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Aggression towards smaller dogs

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Okay - so I've read a few posts on here about reactive dogs, etc - and some of them are similar to my situation but not exactly the same so I'd like to describe the specifics of my situation and I would appreciate any advice.

 

A month or so back I posted a thread looking for advice on my dog's protectiveness of food around other dogs. Well, that situation (around food that is) is still where the aggression is the most prevalent but there have been some signs/events elsewhere.

 

So my border collie (River - female) is 8 months old now - and starting about a month back she began to show extreme aggression towards my brother's Jack-Russell whenever there was dog food present. Honestly, since the dog was a Jack-Russell I thought it probably got even worse than it would have since the Jack-Russell wouldn't back down. After this 'fight' that happened, my brother and I were careful to pick up our dog food bowls (since we both free feed) whenever we went over to each other's places. When I went home two weekends ago, my mom and I were preparing the dog food and I went outside with River and Zoe (our golden retriever at home) and Teddy (the fearless maltese) stayed inside. When I came back inside, I was not aware that my mom has set down Teddy's food bowl so I just let the dogs (River and Zoe) in with me and River immediately ran to Teddy's bowl and since Teddy was standing at it - she went after Teddy. We had to break up the fight and we saw she had actually bit him (she never bit the Jack-Russell in the previous fight, to our knowledge at least). Now, she didn't do any serious damage - but we know she bit him because there were small skin abrasions. Needless to say, we were extra careful the rest of my trip home to watch River and ensure there were no more fights. I worked a little with giving Teddy treats in front of her (I made her back up and sit and wait while I gave Teddy his treats and then after she had waited, I gave her some treats as well) and she was very good with that - no problems. Also, I would like to note that River never minded when Zoe came up to her while she was eating. This appears (at least so far) to only be a problem with smaller dogs (I guess ones she knows she can take in a fight).

 

Well, these two instances occurred with pets of family members and also there was no serious damage. The other day, at the dog park, however, she got into it with a very small papillon mix. We broke the fight up immediately and to my knowledge, the papillon was not hurt. The owner of the papillon was very upset but her friend that was with her informed me that the dog was fine. In terms of traumatizing the dog, the owner's reaction was probably 10x worse than the fight. I'm pretty sure (from what I saw) what started the fight was that the papillon kind of went after River first and then River reacted. Either way though, River could have very easily hurt that dog and we're lucky she didn't. From this instance, and some previous instances with smaller dogs (but not quite as extreme) I'm pretty sure the problem is that River will NOT back down to a smaller dog. So if a smaller dog does anything even remotely aggressive towards her, she will fight back.

 

Let me give a little background - I have been socializing River since I got her at 8 weeks old. She went tons of places with me (anywhere I could bring her), she been getting socialized with other puppies since 11 weeks (in her puppy class) and has been going to the dog park (and thus socializing with all sorts of dogs) since she got her rabies vaccine at 14 weeks. River's two favorite activities are going to the dog park and playing with other dogs. A close third is playing fetch with the tennis ball and frisbee. River loves all dogs (she always wants to go meet news dogs, even small dogs) and even after her previous 'fights' with other dogs, she immediately wants to start playing with them again.

 

Since the dog park is River's favorite activity and also since it's the best way to get her her exercise for the day, I do not want to have to stop taking her there if I don't have to. Thus, I want to ideally be able to 'fix' her aggression and not have to worry so much about it. So any advice on how to do that would be wonderful. But since I'm not sure if that's possible and since I do want to be able to keep bringing her to the dog park (especially since I think if I stopped the problem would even get worse due to lack of exposure) I guess I will need to just bring her and just stay very close to her, keep a very close eye on her, etc when a small dog comes OR I guess leave or go to a different area. Obviously if the situation gets any worse (like if River just starts spontaneously attacking other dogs rather than reacting to something they start or something like that) then I will have to stop going (and figure out some new fun activities for River). Any advice on the entire situation would be much appreciated.

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...The other day, at the dog park, however, she got into it with a very small papillon mix. We broke the fight up immediately and to my knowledge, the papillon was not hurt. The owner of the papillon was very upset but her friend that was with her informed me that the dog was fine. In terms of traumatizing the dog, the owner's reaction was probably 10x worse than the fight. I'm pretty sure (from what I saw) what started the fight was that the papillon kind of went after River first and then River reacted. Either way though, River could have very easily hurt that dog and we're lucky she didn't. From this instance, and some previous instances with smaller dogs (but not quite as extreme) I'm pretty sure the problem is that River will NOT back down to a smaller dog. So if a smaller dog does anything even remotely aggressive towards her, she will fight back.

