Q: My Miniature Dachshund, Candy Lu, occasionally charges and barks at other dogs on the sidewalk. Often, these dogs are much larger than she is. Why on earth is she doing this? Prior to the charge attack the other dog was paying her no mind at all. How can I get her to stop this embarrassing and potentially dangerous behaviour? —Pacifist in Petaluma
A:Dogs do this when they are afraid of other dogs, or have not had much socialization with other dogs to understand they are not potential enemies. You’re probably thinking, “Candy Lu is starting it! How can that mean she’s afraid?” Most aggressive behaviour, however, is based in fear. Some dogs will cower at things they fear, but many will go on the offensive, figuring it’s better to attack first than be attacked.
Size doesn’t matter. Candy Lu will think nothing of challenging a dog ten times her size, but what if another dog accepts? You are right to be concerned.
When dealing with aggressive behaviour, it’s always best to get professional help from a reward-based trainer who specializes in aggression. The trainer will take a complete history, then give you exercises to help Candy Lu deal with her stress in a productive way, rather than charging other dogs. Be sure to use positive techniques. If you punish Candy Lu for her behaviour, she could start associating the punishment with the sight of other dogs. Then she’ll be convinced they are evil! We want her to learn how to cope with her discomfort in the presence of other dogs, and learn that they are not so bad after all.
You mentioned this is an occasional problem. When Candy Lu does successfully pass another dog without issues, give her treats and praise her! Reward her for the behaviour you want. When you see another dog approach, try not to tense up on the leash or you could be triggering her fear. Instead, take positive action. Call, “Candy Lu, come!” and run backwards to encourage her to come to you. Ask for some puppy push-ups or other tricks. Give her something to do that’s a better choice than going after her canine neighbours.