious

Dogs that are fearful may be scared of a single object (like men in hats), or many things (seemingly everything).

Dogs that are scared of a wide variety of things, from blowing wind to shiny wrappers, are more aptly categorized as “anxious.”

Dogs can also be anxious without being outright fearful. Just as in humans, anxiety can manifest differently in different dogs. They may also appear to be frantic to say hi, or generally just “on edge.”

puppies playing

Term 3: Critical Socialization Period

Puppies are primed for learning about the world when they’re about 3 weeks to 3 months old. Around this age, puppies are little sponges, quickly learning that things are scary or not scary.

puppy-socialization-timeline

Properly socializing puppies at this age is crucial to avoid fear, aggression, and anxiety relating to sights, sounds, social situations, and much more.

This period in the wild is traditionally about the age where puppies should be with mom, learning what’s safe and good in the world. On a neurochemical level, hormones that produce fear responses are suppressed at this age.

This means that puppies are much more likely to bravely explore new things, while they become skeptical of novelty as adults. This makes sense, because Mom should be keeping them safe as they acquire the tools they need to survive as adults.

mom-and-puppy

This is why it’s so much harder to socialize an adult dog – their brains aren’t literally hardwired for it the way puppy brains are!

Term 4: Socialization

We’ll define socialization here as the exposure of puppies or adult dogs to novel situations to help them feel safe and comfortable with different sights, sounds, situations, people, dogs, and much more.

For normal young puppies, this can generally be done via gentle exposure. You should remove the puppy if he’s ever scared, but general socialization for young puppies doesn’t require treats. Just take your pup out and about and let them experience the world!

Fearful puppies might need a bit more coaxing, comforting, and treat-giving to make socialization go smoothly.

For adult dogs, you’ll generally need to do more of a desensitization and counterconditioning protocol. Don’t worry about those big words, we’ll get there!

Term 5: Triggers

Triggers are objects, people, or situations that “set a dog off.” Think of it as the tripwire that makes your dog behave aggressively or fearfully.

Common examples include men in hats, thunderstorms, or other dogs.

Trigger stacking is the phenomenon where your dog sees other dogs being walked by a man in a hat during a thunderstorm, and absolutely goes bonkers. It’s just too much!

Generally, trigger stacking is when your dog has simply “had it up to here” with a bunch of different scary or stressful experiences.

Term 6: Threshold

This is the distance or intensity where your dog tips over into being “not ok.” This is generally expressed as a distance (for example, 10 yards from another dog is fine, but at 4 yards your dog loses it), but it can also be volume for a sound.

This can be strongly affected by trigger stacking, which often will make a threshold more sensitive.

Term 7: Desensitization and Counterconditioning

These two training protocols come together. Desensitization is the systematic exposure of a dog (or person) to something that used to scare them, but no longer does through the process of desensitization.

Counterconditioning pairs that trigger with something awesome (like a tasty treat).

We’ll give you much more detail on this below, since this is the core of socializing an aggressive dog!

Wow, that was a lot of jargon! Now that we’ve got our little dictionary laid out, it’s time to start figuring out how to help your aggressive dog.

Why Is My Dog Aggressive?

Living with an aggressive dog isn’t easy. You might feel stressed, scared, or embarrassed by your dog’s behavior. You are not alone in wanting to understand why your dog is acting aggressively.

Aggression doesn’t always come from a lack of socialization, but undersocialized dogs are at increased risk of aggression.

Other factors that may contribute to making a dog aggressive include:

  • Breed: Not all breeds are created equal. Breeds that were originally created and curated for protectiveness, suspicion of strangers, or aggression towards other dogs are more likely to become aggressive later in life. On the flip side, breeds that are coveted for their easy-going demeanor are more likely to be friendly.
  • Genetics: Dogs with aggressive or fearful parents, regardless of breed, are more likely to be aggressive. Extreme stress on a dog’s mother can also trigger epigenetic and hormonal changes that affect the offspring for life.
  • Adverse Life Experiences: Bad experiences, even if they seem relatively minor, can really affect a dog’s lifetime personality and temperament. Dogs go through what are known as “fear periods” and “sensitive periods” as they mature. A single scary experience at the wrong time in your dog’s brain development can have a majorly outsized effect on your pup.

Adverse life experiences may include being abused, but keep in mind that most shelter dogs are undersocialized, not abused.

Dogs that were abused are often super appeasing, trying constantly to make their owners happy. They grovel, flip on their backs, and try to lick. This is quite different from a dog that cowers, hides, or growls.

Any combination of these three factors, plus poor socialization, can create an aggressive dog. A dog with a genetic predisposition towards aggression, fear, or anxiety (whether that’s thanks to breed or parents) that lacks socialization and then gets a singular bad experience can result in a perfect storm of problems.

angry-dog

Common reasons for under-socialization include:

Dogs that were sick as puppies. Dogs that are sick as puppies (such as parvo pups) often are highly isolated, which is a good thing for the safety of the other pups – but it can have lasting consequences.

Coming from a shelter. Likewise, puppies or adult dogs from shelters rarely get the full suite of socialization experiences that we like to see in well-adjusted dogs. This could be because of negligence from the first owner, or because the pup was raised in a shelter or rescue without the resources to devote to socialization.

Coming from a pet store. Dogs that come from pet stores often have it even worse than those raised in shelters. Puppies that are purchased from pet stores such as Petland come from recognized puppy mills. These puppies are raised in abysmal conditions and tend to be very, very under socialized.

Owners who don’t know better. Finally, some dogs grow up undersocialized thanks to bad advice. Some vets still recommend keeping young puppies totally isolated until their vaccines are done. This outdated advice means some well-meaning owners drastically under socialize their pups. There are many ways to safely socialize your puppy before she’s done with her puppy shots!

The bottom line is that your dog’s aggression might not be your fault – but how do you fix it?

