Dr. Deva Prather of TVV Decatur reports...
If you are fortunate enough to own a dog, chances are you have witnessed them having some sort of aggression toward other dogs. This may be with dogs outside of your home or between dogs in your household. I recommend the following five steps to help decrease these events:
Start early! All puppies should go into a dog training program as soon as they are brought into your home. Veterinary behaviorists actually believe the time your dog learns the most is between nine and sixteen weeks of age. Such training programs that provide early intervention require documentation that the puppies are vaccinated and under veterinary care.
Institute the "nothing in life is free” protocol. Meaning... attention, food, and treats are given only if your dog performs a command. Your dog should learn to sit before getting any interaction from you. This helps focus your dog’s attention on you and away from other dogs. Your dog should also learn to drop any food, treat, or toy when commanded. By teaching this skill, you may be able to avoid a skirmish when a coveted object is accidently dropped on the floor. Finally, you should teach at least one of your dogs to go to a “safe zone” in your house, like a rug. This can be very useful to help break up a fight.
Exercise! Exercise! Exercise! All dogs in the house should be walked daily. A head harness and short leash provide excellent control while walking your dog. This is especially important for the dog that behaves well with his housemates but not with other dogs and tries to escape from the leash. While walking, reward your dog for sitting and letting other dogs pass. After being exercised, dogs tend to be less agitated and more relaxed which can help decrease interdog aggression.
For aggression between dogs in the same household, one of the simplest techniques is to try and establish a “hierarchy”. That is, choose the dog that is most likely to be “dominant” and give attention, food, and treats first. Once it has been established which dog is dominant and which one is “submissive” much of the aggression will resolve. If fighting still occurs over food or toys, then feeding separately and/or removing toys from the environment usually will resolve the problem.
Unfortunately, establishing a hierarchy does not always work... Sometimes it can make the dominant dog act even more aggressive because they are getting all of the attention. In these cases instead of rewarding the dominant dog, reward the dog who is behaving “normally” or the dog that is calm and sitting for you. To reinforce this good behavior, the giving of attention, food and treats should only be done in the presence of the other dogs in the household.
If you are implementing all of the above and still having trouble, placing your most aggressive dog on an anti-anxiety medication may help, which is an option you will need to discuss with your veterinarian. Also, all dogs in your household should be spayed or neutered to help decrease any hormonally driven behavior. When your dogs cannot be supervised it is important that they are kept separate from each other. Finally, involve your veterinarian early, as many have an interest in behavior or can refer you to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.