Dear Julie,

I have a 3 year old neutered male Springer Spaniel who aggressively lunges towards, growls and barks at the dogs we pass on our walks.  Why is he doing this and can it be fixed?


Good Dog Gone Wrong

Dear; Good Dog Gone Wrong,

There are many different reasons for this type of behaviour, the most common types of dog aggression are; hyper motivation, proximity sensitivity, bullying, compulsive fighting and predatory drift.  Treatment programs exist for almost every type of aggression but the degree of success depends on many different variables.   In the case of compulsive fighters and dogs that display signs of predatory drift, I personally recommend strong management as these guys present a significant liability issue and risk when attempting treatment and have a notoriously poor success rate.

Hyper Motivation can be identified through history if there has been insufficient exposure or socialization.  The dog will demonstrate a lack of proper canine social etiquette when greeting. They can display hyper active energy; lunging and pulling towards the other dog, they may show aggression due to leash frustration or other variables and often provoke defensiveness or aggression in other dogs due to rude behaviour.  This issue is usually compounded by isolation as the owner avoids passing other dogs.

Proximity Sensitivity can also arise due to the lack of socialization, but more commonly develops as the result of a traumatic dog attack or interaction.  Signs include; the dog displaying signs of fear and avoidance when confronted with another dog, actively ignoring other dogs until they get too close or make a ‘wrong move’, may use a fear provoked aggressive display to maintain distance and even attacking behaviours when threatened.

Selective Aggression is when a dog will play very well with some dogs and display signs of bully or even compulsive fighting with others.  This means that your dog simply does not like everyone he / she meets and this is their personal preference.

Bully Behaviour is when the dog finds picking on other dogs a reinforcing event.  They tend to prey on weaker disposition dogs with unfair play, constantly pushing the other dog down and not allowing them to reciprocate play.  They often play rough with other bully type dogs and can play well with some dog friends.

Compulsive fighters have very little, if any, desire for social interactions with other dogs.  They may coexist in the same space as other dogs, learning to tolerate them but they tend to ignore the other dog until it steps across the line.  These dogs find it a highly reinforcing event to fight with the intent to cause serious injury or even death.

Predatory drift happens when a larger dog’s prey drive is stimulated by a smaller dog’s movement or behaviour, which can cause the larger dog to attack the small dog in the same way he would attack his prey.  Yelping, struggling and people yelling can cause the attacking dog to become more excited.