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My roommate has a dog (say, Rex) that I sometimes take out to the dog park. I am not the owner of the dog but he does seem to listen to me in our interactions. Also, he is quite obedient and friendly-to-dogs and -to-people.

I took him today and he fought with a pup over a ball. Sometimes this happens and the fighting is friendly. However, this time, would I not interfere, I think Rex would have gone to blood-shedding.

Of course, from now on, I will pay much more attention to his behavior to avoid such escalation in the future. However, it did raise a point in my mind:

-> How would you treat the dog after such incident?

What I did was being stern with him. I.E. I took him right out of the park, talked stern with him, shortened the leash (which I generally do not do), and not giving him attention once we came back home. I refuse to hit the dog for such stuff because I have seen methods like this and I do not think they work. They tend to make the animal more aggressive in the long term.

P.S: the dog is not fixed and I, and the owner, are of the belief that he should not be fixed.

  • What did the fight look like? Was he barking or growling with a gurgling sound? Showing his teeth? Actually snapping after the puppy? What makes you believe that he would have injured the pup? – Elmy Nov 1 '18 at 9:30
  • @Elmy He was showing teeth and he pulled me when I tried to take him form the pup. I did used to have a smaller dog before and he got bitten after an incident like that. I don't think I am exaggerating but yes in fact maybe I should look up what kind of aggression is tolerable or not... – Snifkes Nov 1 '18 at 16:02
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    From my point of view it's still unclear whether your dog was truely aggressive or playing very enthusiasticly. I think you acted right in avoiding a fight, but I don't know if there actually was a fight. Some signs of aggression are clearer than others, like the hairs on the back standing upright and a gurgling growl. Others are harder to spot if you don't know enough about the body language of dogs. Have a look at this very informative video – Elmy Nov 1 '18 at 20:09
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I am not the owner of the dog but he does seem to listen to me in our interactions.

This is a really great start so keep it up if you are to continue taking him out.

I took him today and he fought with a pup over a ball. Sometimes this happens and the fighting is friendly. However, this time, would I not interfere, I think Rex would have gone to blood-shedding.

Ok, this is a little unclear and vague as to what happened so im going to give some summaries or what it could be based on what you have said, these will however be different. But i suggest you improve on the description of this as it will affect answers.

  1. This could have legitimately been play fighting that happened to be quite vocal (GSDs are renowned for this, lots of noise and teeth when it is really just playing).

  2. This is play fighting that perhaps went to far and developed into a bit of a scuffle. In which case, you need to be able to distinguish that this is the case. This comes with getting to know your dog.

  3. This was an actual fight. This could have been a show of dominance or possessiveness.

Sadly i cant really gage which one it is as its a bit vague in how you have described this.

How would you treat the dog after such incident?

The honest answer... in exactly the same way in the long term (after a minute).

Immediately after the misbehaving however (under a minute): it needs a correction instantly to show that that specific behaviour it has just displayed is not ok and it will be corrected/punished. Anything after that short time is borderline pointless as the dog will not make the connection between the behaviour and the correction and will continue with the same misbehaving action and be confused as to why you are correcting it.

When I say correction, this can be anything you have chosen to do to correct your dog i.e. sharp tug on the lead, a stern shout of 'no', putting it back on the lead, or a combo of those etc.

What I did was being stern with him. I.E. I took him right out of the park, talked stern with him, shortened the leash (which I generally do not do), and not giving him attention once we came back home.

Anything that isnt immediately after the missbehaving is borderline pointless as ive said the dog will not make the connection for something you are punishing it for half an hour ago. It needs to be instantaneous.

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I think you did the right thing by quickly interfering and separating the dogs before it escalated beyond a bit of shouting. I don't think you need to continue ignoring the dog when you get back home because by then he won't still be associating the punishment with the incident. Dogs don't link cause-and-effect to such an extent, so he may not even know why you are ignoring him by that stage which is a) confusing for the dog and b) not teaching him anything.

The short answer to your question: Treat the dog with calm authority after an incident like this, which seems to be what you have done.

I do have a further suggestion though, to prevent future issues and reinforce good behavior:

My suggestion would be to start as you did by separating the dogs. But from this point, rather than walk away from the park, walk them slowly away from each other until they calm down.

Once they have calmed, ask the other owner if you can walk a bit with them. Explain that you want their interaction to end on a calm positive note so if they meet again they won't instantly have a negative association and reaction to each other. Hopefully the other owner will be co-operative.

Walk them together, parallel to each other, and both on lead, with no balls or toys or treats to argue over. Leave as much space as you both feel comfortable leaving, but aim to make sure the dogs are close enough to know this is a joint activity. Walk them together for a while, and if you feel comfortable let them get closer to each other.

They don't have to be best buddies by the end of this walk, it could be less than 2 minutes and you can then go on your way. Or you can continue as long as you like to eventually let them off the lead to play together again if you judge that it's the right time.

Speak in low, soft tones, keep everything calm. Praise them both gently but only if they both remain nice and calm.

In this way, they will have forgotten the incident and next time they meet it will be a positive association.

Plus, you won't have to continue the punishment of ignoring or being stern for longer than it takes to walk home.

EDIT: I believe the above will only work if the scuffle did not turn into a bloodbath. If it had been a true fight with real biting (sometimes called red-zone) your dog could be high on adrenaline for days. No amount of correction or positive reinforcement will sink in, and it's best to just take him home and avoid over-stimulating his senses for a few hours / days.

  • In response to the edit: “Could be on adrenaline for days” adrenaline generally subsides quickly, it’s a secretion of a hormone, unless you have something that would constantly trigger say anxiety then it’s highly unlikely the adrenaline will carry on for days unless continually provoked. Yes dogs can go into ‘the red zone’ but they don’t ignore corrections, corrections can work immediately and the dog needs to know it over stepped the mark. Simply taking the dog home does not do this, you’ve point blank ignored the behaviour, practically reinforcing it. – UIO Nov 2 '18 at 18:50
  • This is a great suggestion for introducing dogs and calming an incident, but you need to tell your dog it was wrong to act the way it acted or it will simply do it again as it doesn’t realise it’s wrong behaviour. – UIO Nov 2 '18 at 18:54

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