A reader is concerned about his Staffordshire Bull Terrier's aggressive behaviour towards other dogs.
Q: My seven-year-old Staffie is normally very friendly and relaxed. However, she can become aggressive with dogs who rush up to her at speed; she is fine if they are polite and only want to sniff. She was attacked in the past and I believe this is what is behind her behaviour. Realistically, I suspect it will always be an issue, so I need to know how best to manage the situation. Have you any advice on what I should do when a dog rushes up to her? At the moment, I put her on a lead if I see a dog I think will behave in this way. Is this correct? And how do I keep her and the other dog safe?
Tony Whittington, Suffolk.
Tony says: It is challenging to train a behaviour where you have no control of the trigger, the trigger being the approaching dog. Understandably, your Staffie becomes irritated, and I would consider a bark or growl acceptable. She is communicating with the other, unsociable dog and it’s considered rude for a dog to run directly up to another.
Practise an emergency about turn; it will help if you do this multiple times when there are no dogs around. Put the lead on and say something like: ‘Let’s go’ in a cheery voice, and turn away from your dog. Guide your dog with the lead, so you are both heading in the opposite direction. As you turn, after a few steps, give your dog a treat, or toss a treat ahead. This makes the turn positive. If rehearsed enough times, the technique can soon work off-lead too.
When a dog is directly approaching you both, my advice is to put the lead on. At least then you can say your dog is under control (while the approaching dog is clearly not). If you have time, perform the rehearsed emergency about turn. If it’s too late and the dog is in front of you, try to be calm and speak to the other dog in a pleasant tone. You are then informing your dog that there isn’t an issue. If you become tense and shout, your dog will pick up on it.
For any owner visiting a park, please do not allow your dog to run directly up to other dogs, especially if the other dog is on a lead. Either recall your dog, or if you can’t, put him on a lead. Ask the other owner first: ‘Can they say hello?’. The approached dog may have anxiety, which then manifests into what appears to be an aggressive display. This behaviour sticks, and the dog and owner soon have a problem to overcome.