The Best Piece of Dog Advice I’ve Ever Heard

One of my all-time favorite dog podcasts, Drinking from the Toilet, recently aired an episode called “Puppy Thoughts.” As someone who’s always thinking about my next puppy, I loved Hannah’s approach to the subject. This piece of advice made my jaw drop:

When you’re looking for a breeder, line, or litter of puppies, assume that genetics are everything. Assume that the dog’s parent’s behaviors are exactly what the puppy will do.

Once the puppy is in your home, assume training and socialization are everything. Assume you can change everything about the dog and work to make that happen.

This advice is perfect even if you’re looking at shelter dogs or a dog that’s always in your home. Blaming your dog’s behavior on breed, lack of socialization, or bad genetics doesn’t help you moving forward.

Instead, focus on what you can do to help socialize your aggressive dog.

Simply labeling your dog as “aggressive” might make you less likely to work on the problem. The same goes for calling your dog “dominant” – that gives you an out, because it’s just how your dog is. In reality, you should focus on the behavior as something you can change – because you can!

Now that we know it’s time to focus on training the dog in front of us rather than the dream dog in your head (another of my favorite dog training suggestions), let’s get to work.

Is It Too Late to Socialize My Adult Dog?

It’s never too late to start socializing a dog – better late than never as they say. However, it’s definitely more challenging to socialize an adult canine.

As we said above in our mini-dictionary of terms, dogs go through a critical socialization period. I won’t get into the neurobiology of that here, even though it’s fascinating.

Just know that it’s much harder to change your dog’s opinion about something when she’s an adult.

Socializing Aggressive Dogs: Tricky, But Not Impossible

Rather than simply exposing your aggressive dog to the world and letting her explore it (like how you’d socialize a pup), we’ll need to go through some systematic desensitization and counterconditioning. Those big words should sound familiar!

As always, let’s start by saying that working with your dog’s aggressive behaviors under the guidance of a professional trainer is the way to go.

A professional trainer or animal behavior consultant can help you ensure that you’re managing your dog safely and meeting all of her basic needs during the reactive dog training process.

Keep in mind that punishing an aggressive dog is a very, very bad idea. Most aggression comes from fear, and making your dog afraid of you is likely to make the aggression worse! Let’s focus on positive socialization (our recommended method of dog training) instead.

The steps to successfully socializing an aggressive dog may sound daunting, but just follow the steps and don’t be afraid to hire a trainer or comment below for more help!

Step One: List Out Your Dog’s Triggers

It’s important to have a solid understanding of what “sets your dog off.” Sit down and think off all of the situations that make your dog behave aggressively. This might be types of people, dogs, or situations that really upset your dog.

For example, Barley’s original list of triggers was:

  • People with beards
  • People with backpacks or trekking poles
  • People on crutches or wheelchairs
  • People with hats
  • People with sunglasses

This list will help you keep track of your training so you can systematically teach your dog that things are alright!

making-a-list

Step Two: Estimate Your Dog’s Thresholds

Please don’t just run outside and start exposing your dog to everything she’s aggressive towards so that you can figure out what her threshold is! Instead, try to think of the last time your dog reacted aggressively towards each of her triggers.

For Barley, his threshold was generally about the distance across a normal suburban street, or ⅓ of a block.

Step Three: Get Safety Measures in Place

Before getting started with any actual socialization work for your aggressive dog, it’s absolutely imperative to get safety precautions in place. These are all temporary measures that help keep everyone safe during the training process.

Depending on the severity of your dog’s aggression concerns, you might need to:

Get baby gates or a way to separate your dog from the house. If your dog is aggressive towards guests, aggressive towards other dogs in the home, or aggressive with specific family members, you must figure out a way to keep her separate from those individuals who set her off. Baby gates or indoor dog gates can also help you keep your dog from harming your family, other dogs, or cat.

Get blinds to cover your windows. Many dogs become aggressive towards things outside, so you’ll probably need to cover the windows to help them decompress. This helps keep your dog from psyching herself up or practicing aggressive behaviors when you’re not around. We’ve got some specific recommendations for window blinds that can stand withstand a dog’s nosing and pawing.

Bring Spray Shield on walks. Spray Shield, also known as citronella spray, is a highly effective dog deterrent spray for keeping dogs away from you on walks. It’s gentler than pepper spray, but will help you keep off-leash dogs at bay. Simply clip the Spray Shield to your belt and spray it towards dogs to keep them away. It tastes and smells terrible, but is harmless.

This is a must-have if your dog is afraid of or aggressive towards other dogs. I’ve used it multiple times to protect my clients’ dogs from oncoming dogs. It works much better than yelling at an owner to leash their dog when the dog is already a block ahead of them!

Muzzle train your dog. Muzzle training is an absolute must for dogs that have snapped or bitten someone, and a great idea if you think your dog ever might hurt someone. A well-fit basket muzzle (Barley uses the Baskerville Ultra Muzzle) allows your dog to eat, drink, and pant comfortable. Be sure to avoid any tight-fitting “groomer’s muzzles” that don’t allow your dog to eat, drink, or pant (see our top picks for the best dog muzzles here)!

Be sure you follow a good training plan to ensure your dog loves wearing her muzzle. Barley and I spent a while teaching him to wear a muzzle, and now he gets excited to wear his. I’ve never had to use it, but I know that if he ever is in extreme pain or in a situation where he legally must be muzzled (like some Canicross races), I can safely muzzle him and he’ll be comfortable in it.

Crate train your dog. If you haven’t already, spend time getting your dog very comfortable in the crate through proper crate training. This will help you safely put your pup away if you ever need to keep everyone safe.

Get a harness for your dog. Many dogs are most aggressive out on walks. Outdoor walks can be very anxiety-provoking for dogs who are under-socialized or fearful, so go slow, work on desensitization, and consider getting an escape-proof harness to give you an extra level of safety on walks.