 

Is there a toy, ball or treat involved when this happens? My Skye is very ball directed, or if its not a ball, any toy or valued object makes her very possessive and potentially aggressive (i.e. snappy and growly) toward other dogs that make any attempt to get near the possession. I have learned that I must have absolute control over her when there is a scenario like this, so when we run into other dogs with balls etc. I call her to me and tell her to "leave it alone." However, if its her ball, the possessiveness is usually a bit worse. So, I no longer bring balls with us on social walks, only those where I know we will be alone. BTW, Skye can sniff out a ball anywhere. A walk often doesn't end without her finding one. I have now taught her to "leave it" behind so we can continue our walk ball-less and playful.

 

The other thing I have noticed is that small dogs, seem, almost as a rule, not to be very well socialized by their owners. I can't tell you the number of times I've seen owners scoop up their small dogs when a larger one approaches. Hence, their manners (i.e. running to approach, barking, growling, jumping, etc.) are less than exemplary. What's a big dog to do but react, unless your own dog is de-sensitized to this type of behaviour, or just very mellow period.

 

I guess, if you can, you might try to find some friends/acquaintances with small, well-socialized dogs to get River used to. Maybe make some dates to do some leash walking together to get them acclimatized to eachother; and then let them off-leash. I'd also probably recommend paying very close attention to body language, esp. River's, so that you can thwart the altercation if you see it coming. My first dog, Riley, used to be very anti-social with other dogs, esp. puppies (i.e. small, unsocialized dogs :rolleyes: ) and whenever she was going to meet one, I would talk her through it so she would remain calm. I would only allow this to continue for 10 seconds max. because I knew this was her threshold.

 

Anyway, I expect you'll get more suggestions, esp. from Mary :D .

Ailsa

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In the situation at the dog park there was no ball or food involved (to my knowledge - it happened very quick though). There was a ball, but not near River or the papillon. I forgot to mention - that the papillon's owner was arguing with someone else who was there over her dog's small ball. This lab had the papillon's ball and the lab's owner took it away because the lab could have choked on it and the lab's owner was going to put the ball away when the papillon's owner came up and asked for her ball back and then they were arguing over it since the lab's owner asked her not to bring those balls to the dog park since larger dogs can choke on them and the papillon's owner was saying her dog is too small to play with any other toys. So basically, the papillon may have sensed her owner's tenseness (if that's a word). I do not think I was tense, since I wasn't involved in the argument but maybe I was or maybe River just sensed the other peoples' tenseness. Either way, that may have been a factor.

 

Thanks for the advice. I only really know a few people will small dogs but yeah - maybe I will borrow/work with my brother's dog more, since he lives in town, and ask some of my other friends.

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In the situation at the dog park there was no ball or food involved (to my knowledge - it happened very quick though). There was a ball, but not near River or the papillon. I forgot to mention - that the papillon's owner was arguing with someone else who was there over her dog's small ball. This lab had the papillon's ball and the lab's owner took it away because the lab could have choked on it and the lab's owner was going to put the ball away when the papillon's owner came up and asked for her ball back and then they were arguing over it since the lab's owner asked her not to bring those balls to the dog park since larger dogs can choke on them and the papillon's owner was saying her dog is too small to play with any other toys. So basically, the papillon may have sensed her owner's tenseness (if that's a word). I do not think I was tense, since I wasn't involved in the argument but maybe I was or maybe River just sensed the other peoples' tenseness. Either way, that may have been a factor.

 

Oh brother :rolleyes: ...people.... this is entirely my opinion and may or may not be legitimate in your situation.

I would guess that this papillon might be ball possessive and was responding blindly to River, both because its ball had already been stolen and because its owner was freaking out. Sounds like a recipe for disaster -- I'm like a born-again-anti-ball-in-park person :D Since I know from Skye that possessions in public dog parks are accidents (and fights) ready to happen, I am vigilant when I see them and, in fact, the other day when Skye stole another dog's ball in the park and the owner came running after me saying she had done so, I muttered under my breath "Too bad for you." I know, I know. But its been a hard road to break Skye of this and although she has gotten much better in terms of snarkiness and will drop any ball or other possession on command for me, I just think there are plenty of dogs out there that will really react badly when their items of value are, in their eyes, at risk.

 

I also think that adolescent dogs are much more likely to test and react with what we might consider to be a heightened or exaggerated response when in a threatening situation (lots of show but no real intent to harm). After having been a puppy themselves and being the object of much "putting in their place" by older and bigger dogs, I think adolescent dogs are testing and finding their place in the dog world. I find that Skye now is much less likely to get into a snark with a large dog than one who is smaller -- she knows from experience that she can usually intimidate the smaller one rather than the larger -- and dogs, by and large, just want to posture rather than run the risk of actually getting hurt. But as a younger dog, she had no sense and would push the boundaries. One day at the park (and before I knew better) she approached two (!) Canary Island Mastiff dogs, dropped her ball at their feet and waited to see what they would do. You can imagine how I held my breath in fear and thought, that's it, my dog is dead. But, thank goodness, these dogs couldn't have cared less and Skye's posturing went un-challenged.

