I have a 2.5 year old pitbull/boxer mix. He is a rescue dog, and is extremely aggressive towards other dogs (and I will probably be asking many questions about that). However, he has always been very good with people, especially women and children. He gets along great with my nephews and my sisters.

A few weeks ago, however, he was diagnosed with heartworm. He has not yet received his first immiticide injection, but he is being kept relatively "quiet" under vet's orders.

This seems to have made him more aggressive. He is now - seemingly randomly - lunging at people and bikes when we're out on walks. Just today, a young girl (roughly 10 years of age) was walking by us on the sidewalk, and he lunged at her. I kept him on a short leash, and when he tried to jump again, I pushed him (rather forcefully, I admit) in the chest, knocking him over.

I don't condone violence against animals, but I was angry he would be so aggressive towards a young child. So my question is two-fold:

  1. Is this newly aggressive behavior towards people a result of his lack of exercise, etc., or is it him becoming more protective towards me?
  2. How should I have reacted in this situation? Should I try to calm him with pets and praise? Should I "rain treats"? Or should I be firm and forceful about not doing that again?

The second question is very important to me, because my natural instinct is to protect the other person.

  • 14
    Steve D, congratulations on posting the first question on Pets and being the first user to register on Pets (except for two StackExchange developers)! And it's also the most upvoted question so far. :)
    – Athari
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 16:11

4 Answers 4


Distraction, via food, voice or otherwise, is usually a good way of managing in the short term but in my personal view it can take quite some time before the dog gets the connection if you're using distraction alone and relying on things to happen (i.e. whenever a child happens to pass by).

Another short term technique to can be of help is finding an incompatible behaviour, i.e. one that, if he performs that behaviour, he can't exhibit the problem behaviour at the same time.

In your case, for example, you might ask your dog to sit and to watch you. Both behaviours are incompatible with lunging, i.e. it can't lunge and sit at the same time. But you'll have to ensure his motivation to keep sitting is higher than his fear of the child. So get not just your average treats but very, very special super yummy sausages, steak, whatever he likes most. This is different from simple distraction, as you are asking your dog to actively do stuff and he knows that lunging at children will mean losing out on the reward he knows he's getting if he just keeps still that little bit longer.

The long term solution is what's called desensitization and counter-conditioning. In short, it means gradually getting your dog used to whatever triggers the fear reaction (and it is fear 99% of the time rather than aggression) while at the same time associating the trigger with positive outcomes.

Practically, it means you'll want to recruit someone's child to help you, since children seem to be the trigger. The main thing to do is to make this training exercise safe for the child, your dog and yourself, so ideally set it up with a fence between the dog and the child, so the dog can't get at the child even if you lose control of the leash.

Find the distance at which your dog is still comfortable with the child, i.e. well before it starts lunging or showing any other warning signals (growling, raised heckles, etc.). While you are at a comfortable distance, whenever the dog looks over to the child, reward it with lots of praise and food (or a toy, if that's what motivates your dog). Really hammer it home that good things happen when it looks at the child and doesn't react. The best way to do this (if your dog is food motivated) is to give him a special type of treat, the nicest you can find, that he only gets when he is around children and behaves himself. Don't use this type of treat for anything else!

Once your dog is happy with the child at a certain distance and realises good things happen with the child around, move a step closer. Really go slowly, as getting it wrong will undo a lot of work up to that point.

When you do get it wrong and your dog reacts to the child, lead it away to a safe distance and start again. Don't punish the dog! You're the one who pushed it too quickly into a situation the dog is not comfortable with. Simply go back to a distance the dog is OK with and start again.

Do this for 5-10 minutes, then wait until the next day. Gradually build up your dog's resistance to children and slowly associate them as being good for it.

Keep in mind that this might be a long and slow process for the simple reason that when you're actually out on a walk and your dog is forced into a situation it's not comfortable with (children have the unfortunate tendency of wanting to pet even the most fearsome and aggressive looking dogs) and it lunges, the kid will probably run away, meaning the dog's response just got reinforced and you have to undo that again.

Dog is scared of kid, dog lunges, kid runs away => dog achieves desired outcome.

  • Thanks for this very informative answer. However, I should remark that it might not be fear when it comes to my dog. With other dogs, for example, I have determined he is almost surely aggressive, not afraid. He will bark and "dance" back and forth even for dogs 500 ft away. In fact, before his heartworm diagnosis, we used to go on "pack walks" with off-leash dogs, while my dog wore a muzzle and leash. He settled into the pack mentality prertty quickly, but always at the beginning of the walks would display typical aggressive behavior: snapping, charging, kicking dirt, etc.
    – Steve D
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 23:46
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    Sorry, I should probably have worded that differently. While your dog may display aggressive behaviour (growling, barking, lunging, snapping, etc.), it is very unusual for a dog to do so because it is actually aggressive. Rather, most of the times, it will react aggressively because it is fearful. If your dog is on leash, it knows its movement is restricted and it is, therefore, more on edge. My own dog has similar behaviour problems and they are a lot more pronounced while on leash. Once he realises the other dogs mean no harm and he's gotten a chance to sniff them he usually gets along fine
    – ThomasH
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 0:02
  • But my dog doesn't want to sniff other dogs: his first instinct seems to be to snap and bite. This is the reason he had to wear a muzzle in the dog park: once he gets to know a dog, he is usually fine, but he is always aggressive towards new dogs. Anyway, your answer is very informative, and I will be asking questions in the future about his dog-dog aggression. Thanks again!
    – Steve D
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 4:20
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    To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what's the cause for that behaviour. It could simply be that it got reinforced unwittingly and now he thinks that's the way to behave around other dogs. Depending on what age you rescued him at, he might also be poorly socialised. As you said yourself though, it's probably the topic of at least another question
    – ThomasH
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 8:49
  1. It could be a multitude of things. Lack of exercise plays a big role in how your dog acts. If they have a lot of unused energy, they're more likely to act up.

