A reader asks why her dog is aggressive towards other dogs he doesn't know.
Q My dog is fine with dogs he met as a puppy, but aggressive towards dogs he doesn’t know. What should I do about this? Is there any way I can help him to feel happier about encountering strange dogs when out on our walks?
Mary Aslett, Lancashire.
Tamsin says: Dogs are generally social animals, but that doesn’t mean they’re always happy to interact, and they might feel less confident around unfamiliar dogs because they can’t be sure they’ll behave how their oldest friends do. Dogs can behave aggressively to communicate “please leave me alone!”. This doesn’t mean they’re ‘bad dogs’ — there’s no such thing — just that they need our help in situations they find challenging. It’s worth having your dog checked by a vet to rule out any hidden pain or underlying medical condition, which might be making him feel vulnerable around new dogs he doesn’t know well enough to feel safe with.
Dogs might also behave aggressively when they’re frustrated. For example, a friendly dog might lunge and bark at another dog they want to play with but can’t because they’re on-lead. It can be difficult to tell the difference between fear and frustration, but your vet can refer you to an accredited behaviourist to identify what’s motivating your dog. Meanwhile, keep your distance from unfamiliar dogs and use his favourite treats and toys to distract and reward him for interacting with you whenever new dogs are around. Practise calling him to you for fun rewards, and be ready to do so in the park when other dogs appear. If he tenses, or shows any aggression, stay calm, quiet, and turn away from the other dog. Lead him calmly away, rewarding him for relaxing. Scattering treats can help to redirect focus away from the other dog too.