 

Anyway, I think there are lots of great books out there on dog body language and behaviours, this is by Jean Donaldson who wrote Culture Clash -- its on resource guarding -- haven't read it but she's a good read (http://cgi.ebay.com/MINE-Resource-Guarding-in-Dogs-Jean-Donaldson-New-SC_W0QQitemZ370102047792QQcategoryZ378QQcmdZViewItem) and also books by Patricia McConnell (zoologist and dog behaviourist/trainer), esp. this one: (http://www.amazon.com/Leader-Pack-have-booklets-Friend/dp/189176702X/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_a)

 

Good luck,

Ailsa

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If the dog is only 8 months old and you are having such a problem you need to get with a trainer ASAP.

Quit free feeding. Free fed dogs can have the tendency to think EVERY bowl they come across is theirs. People freak about dogs not getting along at feeding time, heck don't feed them next to each other until you teach it some manners. How hard is that? It was probably funny the first time the puppy went after the JRT, not so funny anymore. You need to teach that puppy it is YOUR food bowl, and he will be invited to eat out of it when you are ready. At my house if they pull that crap they lose their feed bowl totally and are banished from the area until everyone else is done. Then they still don't get it back. But I don't let them test each other either. They know which bowl is theirs, and they respect that.

 

If you know the dog is having issues with small dogs, why are you at the dog park with it (I am guessing) off lead? You got very lucky with that Pap. Example #1 why I am against the dog park. Common sense is left at the gate.

Sorry to sound so harsh, but that ticks me off. You know how many threads I have read on here about dog park horror stories?! Be responsible for your dog.

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I always think fondly of River b/c Odin and him are almost the same age and look alike to me :rolleyes: But this thing with small dogs also sounds similar. Odin has never bitten but I think he would have "gripped" a few small dogs if allowed his way. He is great with cats, but with small dogs wants their balls, is generally too rough, and wants to head off their movements. I leash him around small dogs (someone at work has a 10 week old rat terrier right now and I am very careful there, although eventually she and him may be good for each other) unless I can control the situation really well and am on him and correcting him instantly for weird or fixated behavior on the small dog.

 

It's too bad your dog park doesn't have a dedicated small dog area so this could be avoided completely except when with the small dogs she knows and she could still get to be off-leash at the park. Maybe there is another one like that in the area? But given how litigious some people are, I wouldn't want to let her off leash in a park with small dogs until you are certain you could stop another bite from happening. Although it does sound like the pap and owner were kind of obnoxious, so that makes it annoying.

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If the dog is only 8 months old and you are having such a problem you need to get with a trainer ASAP.

Quit free feeding. Free fed dogs can have the tendency to think EVERY bowl they come across is theirs. People freak about dogs not getting along at feeding time, heck don't feed them next to each other until you teach it some manners. How hard is that? It was probably funny the first time the puppy went after the JRT, not so funny anymore. You need to teach that puppy it is YOUR food bowl, and he will be invited to eat out of it when you are ready. At my house if they pull that crap they lose their feed bowl totally and are banished from the area until everyone else is done. Then they still don't get it back. But I don't let them test each other either. They know which bowl is theirs, and they respect that.

 

If you know the dog is having issues with small dogs, why are you at the dog park with it (I am guessing) off lead? You got very lucky with that Pap. Example #1 why I am against the dog park. Common sense is left at the gate.

Sorry to sound so harsh, but that ticks me off. You know how many threads I have read on here about dog park horror stories?! Be responsible for your dog.

 

This instance with the papillon was the first instance not over food (she had once in the past shown her teeth at a pit bull over a ball but I corrected her after that and she never did it again) - so I hadn't brought her to the park knowing there was a problem. I'm not going to lie though - I do plan on still going back to the park but now I know to be much more careful around small dogs and probably (at this point, until I can work with her and trust her more) leave the area if a small dog comes. I am trying to be responsible for my dog - which is why I came here for advice as soon as it occurred. Not going to the dog park at all would be the last possible scenario I would want to come to, though. I appreciate your advice about stopping the free feeding. I considered that but I wasn't sure if it would make a difference. Since you think it would help with her manners, I will try it. And for that - not sure if it will make a difference or if it matters, but would you recommend feeding her in the morning sometime before going to the dog park or in the afternoon or evening, sometime after coming back from the dog park?

 

I always think fondly of River b/c Odin and him are almost the same age and look alike to me smile.gif But this thing with small dogs also sounds similar. Odin has never bitten but I think he would have "gripped" a few small dogs if allowed his way. He is great with cats, but with small dogs wants their balls, is generally too rough, and wants to head off their movements. I leash him around small dogs (someone at work has a 10 week old rat terrier right now and I am very careful there, although eventually she and him may be good for each other) unless I can control the situation really well and am on him and correcting him instantly for weird or fixated behavior on the small dog.

