Dog-On-Dog Aggression Or Dog-On-Baby Aggression?
Morgan: Alright, here’s the question for today: “My dog hates other dogs. Should I be concerned that this will be a problem with my child?”
Mike: Well, I would say if your dog hates other dogs, it’s probably always a little bit of a cause for concern, and something you want to deal with.
It just makes managing the dog and the child together problematic. Because it’s hard to walk your baby down the street in a stroller – and then if you’ve got a 60-pound dog that’s lunging at every dog that goes by, it just becomes untenable. So, that’s one thing.
The other side of it is, I think the question that people really have behind that is: “My dog is aggressive with other dogs – is he going to be aggressive with my baby?” And that’s a “not necessarily” answer.
There’s not a necessary and direct connection between dog-on-dog aggression and aggression towards babies.
It’s a cause for concern – it’s something that’s a bit of a red flag, but it’s not a major red flag with respect to the infant, usually, or the small child. In most cases.
Otherwise you would have noticed it. In other words, to the people asking that question: if they’re wondering whether it’s going to be an issue with their kid, but they’ve had their dog around children and their dog hasn’t shown particular annoyance before, then I don’t think that part’s the biggest concern.
I think the biggest concern is just that, for a new mom and new dad, the bandwidth for dealing with that is a lot less. And suddenly, your dog is going to find itself more and more on the out.
It’s just simple things. Let’s say your child gets a little older – three years, four years old – and there are little games and things with other parents that you want to go to.
Picnics and things – all these things you just can’t bring your dog to.
So, it just means there’s a lot of outside the home activities with your child that your dog won’t be able to participate in, because you can’t take the risk of the dog having some aggressive outburst with somebody else’s dog.
Avoiding Negative Spirals With Your Dog
Morgan: Right, that makes sense.
Mike: Because that just gets dangerous really fast. Basically, I’ve had situations where mom has foolishly decided to risk it anyhow, and then they’re in a position where the dog’s starting to get in a fight with another dog.
I live in San Francisco, there’s hills. So you’ve got your baby carriage on a little hill, and what do you do?
She just let the dog go, and so the dog ended up in this bloodbath of a fight with another dog, because she’s holding onto the baby carriage, and she’s in no position to help.
And it’s all on the other person whose poor dog is getting attacked to try to deal with it – it’s a horror show.
So, that’s the kind of thing – so then, consequently, the dog stays home a lot more, alone, and then has a negative spiral. Less socialization, and the presence of the child means more alone time for the dog, which can create a jealous dynamic – things like that.
So, those are the areas that I would be most concerned about. And like with everything else: if you know you have this problem, deal with this particular issue way before the baby arrives.
Morgan: Right. Is that something the Doggy 12-Step Program helps to address? Dog-on-dog aggression? Like, if your dog hates other dogs?
Mike: Well, it helps lay a foundation of respect and impulse-control in the presence of the owner. But in and of itself, if you have dog aggression issues, the Doggy 12-Step Program is not going to make it go away, in all likelihood.
In rare cases it can. But more what it does is to set out a context of structure and authority that puts the owner, then, in a position to be more effective with respect to the specific training methods for dealing with a dog that’s dog-aggressive.
And in most dog aggression cases – dog-on-dog aggression cases – it’s mostly resolvable, or can become manageable. But it takes time, and some practice.
And you need to have the time and the practice to, really, just have the dog alone with somebody. With a trainer who knows what they’re doing.
If there’s ever an area where you want to address this before the baby arrives, this is one of them – for sure.
A Surprising Fact About On-Leash Aggression
Morgan: Yes. So in a snapshot, in a nutshell, what is the antidote? What’s the training that you do for dogs?
Mike: Well, OK – so you can split it into two answers. One is: there are many dogs who are reactive to other dogs when they’re on the leash, but not reactive to dogs when they’re off the leash at the dog park.
So in that case, which is the easier of the scenarios, you first have to teach the dog to stop pulling on the leash, and you then have to teach the dog that the appearance of another dog over there means good things for it from you, in the form of a treat, or a toy, or a ball.
But the primary thing that has to go is the tension in the leash – it’s often improper leash handling and tension in the leash, restraint on the leash in the presence of the other dog, that creates the outburst.
So, when you can eliminate the tension in the leash, 80% of the aggression goes away just like that.
