Redirected Aggression, Why it is so Dangerous and Why You Don’t Think About it

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dog aggression training, redirected aggression in dogs

Excited Dogs Can Bite

I work for a friend of mine at her doggy day care.

I swear my fitbit and I log 15 miles or more on a good day, just walking dogs back and forth and out to play and in to nap.

And, the rare dog that doesn’t like to play or can’t play with other dogs, well they also need some good long walks in order to stimulate their minds.

But occasionally we have issues with redirected aggression.

Thankfully I think we see it more in our line of work than most pet owners see it from their dogs.

But, it DOES exist.

I normal dog, who’s owner swears he would “never bite anyone” will bite when his frustration is redirected to whatever is near him.

So let me paint a picture that I think most people can understand.

When one dog in a doggy day care goes outside, or goes home, or goes anywhere that the other dogs can see; well everyone gets excited and wants to go too.

There is often barking and kennel spinning as all the other dogs voice their excitement and concern.

And, if 2 of these dogs get close enough (even if they are just in crates) they can lash out and try to bite each other sometimes through the bars.

It doesn’t matter if they are friends outside or not.

They “react” to the excitement and environment around them and often one dog barks and lunges at another, while the opposite dog then chooses to bark and lunge at the first.

We call this being “reactive”.

And, many dogs are reactive to other dogs in dog parks, regular parks, and places like doggy day cares.

Some dogs can also so this kind of excited “reactivity” to cars, scooters, kids on bikes, or anything else on wheels or moving quickly.

Instead of consciously thinking anything through, the dog simply reacts to movement and the possible noise of others.

And, if you are not careful the dog can react aggressively or redirect the aggression they are feeling at what they are looking at and instead bite you or someone else.

We Have a Few Reactive Dogs

dog aggression training, redirected aggression in dogs

Thanks Dr. for Dog for the photo

We have a few reactive dogs in our doggy day care.  I think some of them come to spend the day with us, because they are barking and reactive at home.

So we do our best to keep the reactors away from each other so they don’t constantly or continually feed off of one another and make the behaviors worse, or teach the other dogs this behavior.

We also employ the usage of treats to keep the reactivity and aggression from even starting.  Because allowing it to continue feeds it for the next time!

But occasionally, the dogs just feed off one another no matter how hard we work.

So a friend that I worked with was actively working with a reactive little dog, trying to get her calmly outside so that she could play.

She (the dog) has many friends.

But she also gets over excited and reacts without thinking, lunging toward anything she can get near.

So as she lunged forward toward another dog’s kennel and my friend reached down toward her (only to grab her leash closer she is always on an easy walk harness) the dog bit her in the hand and arm.

The Bite Wasn’t Terrible

The bite wasn’t terrible.  No need for shots or stiches, but let’s face it that no one really wants to be bitten.  It’s just not fun and it definitely broke the skin!

And some dogs can be much more serious when biting in these situations, latching on or thrashing.

The bite almost helps the dog to defuse and release the excitement and anxiety!

They don’t think they are biting the “person” often they think they are biting the dog, or toy or whatever has worked them up.

This dog is a normal happy, go lucky, playful girl.

But when dogs get over excited and feed off of their environment or react to things going on around them, a bite can often happen.

In instances like this, I clip the leash on the buckle collar and wait until I am in a more neutral environment before I snap up a harness, where I have to put my face down in the dog’s face.

Never, ever, ever put your face in the face of a dog that is being reactive.  I do my best not to put my face in any dog’s face that I don’t know.

But I wouldn’t even put my face in my own dog’s face if they were reacting to something in their environment.

These can be bites where I empathize that the person “never saw it coming”.

Because even though the dog is fidgeting and trying desperately to convey the excitement and aggression they are feeling, the human judges the dog on his past ability to play and socialize and does not judge the moment at which they are living in at the time.

The truth is you can’t judge a dog only on his past and what you know of him.

dog aggression training, redirected aggression in dogs

When Excited, My Dog Can Displace Her Excitement to a Bite

What Is Your Dog Trying to Tell You?

Whereas this is important information.

The MOST important information is the information that he is currently trying to express to you.

If he is spinning, and barking, and jumping and snarling or hackling; it doesn’t matter if he has never bitten another dog or another person.

I can’t imagine if a child had been holding the leash of this dog at that time.  A child would be much more traumatized than an adult who is used to working with dogs.

His current behavior is that of aggression and should be a warning to you as to what you can continue to do.

That is not to say that most of these dogs will maul the person.  Actually most often the bites are shallow and a means of just decompressing the excitement that is going on in their mind.

But try to explain that to a judge in court.

It is not going to work out in your favor.

So If You Have a Dog Like This

Although this was an easy depiction to understand because visually you can see the 2 dogs in close proximity arguing with one another.

But this also happens in the real world, when one dog sees another, or a dog sees something it really wants (I have seen dogs drag children into lakes screaming the whole way because they were so excited to swim).

And, it is best to know your dog’s behaviors.

And, it is critical to pay attention to what your dog is trying to tell you.