If your dog is large and you struggle to control her, a head halter might be a better option. When trained correctly, a head halter will help you control a large dog more easily.

Don’t skip the safety precautions! When I work with leash reactive dogs, I almost always use an escape-proof harness at minimum. If a dog has a bite history, we always use muzzle training, crate training, and baby gates to proceed. I don’t want anyone getting bitten on my watch!

Step Four: Protect Your Dog by Changing Your Behavior

These are just the physical safety precautions. If you haven’t already, it’s important to change your own behavior in regards to your aggressive dog.

There are many things you can do and lifestyle changes you can make to help your dog succeed.

The main goal of this step is to totally and completely avoid problem situations. This is important because each time your dog reacts aggressively towards something, the brain pathways for that behavior get a bit stronger.

That makes changing your pup’s behavior a bit harder each time.

Some common examples of human behavior changes include:

  • Walk your dog during “slow” times of the day, rather than when everyone else is out and about.
  • Keep your dog close to you when passing others, turning corners, and going through doors.
  • Leave your dog alone while she’s eating if she’s aggressive around her food.
  • Avoid petting your dog in situations that are triggering to her.
  • Ask people not to approach and request that they control their dogs.
  • Cross the street or move behind physical obstacles to avoid triggers.

There are thousands of ways to change your behavior to help your dog. Each situation is different, since each dog’s triggers and thresholds are different.

With my dog Barley, I used to cross the street to avoid his triggers. Now, I simply ask strangers not to put their face in his face, and that’s all that he needs!

The point is, we want to be able to control when your dog sees his trigger, so we can produce a good training situation.

Unplanned and out-of-control encounters with scary things (like men in hats) are bad for socializing aggressive dogs. Controlled and measured interactions (like what we describe in Step Seven) are the cure.

Step Five: Take Care of Your Dog’s Basic Needs

Now that you can safely interact with your dog again, let’s focus on what Sarah Stremming calls “The Four Steps to Behavioral Wellness.”

What she (and many other professional trainers) find is that taking care of your pup’s basic needs often helps other behavior concerns go away. While more exercise won’t always just “fix” your dog, it’s often impossible to get rid of aggressive behavior without taking care of your dog’s basic needs.

These four steps are:

1. Exercise

Many modern dogs – especially those that behave aggressively – simply don’t get enough exercise.

While some lazy dogs are a-ok with short on-leash walks, most dogs need far more than that!

Focus on getting your dog out for a run, hike, or dog sport at least a few times a week. Sarah Stremming very strongly advocates for off-leash hikes or long-line walks to help your dog really decompress (although this may not always be an option for aggressive dogs depending on your dog’s triggers).

dog-getting-exercise

Not sure where to start? Why not try one of these 22 games to play with your dog?

Nosework is one of my absolute favorite for aggressive dogs, since you can really exercise your dog without leaving the house. In extreme cases, you might want to invest in a dog treadmill or other way to exercise your dog from home.

2. Enrichment

Most American dogs spend a lot of their day at home alone. Investing in puzzle toys is a great way to enrich your dog’s life to keep her brain occupied and engaged. Keeping your dog from getting bored will help relax her and tire her out a bit.

3. Nutrition

There’s growing evidence that your dog’s gut health has a huge impact on her mental health and behavior – here’s just one study from 2016.

Speak to a veterinary behaviorist or canine nutritionist to see if they see any red flags in your dog’s diet or microbiome that could be related to your pup’s aggressive behavior.

4. Communication

Consistent, fair communication with your dog – generally via training – is important for helping your dog relax and rely on you.

When everyone in your household uses different cues for sit or you change the expectations of your dog from moment-to-moment, this can be frustrating for your dog. Focus on making your expectations, cues, and rewards very consistent for your dog.

While it might seem like a lot to focus on all of this safety and basic care before socializing your aggressive dog, getting this baseline care is absolutely key to success.

Otherwise, it’s a bit like putting new tires on a car that hasn’t had an oil change or engine service since 1998 and has a blown timing belt, and assuming that will make it run again.

Step Six: Get Your Basic Obedience Ready

Alright, it’s time for some training! Much of your dog’s aggressive behavior can be helped by building up basic obedience cues.

Start out practicing your dog’s basic skills in super-easy situations, such as your living room, before building up to increasingly distracting situations.

Helpful cues for your dog to know include:

  • Sit or down can help you position your dog in relation to her trigger.
  • Touch is a cue that tells your dog to touch her nose to your hand. This can help your dog redirect her focus and gaze away from her trigger.
  • Watch me is another way to get your dog to stop focusing on her trigger. You can use the cue “watch me,” or simply say your dog’s name. I generally use a dog’s name, since I find this is easier to remember if you’re panicking a bit!
  • Leave it helps immensely for dogs that become aggressive around food or toys, but is generally less useful for dogs that are aggressive in other situations.

Having these basics in line will make other dog aggression training techniques much easier, since they often rely on basic obedience as a foundation.

Step Seven: Let Cookies Rain from the Sky!

It’s finally time to start socializing your aggressive dog. Unless you’re working with a trainer, I highly recommend sticking to training your dog to calmly pass by triggers.

If your dog is aggressive towards children, for example, don’t try to teach her to let children pet her without the careful guidance of a behavior consultant. Just focus on getting your training to a place where you can safely pass children on the street!

As I discussed in our mini-dictionary of training terms, you’ll largely focus on counterconditioning and desensitization. This is the core of aggressive dog socialization.

To remind you, counterconditioning and desensitization are two different training techniques that we often use together.

The goal is to gradually expose your dog to something upsetting while pairing that upsetting thing with awesome treats. The amazing part is, this changes your dog’s underlying emotional reaction to something upsetting.

Let’s use an example to illustrate this.

My dog Barley used to bark and growl at people in hats, people on bikes, people with backpacks, people in wheelchairs, and a whole lot of other things. Those were his triggers.