Mike: Then you can use approaches involving systematic desensitizing, where you just teach the dog that if it looks at you whenever it sees another dog over there it gets a treat.
And it keeps getting treats, as long as the other dog is in what I call your dog’s reactive zone.
So, over time it starts to associate the presence of dogs over there with good things from you, which shifts the attention of the dog from that other dog towards you, and puts the whole experience in a positive context.
Morgan: That’s very interesting – and, of course, counter-intuitive, or counter-instinctive.
Because, of course, the snap response when your dog lunges at another dog is always tension in the leash. But tension in the extreme – you’re just yanking your dog back.
So, that couldn’t be more counter-instinctive. But it’s very interesting that 80% of it will resolve.
Ways To Cultivate Aggression (Without Knowing It)
Mike: Well, think about it – well, most people don’t think about it, because they don’t know this. But that’s exactly the way you train police dogs to become aggressive.
You restrain and irritate, restrain and irritate, restrain and irritate.
They put them in harnesses, with leash clips on the back – that’s the worst thing you can use on a dog if you’re experiencing on-leash dog aggression, because harnesses will jack up the aggression tremendously.
They put the dog in a harness, they restrain the dog while the other guy – whose job is to be an “agitator” – irritates the dog by just being weird. As the dog starts getting wound up, he starts straining to go check it out.
The handler starts to restrain the dog, and the dog goes into a frenzy. And that’s how you cultivate high levels of aggression in otherwise normal dogs. So, anyway, people do that all the time.
So then, the other piece of it is if you’ve got dogs that are aggressive at any time. In other words, if they’re at the park, off the leash, they’re going to attack other dogs.
That’s much more difficult to deal with. The on-leash dog aggression is usually really simple to deal with.
Mike: Not in every case, but I’d say 80% of those cases resolve very quickly.
But if a dog is aggressive on the leash and off the leash, then you’re in a whole other category, and it’s much more tricky. It’s more multi-dimensional.
But in either case – whatever the case is – if you’re a person with a dog like that, and you’re having a baby, I would highly recommend getting professional help immediately and addressing it.
This is an area that people cannot address on their own – they need help.
What Kind Of Trainer To Seek Out
Morgan: Right, got it. Well, is there anything else you want to add to that?
My take-away, listening to you, is just to reiterate what you just said: that this is not really something that you can deal with alone in your house, like some of the tactics and techniques that we’ve talked about in previous episodes.
You actually need to work with a professional dog-trainer to deal with this issue. That’s my first take-away.
And my second take-away is: take it seriously. You do have to deal with this.
Because odds are, if you don’t, it’s going to put you in a potentially very compromising position, where you could be caught in that situation you talked about, with that woman on the hillside, where the dog just ends up going to town on another dog. Or gets mauled by another dog, through instigating a situation.
But yes, I would say those are my two primary take-aways – is there anything else you want to emphasize?
Mike: Yes – because this is a tricky issue, I’m just going to throw out a little bit of my training philosophy, here.
If you’re in a situation like that and you’re looking for a trainer, I would avoid two types of trainers.
I would avoid the type of trainers whose only answer to every training problem is to yank on a choke chain – and by the same token, I would avoid purely positive trainers, where the answer to every problem is to shelter the dog from exposure, and just use treats, treats, treats, and never say no.
Neither approach really works – but the purely positive approach is more common, these days. And it just doesn’t work to reduce the liability in the long-run, with these types of issues.
So, my suggestion would be to find somebody who has some version of my approach, which is to maximize the positive reinforcement, minimize compulsion, but be realistic.
In other words, be intelligent enough to know when and where to apply force strategically, as well as how to use a lot of positive reinforcement.
It’s usually an intelligent combination of both, with the emphasis on the positive reinforcement – a heavy emphasis on the positive reinforcement – that does the trick.
But to just go strictly with the yank-into-submission mode or treat-them-into-cooperation mode – neither one of those will work, and you’ll spend a lot of money and get frustrated.
What Should We Do About Other People’s Aggressive Dogs?
Morgan: So, I have a question which is slightly tangential, but maybe other people wonder about this too. I’m curious to see how you respond to this – but when I see people walking down the street, and their dog just attacks another dog as they’re walking by, it’s obvious to me that this is the type of dog that has done this a lot.
And even when the owner is pulling the dog off, it’s clear that they’re not really dealing with the issue. What do you think of that?
Is it appropriate to smack that other dog back? Tongue in cheek – but what’s an appropriate response, in that situation?