It Doesn’t Mean Your Dog is Always Aggressive

You may love him.

But if he is barking and spinning and trying to get away you are much closer to his bite threshold than if he is just napping in your home!

Aggression is aggression, plain and simple and most dogs show some kind of aggression at some point in their lives. It is important to recognize it.

It doesn’t mean your dog is “aggressive” it just means he is a dog.

After all, can’t YOU be aggressive too sometimes?

Work on obedience.

Give him something else constructive to do like sit, or down, or give you eye contact.

Work on calming him and teaching him to relax for more on Biofeedback click on the link.

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There are 21 Comments

  1. Diane Thomas says:

    We have a 13-1/2 yr old Mini Aussie who is pretty mellow in his old age, except he had always been a ‘resource guarder’.

    Enter a 3 month old female Mini Aussie who is now 4-1/2 months. A bundle of energy who is a bit aggressive especially at play time when she goes overboard.

    Our problem is 2-fold:
    1. Kasey (our puppy) delights in jumping and pawing at Cody’s face which he hates and growls, barks and snaps at Kasey who in turn will display submissive behavior. No amount of ‘Kasey NO’ works. Saying STOP IT sternly will stop the action…temporarily. However, if I try to grab Kasey to physically stop her I am faced with a thrashing dog and sharp puppy teeth! Our breeder and vet has told me to hold her to the ground saying STOP IT until she relaxes and then to ignore her when I walk away.

    2. I realize that puppies need to play but it seems like Kasey goes overboard and now we have two dogs going at each other and it sound like an all out war between them inside and outside. Cody has never connected (bitten) Kasey but it looks like he wants to. I use the STOP IT command, not yelling but with a stern ‘I mean business’ tone of voice and they will both stop, momentarily however go right back to it when my back is turned. Kasey’s saving grace is that she is faster than grease lightening.

    So with all that said, do you have any suggestions for us in curtailing these two behaviors?

    Thank You….Diane
    P.S. I purchased your dog training DVD course.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Kasey needs to be on a leash and taught proper manners.

    In human terms you would be talking about a 6 or 7 year old jumping on and hitting a 90 year old person. Would you allow that to happen in your home? Or would you teach the child to respect the older adult and prevent injury from happening?

    I for one would teach respect.

    I teach all of my puppies respect and keep them on leashes at home until they listen. They are not allowed to terrorize my adult dogs.

    I have seen old dogs lose their patience and kill puppies. I have seen old dogs blind puppies, and disfigure their faces. It is best not to wait until an emergency happens, and this is not socially acceptable behavior when she meets other dogs.

    She is learning to bully, and some day if she meets a bigger bully out in the dog world she is again likely to be hurt severely.

    [Reply]

  2. Diane Thomas says:

    Sometimes I can’t see the forest for the trees!

    Thank you for your reply. Kasey is now on a leash 24/7, except for when she is in her crate or during training and/or supervised play.

    [Reply]

  3. Amanda says:

    I have a 3yr old fixed female pit bull and a 10 yr old lab/beagle mix who is also fixed. We broughy home the pit when she was 6 months old. Both dogs got along great and were inseperable. In the last 8 months my pit has become overly aggressive towards the older dog for no reason. She picks fights with him without warning. She is fine with other dogs in public. I’m at a loss for she has never shown any aggression till now. She has also gone after the older dog if he gets to close to me. As of the past week we have kept the 2 seperated as to not cause anymore harm to the older dog. What can I do? I’m reseaching training because I don’t want to get rid of my dog. Please any advice will help.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    With any new behavior changes in old dogs I recommend a full vet work up. Some dogs become aggressive with older dogs as they age and show signs of illness. I would take your old guy to the vet and have him worked up to make sure he doesn’t have any health issues. Same with her.

    Then, once you have taken out any health concerns then you can work on behaviors. We do have an aggression course. But nothing will help if this is a health problem

    [Reply]

  4. Tania says:

    Good day,

    Can you please advise me on how to teach my dog not bark for no reason at all? He barks when the neighbor is in his own yard or when the garbage truck stops in front of the house of when people on the street go by.

    Thank you in advance.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    use the search bar at the top of the page to search articles on barking and quiet

    [Reply]

  5. Samantha says:

    What would be your advice to someone who has a large dog that recently started directing his aggression towards their small dog to the point of injury? He gets overly excited when he sees other dogs outside of the fence and takes it out on his little brother. I’m worried for our dachshunds safety.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Separate them, even if you have to do it longterm or forever it is better than having a seriously injured or dead dog

    [Reply]

  6. Amelia says:

    I have a 3 year old stigmatized large breed, we moved to a big city about a year ago from a house with a yard to an apartment, a 3 months after the move 6 he started having random bouts of aggression on the leash, biting the leash and once/month bouts of frustration aggression towards people on walks (grabbing loose hanging stuff, big pant legs, bags, etc). we keep him far away when people are walking by now, but he still tries to go after things sometimes. he also gets clearly frustrated barking out the window at people and dogs and wants to chase bikes and cars sometimes. He’s totally friendly and sweet almost all of the time. To me seems a clear cut case of frustration aggression, but I don’t know how to fix it.