To help him get over this fear, I had friends put on the offending articles of clothing and simply stand on the opposite side of the street.

If Barley calmly looked at the scary person, he got a treat.

It’s super important to give your dog treats after she sees the scary thing. Otherwise, you can accidentally teach your dog to be scared of chicken because chicken makes scary dogs appear!

We gradually moved him closer to the triggers, still giving treats. I started asking him to touch my hand when he saw his triggers. This gave him a “job” and really helped move our training along.

We eventually built up to (desensitization) him taking treats from (counterconditioning) the “scary people” (triggers).

This game is commonly known as the “Look at That!” game in dog training. You can use the same procedure with any sort of aggression dog. In general terms, your steps are:

1. Set up a controlled situation to expose your dog to her triggers outside of her threshold. If your dog is barking, growling, or not eating treats, you are too close.

2. Wait for your dog to calmly notice the trigger. If she reacts negatively, take a break, then reset further from the trigger.

3. Reward your dog for noticing the trigger but not going crazy – or at least reacting in a less negative way than usual. For dogs wearing muzzles, squeeze cheese is a great reward that fits through muzzle bars easily!

4. Repeat, gradually reducing the distance between your dog and the trigger.

5. Start to ask your dog for easy basic obedience cues in presence of the trigger. I generally teach dogs that when they notice their trigger, their job is to touch my hand as fast as they can! Giving your dog something to do instead of reacting aggressively is your ultimate goal.

Keep training sessions extremely short – five minutes or less, in general. Don’t forget that if your dog ever stops eating treats, you’re probably pushing her too hard and she needs a break!

Socializing an aggressive dog is no small task. But if you focus on really excelling at each step in this guide, you’ll be able to make a significant difference in your dog’s unwanted behavior. If you ever get stuck or feel that you’re in over your head, contact a professional behavior consultant.

Comment below about your success stories, we’re always excited to hear your take!

dog leash aggression
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Written by

Kayla Fratt

Kayla Fratt is a conservation detection dog trainer and Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a member of the American Society for K9 Trainers, and is a member of Dog Writer’s Association of America. She lives in her van with her two border collies traveling the country to help biologists detect data with her nonprofit, K9 Conservationists. Before coming to K9 of Mine, Kayla worked at Denver Dumb Friends League and Humane Society of Western Montana as a Behavior Technician. She owns her own dog training business, Journey Dog Training and holds a degree in biology from Colorado College. When she’s not writing or training Barley and Niffler, Kayla enjoys cross-country skiing, eating sushi, drinking cocktails, and going backpacking.

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Hayley Vella

Hi! Thanks for your article, very informative. I’ve got two dogs who both act very reactively and aggressively towards other dogs. And there is no safe distance for seeing other dogs, because as soon as they see them they bark and lunge. I’ve been told that since my two dogs are a pack, it is harder to correct their behaviour. Is that true? Thanks.

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Ben Team

Hey there, Hayley. I sent your question to Kayla, who offered this advice:

It’s certainly harder to train them at the same time, and I would not attempt to address this issue with both dogs at once. I’d get both dogs to a place I’m happy with individually, then start to bring them back together in easier situations to get them used to their new skills as a team. This would best be done with the help of an experienced behavior consultant.

Hope that helps!

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Adele

Great article! I’ve used a lot of these things before with my parents dog. She is dog reactive though and I always had issues with controlling offlead dogs coming up to us out of the control of the owner which would always be frustrating and set us backwards. So I did like the suggestion of citronella spray. Can this be bought online? I’ve never seen it before in Australia. Also, how effective is it? If it is so repellent smelling to dogs, would it also still create more of a negative connotation of other dogs towards my dog when I’m trying to train a positive one?

How far away from the other dog would you need to be? If my dogs threshold is say 20metres, and a dog is about to run up to us within that threshold, what can I do to get away without triggering the fearful dog? Is it okay to pick a dog up to walk away if the dog is small enough?

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Ben Team

Hey there, Adele. Glad you found the article helpful!

Not sure if Kayla will have a chance to respond or not, but I can certainly sympathize with your situation — I have two dogs who’re both very reactive to other dogs, and I also struggle with frequent encounters with off-leash dogs.

In fact, I have to go to great lengths to get my girls enough exercise and stimulation because I can’t even walk them in my neighborhood anymore. I’m not even worried about set backs; I just don’t want either of my pups involved in fights.

We’re not sure about the laws in Australia, but you can purchase citronella sprays via Amazon in the U.S.

I’ve never used citronella sprays myself. They certainly appear to deter some dogs, but they’re not as effective for others. So, I use a pretty strong pepper spray. It has proven effective at warding off two attacking dogs so far (hopefully, I’ll never have to use it again — it’s a shame that the dog has to suffer because of owner negligence).

As for range, I’d say the pepper spray linked above discharges about 6 feet (2 meters).

I’ll wait and see if Kayla has time to respond to your behavior questions, but personally, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up your pup and walk away if approached by an off-leash dog.

Thanks for checking out the site! Best of luck with your dog!

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Paul Armstrong

I am in Australia and I have my soulm8 American bulldog x American staff, when she was a puppy we had an older Am staff (Bella) whom didn’t take to our new dog (Ava) , things were ok till Ava was about a year old then the fighting started until the ultimate disagreement between them cost me my left index finger bitten off trying to seperate my two loves my dogs after that day they where never put back together , many, actually almost everyone says it’s my fault as I have a close connection to my dogs, well Bella has passed now but the issue we have is Ava can’t even see another dog 100ft or more away without wanting to advance, I’ve allowed her at times with the assistance of other owners to let dogs sniff each other but Avas to unpredictable sometimes being friendly but over dominant other times aggressive , it’s causing great anxiety for myself. I don’t believe it’s my over affection for my dog not at all but I am tired of the negative suggestive comments made by family friends and or strangers, it’s time to fix this issue PLZ HELP !!!!
PAUL N AVA

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Ben Team

Hey there, Paul.

