Adverts: 0161 709 4576 - Editorial: 0161 709 4571
Mail Order: 0161 709 4578 - Subs: 0161 709 4575 - Webteam: 0161 709 4567
Training and behaviour tips
- Handling canine aggression

Aggression must be one of the most worrying aspects of dog ownership. Where does it come from and what can you do to minimise the risks?

I would think that every dog owner is at risk of being involved in canine aggression. They may have the quietest and most inoffensive dog in the district - until it is attacked by another dog and without provocation. This, I believe, is the start of a VICIOUS CIRCLE.

Sandy, a nice inoffensive dog is on the lead, but Nero, who is a free spirit and believes that the whole neighbourhood is his territory, attacks him. Sandy learns a lesson from this unprovoked aggression from Nero and that lesson is - the best form of defence is attack; or to run away. However if he has any self-respect or is tethered on a lead running away is not an option.

Sandy now becomes wary of other dogs and, if he feels there is danger about, he is likely to get in first. Tanya, who is another non-fighter, becomes Sandy’s victim; now in turn she becomes the aggressor when she feels there is danger in the air - and so it goes on.

Within my forty-three years of G.S.D. ownership my dogs have been aggressively attacked, without provocation, on nine different occasions. At those times they were on the lead, although on one of the occasions I was holding them by the collar because I did not have time to put them on their leads

Unfortunately, aggression from one dog to another is a VICIOUS CIRCLE and no doubt my explanation of this will give a number of dog owners the excuse they have been looking for, when the explain their own dog’s aggressive activities. If that happens I have created a disservice to dog ownership.

It is unfortunate that many owners fail to read the signs, or knowing that their dogs’ have aggressive tendencies, ignore the problem. How often do we hear an owner say ‘he has never done that before? How often do we see an owner with a dog growling or snapping at every passing dog while straining at the end of the lead and what is the owner doing - nothing effective to stop this unprovoked aggression? I see it almost every morning when I take my dog out and go for the morning paper. A little Pug, controlling a gentleman on the lead, strains on his hind legs to get at my German Shepherd. This gentleman never does a thing to stop it, although he keeps the Pug at a distance when passing. A few years ago Ceilidh would have tried to respond, but at the age of ten, she tells me there isn’t even a decent meal from it.

When I was lecturing at college on canine behaviour I was often asked what I would do if a dog came in and attacked my own dog. My answer brought out gasps of horror until we discussed the alternatives. One alternative I have strongly discouraged, is to put your hands down to separate the dogs; this is fatal and you could just as easily be bitten by your own dog you as by the aggressor. I was thinking of the DINO case and would say that the lady who had her finger injured was asking for trouble. Mark you every rule is there to be broken at some time, if the situation is right and you have the confidence and the ability to take the appropriate action.

I don’t think it can be said that a dog will never bite, just as we could not say that a car driver will never be guilty of undue care and attention while on the road. A car driver, who is guilty of such an act, may cause a very bad accident and be penalised, but he will not be condemned to death. Unfortunately there are too many cases when the law courts seem to believe that the death penalty is the only option with a dog.

I was present at a show chatting within a group of friends when a passing Spaniel type of dog made an unprovoked jump on the back of a friend’s dog and aggressively attacked him. While others watched and did nothing, I took both hands, one at the neck and the other at the back end and with two hands full of hair and some skin pulled the dog off and threw it to the ground. Although the owner said her dog had never attacked before, she disappeared very quickly.


Before suggesting what could be done to terminate a canine attack we should firstly consider that terminating an attack is different from planning a programme to curing a dog with aggressive tendencies. Creating a long-term gain does not come into the equation when you are unexpectedly faced with an attack from a dog that is probably unknown to you.

Any action from you must be that of the most DOMINANT party present. Your aggression should be equal to your dominance. Dogs in a state of aggression only understand aggression at that time. We see it time and again in nature programmes on television when male animals in the wild try to sort out their differences - there is a fight and the most dominant animal (aggressive) wins. The principal with dogs is just the same, but if we add another factor; that of an owner intervening, he becomes another aggressor. To win (he or she) must have the dominance to overcome the two dogs already involved. This may equate to the sum of the two protagonists plus a bit more.

Let us not kid ourselves; one dog attacking and the other defending is defending the right to live peacefully is the situation that can be overcome in two ways -

1. To let them fight it out without external interference.
In my book, this is not an option.

2. To get involved and sort it out - is the only option.
How do we sort it out? By applying any means at our disposal; toys, titbits, sweet talk or ignoring the situation are of no value and I am thinking more of personal intervention that involves the application of physical or verbal methods or both. The dominance (aggression) must have the strength to subdue both dogs. Yes, during the various altercations, I have used my feet, my hands, my walking stick and a brick along with my vocal cords; and I make no apology. Every squabble was terminated without a dog being injured although some owners were not too happy about my approach; but that was their problem, they had allowed the altercation to start in the first place and I was not going to have my dog damaged by some other person’s inability to keep their own dog under control. I would assess, however, that the force of my vocal intervention helped greatly to minimise the strength of my physical activities.

I always keep in mind the Criminal Law Act 1967 Section 3 (1) that gives guidance on the use of force. It states ‘A person can use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders’. It should always be recognised that a dog that acts aggressively in the company of his owner does not have sufficient respect for his owner’s authority - that is where the analysis of the problem should start.

The subject of canine aggression and intervention in a dogfight is something that seems to be avoided by dog training Instructors and Behaviourists. I do feel however, that the dog owning public have the right to be better informed and would benefit from some constructive contributions from others on this subject. I am sure the editor would welcome additional contributions on the subject.

There is much more to canine aggression than dog fights, such as -
Protective Aggression - Possessive Aggression - Fear-based Aggression.
I do not recall any other author handling these situation but they will be found in my book titled -
YOUR DOG - A Guide to Solving Behaviour Problems.
ISBN 1 85223 954 9
Publisher - The Crowood Press Ltd. and available from OUR DOGS
John Cree
Instructor Accreditation (SCOTVEC)
Training Methods - 6190220
Assessing Trainee Performance - 6190230
Assessing Candidate Performance - 6792001