 

It's too bad your dog park doesn't have a dedicated small dog area so this could be avoided completely except when with the small dogs she knows and she could still get to be off-leash at the park. Maybe there is another one like that in the area? But given how litigious some people are, I wouldn't want to let her off leash in a park with small dogs until you are certain you could stop another bite from happening. Although it does sound like the pap and owner were kind of obnoxious, so that makes it annoying.

 

 

The dog park actually does have an optional small dog area. They weren't in it (which is understandable since the small dog area isn't quite as nice as the rest of the park - so I don't blame them for that). But yeah, for now (at least) I will definitely leash her/move to a different fenced area (there's a small dog area which no one uses and a separate dry dog area that I could go to if need be) if there are small dogs there when I get there or if any come. I do hope I will be able to get to a point where I can trust her around small dogs though - considering MOST of the time, she's very good and just wants to play. It's just that tiniest bit of aggression shown towards her makes her snap.

 

And oh yeah, I do think Odin and River look much a like.

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If you know the dog is having issues with small dogs, why are you at the dog park with it (I am guessing) off lead? You got very lucky with that Pap. Example #1 why I am against the dog park. Common sense is left at the gate.

Sorry to sound so harsh, but that ticks me off. You know how many threads I have read on here about dog park horror stories?! Be responsible for your dog.

 

To be fair, I utilize a dog park EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. There are sometimes frustrating dogs and frustrating owners, but the majority of the time the visit is just fine. Much like walking down the street in an area populated by dogs. Sometimes shit happens.

 

To be fair again, the OP has a dog that has fought with a specific (ie the same one) JRT over a food bowl twice. Without her crystal ball handy, there's no reason she should assume that problem to generalize to small dogs at the dog park. A couple months ago, Tweed chased down a doberman and scraped two teeth marks down its side. He's never done anything like it before or since, and I'm not going to necessarily assume he has a problem with dobermans, red and tan dogs, smooth coat dogs or running dogs. Should I?

 

Honestly, this sounds less like an issue-with-small-dogs than it does like an issue of a possessive youngster who takes things too far as she explores her boundaries as Alisa mentions. It sounds to me like a bitchy adolescent who is going to grow up to be a bossy female, but I don't think the problem is small dogs. I think as she continues to mature she may end up being fighty with all dogs who challenge her. So while I agree there appears to be a potential problem in the making, I don't think it's the problem you're giving her heck for.

 

Aggressive dogs can be managed very successfully, even in places like the dog park. My Briggs was the World's Biggest Jerk and loved to fight, but he ALSO went to the dog park pretty much every single day and he didn't fight, because he wasn't allowed to fight. It is possible to control such a dog. But this does need to be nipped in the bud now. Some serious obedience is a good place to start - if you can call your dog off a fight before it happens, she can't fight.

 

RDM

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RDM has given some good advice and I also agree ErinKate re: the free feeding. It doesn't matter when you feed--do what's convenient for you, but I certainly wouldn't leave kibble down all the time for a dog who's known to be aggressive over food in a household where there's more than one dog. There's too great a chance that someone will forget to pick up a bowl at your house or elsewhere and then trouble will ensue. Yes, it's a bit more work to feed your dog a specific amount of food each day instead of just tossing it out for the dog to help herself, but in this case, it makes imminent sense for you to control all access to food.

 

J.

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Thank you, RDM and Julie. In terms of obedience, what specifically would you recommend? Like just getting down the core commands like Sit, Down, Stay, Come, etc. to where she responds on the dot, in any situation? Are there any commands you'd recommend working on that may not be obvious....

 

Also, in terms of obedience- she'll do anything indoors (and even when I teach her new things she learns them very quickly and will be consistently doing them within minutes) but like most dogs, she gets very distracted outside (ESPECIALLY at the dog park). Do you have any advice for keeping her attention outdoors/with distractions? She's not very food motivated (that's why the food aggression with other dogs came as a surprise to me) when there's an open field or a group of dogs near by - which is part of the reason it's hard to get her obedience down reliably at a dog park. Also, I took two previous obedience classes mainly for the purpose of working on the obedience with distractions/around other dogs and she was perfect in those - almost like she knew we were in "training mode" or something. Also, I'm in a beginner's agility class now and she's pretty good with basic off-leash obedience in there as well.

 

So any advice on super good treats that might draw her interest, even with distractions, or on other techniques for keeping her attention? I've used the ball before as a reward, but even with that I only got as far as being able to get her to sit and lay down - she's do focused on the ball it's hard to get her to focus on what I'm telling her to do (but if a new dog were to walk in the park in the middle of that or any type of new distraction, that wouldn't work that well either).

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