My large rescue dog is aggressive towards other dogs, especially smaller ones. What is the best way to introduce her to other pets without worrying she’ll hurt them?
The answer is very carefully, as there is little room for error the more the dogs differ in size. It’s just not a fair fight and could end in disaster depending on the history of the larger dog.
It’s important to state that not all dogs are safe to put together. Some red flag behaviors are: extreme focus or excitement at the sight of another dog, uncontrollable barking, persistent lunging, growling, snarling or snapping. These threatening behaviors usually indicate a very uncomfortable dog that will require a lot of training and avoidance of unnecessary risks.
The first exercise I recommend for any dog with aggressive behaviors is to pay attention to his or her handler when a trigger is present. In this case, the sight of a dog should predict pleasant outcomes like food, play, and petting from the handler.
It may take distance to achieve this goal behavior, so start introductions far away from the smaller dog and on neutral ground. Walk the dogs together, keeping plenty of distance to ensure that they are able to look away from each other and up at their individual handlers for reward. If this is not possible, gain more distance until it is.
Gradually decrease the distance between them as the dogs are successful. This could take many sessions to achieve and shouldn’t be pushed too far too fast. Training and changing behavior is a process, so expect it to take time and hundreds of repetitions of the goal behavior to make a new habit.
Set yourself and the dogs you are introducing up for success by going through these steps:
• Give them plenty of exercise before training sessions.
• Keep sessions short and positive using their favorite food or toys.
• Prevent practice of the unwanted behavior by taking it slow.
• Separate the dogs when training is not possible.
Please remember that difficult cases usually require aid from training equipment and guidance from a qualified professional.
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