It sounds like your dog is struggling with some reactivity, so we’d recommend reaching out to a certified dog behavior consultant (not a regular trainer).

In the meantime, you may want to check out our article about reactive dogs. It’ll provide some tips you can implement while trying to track down a behaviorist.

And rest easy, Paul: Being affectionate is almost certainly not causing these problems! We fully encourage you to love your pup (as you obviously do).
Best of luck!

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Lisa Blackwell

Awesome advice. I’m going to try it all. Thank you so much!

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Ben Team

Glad you found the article helpful, Lisa!

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Jessica

Hi! We have a 12 year old dog who does not like other dogs. We had a second dog when he was younger and he tolerated him. He barks at all dogs walking or in other cars if he can see them. We recently had a friend bring their puppy over to our home and our dog growled and attempted to bite the puppy. We are going to be getting a larger breed puppy sometime this fall and I am hoping to be able to desensitize him to being comfortable with a puppy coming into the home. Am I crazy to think this is possible? Can we help him to be more socialized by this fall when puppy arrives? Thanks for your help!

Reply
Ben Team

Hey, Jessica.
It certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility that your adult dog will learn to tolerate the new pup, but it’s probably not very likely at this point.
Honestly, we’d recommend reaching out to a certified dog behavior consultant for an assessment before doing so. You don’t want to bring home a new puppy, only to have to rehome her shortly later.
Best of luck!

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Chelsea

Any advice on desensitization and counter-conditioning methods for correcting very reactive behavioural issues toward strangers (people and dogs) for litter mates? I have 2 border collie siblings, boy and a girl that are almost 2yrs old. Their behaviour with these particular triggers (walks or social settings) are great when solo, they are saints really, but horrible when they are together. They seem to completely set each other’s reactiveness off in these situations but again, they are significantly better when I have them solo. I’ve been told this is a common example of littermate syndrome – is that even a thing? They are each others best friends but are completely fine being separated as well when I take them for their daily walks solo. Any advice on how I can get them behaving better towards new people and dogs when they are together?

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AdminLogin

Hey Chelsea – hard to say for sure if it has anything to do with littermate syndrome, especially if they don’t mind being apart usually. It could be that one of the dogs is reactive in more subtle ways, but that triggers the other dog? I’d check out our guide to dog body language to try to get a better understanding. I’m also wondering if one of the dogs may be resourcing guarding the other? Hard to say for sure, but the best option seems to be to walk them separately, as you don’t want them practicing reactive behavior if it can be avoided. I know that might make your life a bit tougher, but it certainly seems the safest option!

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Wendy

I have a question I got a mini dachshund from a rescue, he was 7, I was told he didn’t like pugs but it’s every dog, he is 10 now and goes for other dogs throats it makes no different if he is on or off lead, but always on lead now, I have tried a dachshund muzzle and he will not walk will stand or sit for 6 hours until I remove it, altho he is always on a lead other dogs coming running over to play I inform the dog owner but they ignore or don’t believe me. I hate taking him for walks he will hurt another dog or pick on the wrong dog and get hurt I love him to pieces but is very frustrating. Any advice please. Or a muzzle that will help that maybe doesn’t cover his whole mouth. Have tried the Adjustable-Dog-Muzzle-Fabric-Nylon and the basket muzzle and he will not walk with them on

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Ben Team

Hey there, Wendy.
First of all, we’re sorry to hear about the struggles with your pooch! Also, it’s unfortunate that the rescue characterized his reactivity incorrectly.

Most trainers would note that == at 7 years of age — the socialization ship may have sailed. Instead, you’ll just want to desensitize your dog to the presence of other dogs (and counter-condition him to have a better reaction to them, if possible).

But that’s not going to be a quick fix, so you’ll have to rely on management strategies while you work on his reactivity. Using a muzzle is a great quick-fix, but you have to select the right kind and introduce it to him in the right way. Check out our guide to dog muzzles to see some of the best models (a basket-style muzzle would likely be best) and learn how to introduce it to your pooch properly (spoiler alert: stock up on dog-safe peanut butter).

Oh, and while there’s no easy fix for other owners who aren’t respecting the space of you and your pooch, we certainly sympathize. All dog owners should understand that some dogs are just not social butterflies, and all dogs should be properly leashed when not in an appropriate place for off-leash fun.

Best of luck!

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Marisa Galindo

Hi I have a year old pit bull and she has always been “aggressive” towards other dogs. Meaning growling, barking, and snapping. So I just kept her home away from other dogs. I guess I did more harm than good. How do I go about socializing her with other dogs, how do I get another dog owner to agree with a playdate. Are there trainers that can help with this aspect who have other dogs.

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Ben Team

Hey, Marisa.
Don’t worry — you’re not the first owner to misstep in this regard. It’s a tricky situation!
And yes, there are a number of trainers and canine behaviorists (which would really be the better option anytime you’re dealing with aggression) who have dogs that can be used in these scenarios.
Best of luck in your search!

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AdminLogin

Hey Marisa! So in fact, once a puppy’s prime socialization period has ended (the first 6 months or so), you can no longer socialize a dog, as the experiences have kind of been baked in. What you really want to do moving forward is desensitization and counter-conditioning. You don’t want to jump straight into a play date. Instead, I’d suggest spending time just outside of a dog park or in an area dogs frequent, but at a safe distance. Keep your dog at a distance where he can remain calm and is not barking or lunging. Feed him treats and kibble to show him other dogs aren’t scary or stressful. Once he’s made some good associations like that, you can move on to parallel walks.

After THAT, you can experiment with playdates through a certified dog behavior consultant.

Behaviorists often will have “bomb proof” dogs on hand that can handle rude dogs without losing it. If you throw your dog, who likely has no canine social skills, into the mix with any nervous or unsure dogs, it could be a recipe for trouble. You’ll also absolutely NEED to muzzle train your dog before letting him experiment interacting with other dogs.