Mike: Well, I’ll tell you, it’s a toughie – because it happens all the time.
The bulk of people with aggressive dogs don’t take any responsibility for them. They just hope for the best.
And then you’ll get some situation like what you just described, and they always say: “Oh, he’s never done that before.” And that’s only true once, right?
And it’s almost never true in situations like that. When a dog shows that full-blown level of aggression, it’s never the first time. There’s a whole track record.
Other people just don’t care. I hate to say, there’s people out there who just don’t give a you-know-what, they’re just willing to inflict their dog on the public.
And I have an extremely short temper for that, at this point.
I’ve been doing this for 22 years, I’ve seen this thousands of times – where the person whose dog is being attacked has to take responsibility for both dogs.
And the point at which the people will suddenly get involved is when you start manhandling their dog, since they’re not doing it. Then, they’ll get all over you.
Protect Yours And Other People’s Dogs
Morgan: So, what’s the right response?
Mike: It’s hard to know what to do. The right response is to protect your dog. At that point, you’re kind of screwed, because the other person doesn’t care, and you’re on your own. It’s a terrible situation.
And like I said, I used to be a lot more liberal and tolerant. But now I encourage clients who find themselves in a situation like that, as soon as they can get out of the situation, to instantly call the police, or call animal control.
There are systems in place to deal with people like this, although most people don’t avail themselves.
You know, in San Francisco, there’s a whole part of the police department dedicated solely to dog issues. You have a hearing, you have a judge – you can have people’s dogs declared ‘Vicious and Dangerous,’ which means they have to go and get training, they have to have a muzzle on them in public, and all that stuff.
And I throw the book at people, these days – because the kind of callous carelessness that it takes to have a dog like that and not do something about it, and just put other people’s dogs at risk, is unacceptable, to me.
Morgan: Yes. And when you say you throw the book at people, is that in your role as an expert witness?
Mike: Well, no – just in my role as an offended citizen. I did this once, when my dog was attacked. I had four puncture wounds in my hand from getting this person’s dog off my dog.
My dog had puncture wounds in its side, and the guy was just sitting there, and went: “Your problem, man. My dog’s just being a dog.”
I was so livid that I went back over to his little cocker spaniel, pulled the collar off the dog, and then called the police. And I pulled the collar off the dog because that’s where the ID tags are.
Morgan: Yes, I was going to ask about that.
Mike: Yes – and so then I just called the police. Because usually, these people do grab their dog and take off really fast before anybody can get there.
So, I grabbed the collar and the cops got there, and we went through the whole procedure.
And I had the dog declared Vicious and Dangerous. Which doesn’t mean that they put them down – it means that the person is then compelled to take training classes, to muzzle the dog.
And then he’s got a strike – so there’s a kind of three-strikes thing, here. I think it varies from place to place, but here there’s a three-strikes thing. Second strike, there’s something else – third strike, they take the dog.
Morgan: Got it. Wow. So, you’ve got a lot of experience with it.
Morgan: Yes – I didn’t mean to work you up!
Mike: Yes, I get really hot under the collar about this, because I’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of thing so many times with clients’ dogs.
And it’s always just galling to me, how people can let that go on, and then just tell you to your face: “Screw you – what are you going to do about it?”
Morgan: Yes, in so many words.
Mike: Anyway – a little tangential.
Morgan: Yes, but instructive nevertheless.
Mike: Yes, definitely.
Don’t Ignore This Key Issue
Morgan: Alright, everybody – so there you have it.
I already kind of summed up the basic lesson here, which just to quickly recap is: one, if your dog has this issue, first of all don’t ignore it. You need to act, you need to deal with it – because it could put you in a really bad situation. So, that’s number one.
And then number two is that to do this, you need help from a professional.
You need a professional dog trainer to deal with that issue. You’re not going to be able to do it on your own.
And Mike talked about what some of those training modalities actually are. And so I encourage you, if you have this issue: go get help – especially if you’ve got a little one on the way, or you’ve got a toddler.
It’s very instructive, it deals with most all of the issues that we talk about in this podcast. One of the two modules in his video course will help you with whatever issues you have in terms of preparing your dog for your child.
Mike, again, thank you. Anything else you want to add, before we end?
Mike: No, that’s it – just the same admonition as always: if you’ve got issues with your dog, deal with them now. Don’t wait.