  2. Giving him treats or praise will encourage the behavior you're trying to prevent. You want to refrain from treats or praise until he's doing what you want him to do.

In the mean time, make it clear to him what you want. You want to be the focus of his attention when you come across a child or another dog. You can do this by keeping him right next to you (never in front of you) by using a short leash. If he tries to pull, tilt the leash upwards. Doing so creates unusual pressure on the bottom of his neck, causing him to look up and see what's going on. If he still won't turn his attention to you, you can forcefully nudge him with the side of your leg until he yields. I've found with my dog sometimes I have to step in front of her and hold her muzzle, forcing her to look at me.

It's also important that you remain calm. It's easy to get upset and dogs have the ability of reading our emotions. If you're tense and angry, he'll start tune you out.

Source: personal experience with my black lab guided by insight from Cesar Millan

  • 2
    Thanks for the great answer! When I said "rain treats", I meant the idea of counter-conditioning: when he sees a person or bike on a walk, I just start shoving treats in his face until the person or bike has passed. I didn't mean giving him treats after lunging! :)
    – Steve D
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 22:06
  • Ah, gotcha. I generally don't like doing that because if you find yourself without treats it's hard to control them. Simply keeping his attention while someone passes will go a long way. I had the same trouble with my dog lunging. After about a week of working on keeping her attention she started acting calm around people. I was rather shocked at how effective it was.
    – Paperjam
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 22:10
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    -1 for Cesar Millan, he is far from what I'd call a reliable source on dog behaviour. In this particular instance, forcing your dog in any way (via leash pulling or "nudging") may well help to reinforce that children = bad things happening. But +1 for keeping your dog's attention. Treats usually work well for that, but so will a happy voice or asking your dog to watch you (if you got it on command).
    – ThomasH
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 23:18
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    I think Milan is an OK guy, and a great TV personality, but a lot of that "pack mentality" training has been debunked in scientific studies: dogs can easily differentiate between humans they live with and other dogs.
    – Steve D
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 7:34
  • 3
    Cesar Millan has done a lot to advance the cause of dog training and I don't doubt he has the sincerest intentions. But he has no training or background in animal behaviour. He's purely self-taught and has come up with his own explanations of why stuff works. Unfortunately, most of it is plain wrong and a lot of what he does is unnecessary cruel and distressing to the dog. This YouTube video shows Cesar Millan repeatedly misinterpreting dog body language. If you want a more in-depth explanation, feel free to ask a question about it
    – ThomasH
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 9:46

I don't think it is the things I've read about here. I don't own a dog but have always been kind and never show fear of them. The property I live on has quite a few dogs because they breed certain ones for sale.

The dogs in question are dogs that are older and of all sizes belong to the residence here. What happened the first time, I was walking past one on our property a very small dog tied up on a leash, it was night time and I had a head light on, thinking the dog thought I was an intruder. Lunged and bit my ankle. Now that I think about it the dog already knew my scent.

It lunged at me walking by, me thinking it would not do that but it did. Then the second time it was a very old full-size pit bull, dead asleep laying on the living room floor of a resident. The children were playing in that room, as I walked by to go in the kitchen to look to see something on the refrigerator for repair, was only there for a few seconds, as I'm walking past him to leave he wakes from dead sleep lunging at me locking on to my ankle.

No adults were around to help me, I was lucky to be able to talk to him without touching him, yelling for him to let go. He kept biting down harder I starting to panic because I didn't know what to do. He let up just for split second allowing me to lunge for the door barely making out of the room with him in tow lunging at me again slamming the sliding door behind me. Even a dog needs time to wake up, I thought.

This same pit bull in the past with the owner right next to me talking, he lunged and locked on to my arm, on two different occasions. He was able to get him off my arm. It wasn't that easy for him either. He is a big guy too.

When I would leave in my vehicle this first dog would be barking like crazy when I drove by. It since died. The second dog was put down after that. The third dog still to this day, will out of the blue knowing me from being on the property for so long, still will come at me growling like she wants blood.

Today I was checking my tire by the side of the road in a residential neighborhood squatting down to look at my tire as a lady was walking very close by me with medium size dog. I may have been moving too quickly for the dog but it too lunged at me growling like it wanted blood. The lady said she was really good and it was rare she never does that, but did it to another lady once. A stranger.

This stranger has got me thinking. Some people even a child can have this effect on dogs. A child is not threating nor am I these dogs. Something about us is sensed by them we just don't know. Maybe I was bad to dogs in another life I'm not sure but this has me perplexed.

Sometimes when I walk by the dogs in cages they all start to go nutz with aggressions like I'm attacking someone. ty

I will add this because I have no idea what I personally could be doing to make dogs react this way. There are light and dark entities all around us in the spirit world. The light entities are spirit guides that help some people to navigate through life.

It is possible they sense a dark entity close to me. Dark entities feed off of our negitive emotions. You dont have to believe this but it is something I do believe and can be the reason for this behavior. Being ignorant of things you dont know doesnt mean they are not real.


It is true that not knowing, doesn't make something not be real. But also, believing in something doesn't make it real either. Although we may not know if it's ghosts, there are other things that it may be which are worth considering. For one thing, more often than not, people who claim their dog is never aggressive when it lunges at you, are lying to avoid getting in trouble. The dogs may smell something that is setting them off like certain colognes. Not to scare you, but some dogs can smell skin Cancer. If it's always toward your ankle, it might be worth getting checked. I knew a lady whose Schnauzer kept nipping one spot and sure enough, and she had a doctor check it out and it was. Dogs look at body language different than how we do. Point being, it could be a lot of things.

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