That being said.. it’s totally fine to have a dog that doesn’t really interact with other dogs. A lot of dogs don’t really like the company of other dogs and would rather chill with their people. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as you yourself are socializing with the dog and providing plenty of enrichment opportunities!

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Jessica

I have a 7 month old schnauzer. He’s super reactive mainly because he was under socialized. I had a vet who told me not to take him out until he had all his shots.. now I have a problem. I’m working on him and he’s super cool and very smart, he behaves well at home. But when i take him outside he goes bananas. It’s sad because I feel I failed him and I just want to be able to help him and take him on walks.

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Ben Team

Hey, Jessica.
Trying to keep your pup safe before he’s fully vaccinated while still socializing him can be tricky.
But don’t be hard on yourself! You were just trying to keep the little four-footer healthy. And 7 months old is nothing! He’s still quite young, and we bet with some hard work, patience, and persistence you can overcome these challenges.
Just be sure to work with a trainer or canine behaviorist if you don’t see any progress after a while.
Best of luck!

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Mary

We have just taken in a rescue dog. We have had her at home for 10 days. She is very loving and clean in the house. Has learned the words sit, down, no(when she starts chewing bricks) come here, pick it up, .
She is however so submissive. She cowers if we turn quickly or move towards her too quickly. She had never seen traffic or heard town noises before we had her. She is 12 months old and they refuge reckon she was 4 months when she was dumped on them. She had two doggie friends at the shelter that she shared a bed with but they were adopted. She has been sad since.
We really want her to enjoy being out on walks with us (she loves being in the car) but she just seems so fearful and wary of everyone and everything.
We just want to help her.

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Ben Team

Hey there, Mary.
Sorry to hear that your sensitive little gal is struggling with the transition, but we’re glad she wound up in what sounds like a loving, supportive home!
Fortunately, we have an article that you may find helpful: How to Help a Fearful Dog Gain Confidence.
Best of luck!

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Mary groom

Thank you for your reply. I will take a look at that article right now.
Our girl is learning something new every day. She walked in town today, not bothered by traffic…in 2 weeks she has come so far.
We are just giving her lots of love and encouragement and praise.
Thank you.

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Shaun

We are the second home for our dog. We love her and we are pretty sure she feels the same.
But she is aggressive towards other dogs. Sunday night she got away from me and charged at another dog and their mom. I was scared but no one got hurt. I made it clear to her that it wasn’t nice. I don’t believe in say bad but she was naughty. She’s fine with other people . She loves to lick ever
Help

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Ben Team

Hey, Shaun.
Sorry your pooch isn’t getting along well with other dogs (my own pooch has issues with other four-footers).
But in many cases, you can make progress. Just heed the advice provided above and don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional trainer for help.
Best of luck!

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Kathy Higginbotham

This is a great article! Finally have some understanding. I have a chihuahua mix and she does not like to be pet when she’s asleep or napping. Also, when she has a bone. I also noticed shes a lot worse when she’s on higher places like the bed or couch

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Ben Team

Glad you found the article helpful, Kathy!

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Lydia Sloman

We have two westies that show aggression towards All other dogs when they are on leads. They are lacking socialisation. Do you have any tips how to break this behaviour.

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Ben Team

Hey, Lydia.
We have an article on leash reactivity and aggression you should check out!
Best of luck!

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Meg Marrs

Hey Lydia – it sounds like you’re dealing with leash reactivity. We have an entire guide on how to deal with leash reactivity, hopefully that will help! Best of luck.

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annette everett

We just adopted a 7 year old rotty sheppard mix, He loves people and is well mannered until he sees another animal , cats dogs , how do we overcome this , He is a big boy and has a very loud deep bark , Very gently with food loves to cuddle at 110 lbs , has no problem with people petting him on the street. To the best of our knowledge he was not abused but he was in a home that he was left alone a lot. We take him for very long walks and loves it. He loves car rides . Need a starting point to see if we can adapt him to socialation with other animals

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Olive Bestvater

Hello! Amazing article. My dog’s triggers are puppies and kids. I have spent the last year crate training and muzzle conditioning and was hoping to advance to a new level of desentization using the crate. My plan was to have my dog (he’s 2 now) in the crate, then to have one or two children come within eye view, then to reward my dog whenever he looks at them without lunging/growling. Does this sound like an okay plan to you ? Also, can I pay you for an online consultation ? Thank you !!

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Ben Team

Hey, Olive. Kayla’s a pretty busy trainer, so I’m not sure if she’ll see this.
But, I sent her an email and forwarded your contact information to her.
Best of luck!

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Karl Jason

Hi Kayla, Thank your for this great artilce. This will really help people like me and other who are facing thir dog agression issues. Sometimes dealing with this dog’s agression becomes very frustrating. These days I am also training my dog and my husband recomended this inorder to train my dog https://doggyzcare.com/read-brain-training-for-dogs-review/ still early days. But your artilce will really help me dealing with its agression. Thank you again for this.

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Robyn Kelly

Hi Kayla-
We’ve just adopted a female GSD that’s about a year old. She’s was picked up by a local rescue out of a rural shelter and then was placed twice in not ideal homes and returned both times. So this poor baby has had many homes in her short life. She has been a great dog in terms of manners, commands, loving etc. but she does not like our older (11) male, GSD/Hound mix?, at all. We walk as a pack, without issues several times a day now, and have read everything we can get our hands on and have hired a trainer. We feel like we are taking 1 step forward and 5 back. Things seem to be going better and then while on her leash she attacks him…no clear issueto fault and they had done well all day near each other. We never have her off the leash inside so we can correct her/stop her at any point. So my husband broke it up quickly but very scary and Bender our older dog had to get stitches in his ear. Another week goes by all is going well, making progress and she again goes after him unprovoked and gets my leg instead of him. It’s so discouraging. We love her and are commited to fixing this but it’s very hard. Any thoughts? We are doing most of the things you mentioned in the article. We’ve thought about maybe the muzzle or even shock/vibrate collar but don’t want her to associate bad things with Bender. We’re at a loss.

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Tracy

Honestly, I get really tired of clicking on Pinterest pins only to find a couple of poorly written sentences that say virtually nothing about the subject.

Imagine my surprise when I clicked this link to find a well-written, informative article on aggressive behavior in dogs! Absolutely great advice, and Kayla has explained the multiple issues very well, in a way that is easily understood by all. I’m impressed, thank you.

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Kylie

We have a beautiful natured border collie but he is aggressive to everyone except the ppl in the household. He had trauma which triggered the aggression. We have a harness for walks but we have no control over him as he takes us for a run n we can’t get him to walk beside us. Everyone says get rid of him cos of his aggression but to see him with my boys you wouldn’t think he had a hint of aggression in him. Please help

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Felicia Maynard

I have a 3 year old Pitbull mix who I’ve had since he was 5 weeks old. Unfortunately he was abused by my husband who was struggling with alcohol abuse at a young age. Both Ollie ( dog) and my husband have come along way since the puppy year’s and are now buddy’s however since that’s happened Ollie is sketchy towards men. It’s really a 50/50 chance at how he responds to men who he isn’t familiar with already. He also doesn’t like people in hats, he gets “grabby” and will jump up at people while growling with his hair raised if they’re running. It’s worse more so if he’s gotten loose, we are very good about keeping him contained in our yard and on a leash but have 3 children and I also do in home child care so he gets out the front door occasionally. Our most recent incident was when my daughter accidentally let him out and this lady was jogging, she’d stopped and was talking to him, he was jumping up at her like he wanted to play but was kinda growling with his hair raised so I yelled for him to go for a ride (literally the only way to catch him) the lady proceeded to jog and Ollie jumped up at her back and grabbed her shirt. This is the first time he’s grabbed at someone and I’m not sure how to break this habit. He hasn’t really been socialized either. Can someone please help me?

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Haley Kemper

My husband and I just adopted a rescue dog who is young (about 10 months) and spent her whole life on the street. She is great with me but is terrified of my husband when he walks around or approaches her. When he is sitting on the couch or laying down in bed, she is fine. Her behavior around this has gotten worse (growling and barking at him, tail tucked, ears back). He has tried giving her treats, taking her on walks, being the only one to feed her breakfast and dinner, sitting calmly and waiting for her to approach him….we have tried reassuring her with calm voices and pets (from me only) when she gets stressed, and as per a local dog trainer we found, we have also tried to use a calm, assertive energy/redirect by saying “no” or “hey” when she starts growling and barking, although this has started scaring her so I have stopped and instead have focused on treats and praise when she is calm. With strangers she is fine as long as they are women or children (a little hesitant but not too bad and will eventually approach for a sniff or a lick) but if they are men she is also terrified. We are having a really difficult time with getting her to not be so afraid of my husband. Any tips?
Thanks,
Haley

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Haley! You’re on the right track so far. I agree that your trainer is probably scaring her with the interruptions. Are there other trainers in your area from the iaabc.org/consultants list? If so, they’ll be more helpful. If not, I can help you remotely. You’ll want to start using the “Treat and Retreat” method for helping your dog learn to diffuse situations. Have your husband toss treats over her head and away from him. He can also keep doing what he’s doing as far as trying very hard not to be scary and trying to build relationships together. If you want to talk to me about remote training options, go to JourneyDogTraining.com/shop and use code K9OFMINE at checkout for a discount!

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Marisa E Armagh

Do you have any way to save a kennel crazy dog? Owner surrendered GSD to animal control. He has every behavior associated with kennelitis/kennel crazy behaviors. They are ready to put him down and we need to save him.

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Marisa. In the shelter, we really worked with dogs like this to give them constant puzzle toys, relaxation training, and exercise. They need to get out of the kennel as much as possible.

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Jamie

Thank you so much. We are fostering a GSD. He barks, growls and lunges at every stranger he sees. Obviously, finding him an adoptive home isn’t possible right now. He is the sweetest, most loving boy once he knows you. He has been doing much better on walks, observing people from afar. Once they get too close is when he gets agitated. We will definitely start the “Look at that” game. We have a lot of great dog savvy friends and family who are happy to help us.

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Kayla Fratt

Good luck, Jamie! You’re on the right track.

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Craig

Thanks for the help. I have followed your articles tips with my large extremely reactive rescued cross, and can you please confirm if a floppy ear at the beginning of a walk and backwards (but not flat) ears near the end are signs of progress? He gets very stressed at some people/most dogs to the point of whimper screaming and I worry he could lose it. I have been using avoidance, reward and general confidence building techniques, as of yet without a muzzle (I plan on purchasing one). I rescued him from a kennel, he was extremely amaciated with stress and his outlook wasn’t good. I am dedicated to his cause, any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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suzie artman

Hi! I’m definitely going to try this, I adopted a St Bernard that’s 9. She has bitten me twice, I’m terrified, but she is the most loving and listens so good, I love her, the back seat of my car , Is her biggest fear. Any reason why??? She loves her cookies!!!!

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Pryscila

Hi Kayla,
I love this article – it’s very comprehensive and seems to capture all the important information out there! I do have a question/problem though…I adopted a 6 year old chow/shepherd mix and he does not trust any other person or animal and immediately barks at them and attempts to run towards them. I’ve tried positive reinforcement, but even when he isn’t exposed to triggers, he doesn’t accept treats or get excited at me giving him attention (it’s as if he’s a completely different dog inside versus on walks). So I don’t know how to positively reinforce his good behavior while outside. Is there something I’m missing?
Thank you!

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Kayla Fratt

Great questions Pryscila! It’s not uncommon for chows to be a bit less interested in food than we’d like. To confirm, he won’t eat treats outdoors at all? My first suggestions would be to make the triggers even less extreme (farther away, quieter, etc – this might mean working on just the sound of keys jangling or footsteps first) AND try training him with super-tasty meat-flavored baby food before he eats a meal. If he still won’t eat then, we might have to look for other things that he wants in that moment for now. Does he want to play? Sniff? Be petted? Be talked to? Chows can be aloof, but there’s something that he wants in a given moment that we can harness to reward him!

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Cynthia Preston

I have a 5 year old Austrailian cattle dog, lab mix I rescued 2 years ago. She lived in a garage in a kennel growing up , family had 3 young children. She does not like kids. Is very protective of home and car. Becomes very aggressive toward other dogs when on leash. Looking forward to applying your training tips as she is very loving and friendly otherwise. Thank you

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Kayla Fratt

I hope that this helps!

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Kyra Bryan

Hey there Kayla, I have a question,I have two problematic dogs but for the sake of trying to keep this short I’ll just mention the one that has dog aggression issues. He’s a rescue Australian Stumpy Tailed Cattle Dog,about 2 years old . He’s fine with my other dog(female lab) but out in public especially at parks he’ll start acting anxious and whining then when a dog approaches him he’ll start barking and trying to bite them,he won’t let them sniff him but he’ll sniff them. My lab will go and play with other dogs but he won’t leave my side to go play with her or any dogs for that matter. I don’t have money right now to go to a trainer and Ive tried a lot of different methods but he just doesn’t seem to improve. What should I do ? I want to be able to get him to be playful and at least tolerant of other dogs.

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Kyra, it sounds like you’re struggling with some leash reactivity with your dog. What have you tried so far? I recommend playing the Look at That game and avoiding other dogs for now.

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Jay Thomas

Hi there Kayla!
I have a female chihuahua shih tzu mix who is 3 years old and horrified of everything and everyone. She’s very people aggressive, especially when new people come over. Despite this she’s a very sweet dog and I would love to get her socialized so I could take her to dog parks. I’ve tried identifying her triggers but it’s hard when it’s every person and dog she sees. She also barks at every noise she hears. I’m at a loss and not sure how to really stop this behavior.

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Jay! I’d definitely avoid the dog park for now. When you’ve got people over, put your dog away with a Kong. Then start teaching her that seeing people or hearing people = tasty chicken. If she’s barking, lunging, or won’t eat, you’re too close. You might have to go across the street or even across a football field at first for practice!

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Linda

Hi Kayla. I have a 4yo chihuahua Maltese cross. Unfortunately because I have never been a dog person (they scare me a bit) I haven’t socialised him as I should have and as a result he is not good around people he doesn’t know or other dogs especially if they are big dogs. I don’t even walk him because I’m scared other dogs will come close. I try occasionally to take him to an area where there are not people or dogs close by but if a dog comes near that is not on a leash I get extreme anxiety myself. I know I am passing this on to him. He has stayed in kennels a few times and seems to be ok with that. He is worse if I am with him than if he is with my daughter. I really want to be able to have him around people and other dogs but I am scared of him biting someone. Please help.
Thanks Linda

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Linda! I actually JUST wrote a blog post about this topic here. If you’re not sure if YOU want to be around other dogs, though, that’s OK. Your dog can still be happy and socially fulfilled without other dogs if they make you nervous.

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Lana

Thank you for this outstanding article! I’m going to put it to use with my adult dog who has increasing aggression towards other dogs. She’s a small dog, viciously attacked several years ago, and her anxiety/aggression has gotten worse over time. I hope this works!

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Kayla Fratt

I’m so glad that it’s helpful, Lana! Be sure to bookmark it so you can come back for reminders as you work through this process with your pup!

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Elizabeth Morse

This was one of the best (and logical) articles I’ve seen on this topic. We have a sweet Baladi mix who arrived from Egypt in January of this year. In the foster home, she appeared very socialized with several other dogs. When we got her home, she reacts strongly to any dog she sees (or smells) with growling and barking and lunging. We have been trying to socialize her by walking her close to home, at a quiet time when we don’t see many other dogs. Slow progress. She is acclimated to the two dogs that live in the houses that border ours – she has stopped growling and barking AT them, and now will bark WITH them when someone or another dog walks by. We have two “grand-dogs” that we were hoping could visit regularly and share the yard with our Sadie – but I am just not comfortable enough yet to have them introduced (we tried very early after bringing her home with one of the dogs and it did not go well – but to be fair, I don’t think it was done correctly at all). I’m hoping we could follow your advice here to help her behave around other dogs – or do you think we need a professional? Thanks so much!

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Kayla Fratt

Thank you, I’m glad you found it helpful! You might enjoy this video on introducing two dogs, but I highly recommend getting help from a pro, too!

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Jessi MacDonald

I am fostering for Saving Great Animals, I will Check with them to see if they have something set up with a trainer, but I haven’t checked yet and I’ve already paid personally for the online help.

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Jessi MacDonald

I need help with my foster dog. She is lovely and sweet but anxious meeting new people and this is making it hard to find her forever home. She is fine meetingpeople as long as they do not want to pet her . She has settled with me and gets along well with my other two dogs, but barks and growls when meeting prospective adopters and no one is going to want to take her on. I try to show them how sweet she is with me and assure them she can be this way with them after she is sure she can trust them. She has had 3 Meet and greets and barked and showed no interest in knowing anyone and only wants to be with me. I need help. If I adopt her I have to stop fostering

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Kayla Fratt

Jessi, it sounds like your foster is going to need some training before she’s really ready to meet her forever home. Does the rescue that you work with partner with any local trainers who can help you formulate a plan? Many trainers (myself included) offer deep discounts or free sessions to rescues and shelters.

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