    [Reply]

  7. Rachel Fox says:

    Hi,
    I have a rescue basset mix who has bit me on two occasions recently while walking. It is triggered only when he sees two local rottweilers also being walked. I try to avoid them, but sometimes they are out of sight but will pop up once I am away from the apartment. Today he bit me in three spots when we saw them. He is fine when we see any other dogs while walking. Is there anyway to avoid being bitten if we run in to them?
    I am not reaching down or touching my dog. I turn and try to go in the opposite direction but the dog lunges and bites me instead.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    If my dog was biting me while walking I would either find another way to exercise the dog or make the dog wear a basket muzzle while walking.

    [Reply]

  8. Rachel Fox says:

    Thanks for not offering any real advice. I love in a condo community so the dog must be walked even for bathroom breaks. This only occurred twice in the presence of a particular set of dogs. He is fine around every other creature human or animal. I asked for help with redirected aggression. Thanks for replying but based on your reply I will not be buying your ebook. I’m sure since you moderate you will not include this commet. If that’s the case please delete my original reply. I will just call a local professional instead.

    [Reply]

  9. Alison says:

    We have three dogs, ages 6 yrs, 5yrs (both females) and an 11week old male. I think the 5 yo is alpha over the 6 yo. I’m learning through my google research that our 5yo lab/corgi mix has some reactive aggression behaviors that started about two years ago. She’ll turn and nip at the older dog’s ears, or come over to the couch to where the other dog is when she sees a squirrel outside the window. She’ll also nip at the older one when they’re on our boat dock and a boat passes. She just does a quick little nip like she’s trying to say “it’s mine” and then goes back to barking at the attraction, then nip again, then bark, until whatever has caused the excitement is gone.

    She’s jealous of the puppy and constantly wants to be near me. She’s growled snarled at the puppy and occasionally nips him to put him in his place and he is learning not to bark in her face. She will let him jump on her sometimes. The other dog has done the same thing. The puppy and oldest dog are just starting to play … paws down in front of their bodies then running around each other.

    Tonight our two older dogs and our 9 yo cat were upstairs waiting to get into the bedroom when the 5 yo started attacking the cat. This has never happened before. The cat was here before any dog, so they’ve grown up with him. Both dogs will occasionally chase the cat out of the bedroom but at other times the cat will sleep on the bed with them.

    Has the addition of the puppy overstressed our 5 yo to the point of attacking the cat? The puppy sleeps downstairs in his crate and was not present during the dog/cat fight. What should we do?

    [Reply]

  10. Jess b says:

    My now 8 month old GSD has been reactive towards dogs since he was 11.5 weeks old. He loves to play with my friend’s dogs once he gets past the barking. I don’t ever let him get close to strangers dogs bc his approach sounds horrible. We are currently working with a trainer who’s teaching us to “get easy” ( state of mind) on command. It’s seems like we are never going to get there….:-( we are stuck at home for now so he can’t continue to practice the reactivity but it’s hard…. we love going to the park. I’m sure we willl get there at some point. Fingers crossed!

    [Reply]

  11. Crazeedogs says:

    I have been trying to help a friend with her dog. The dog has been redirecting on her since she was a puppy. I think she did a lot of things wrong and now the dog is bruising and breaking skin. She redirects at boundaries and movement but can also get so amped up at sounds she will redirect and bite. Tge dog does not do this to me but I see signs it might happen. Any advice is so welcome. I finally convinced her to use a muzzle!

    [Reply]

  12. We have rescued a 13 month old Boxer Ollie. He’s great in the house and has settled in well (we’ve had him 6 weeks now).
    We are his third owners so he has had a tramautic first year of life, bless him.
    Soon as he is on the lead (leash) and out the front door, he is pulling, alert and tense. You can see it in how he walks, his body language and he cries. However, he never barks on a walk. When walking and seeing another dog, he goes a wire, lunges, pulls, snarls and wants to basically kill the dog. We sit him opposite side of the road to the other dog and try to calm him down by stroking him and keeping him sat down until the dog has walked on, then we carry on. I’d seen some improvement so I was confident we could use some paths in a local field, although narrow… A change of scenery and some greenery! Anyway, another walker had her three dogs on a short lead, she also had one dog wearing a muzzle and said she was wait whilst we walked past as she had three. Looking back, I should of turned around. Ollie was doing his usual, lunge and guard. I got him on a short lead and held his collar for extra reassurance. He was skidding all over the place but I just wanted to hurry on past. We got directly (closely) opposite them and he wouldn’t move so I started to panic. He kept turning his head, snapping his jaws. I held his collar tight and told him to walk on but he turned and sank his teeth into my thigh. The woman walked her dogs on quickly and I walked Ollie back to the car, I got him home and went straight to hospital and needed stiches.
    I really don’t know what to do now. Please tell me what I’m doing wrong? I’m trying to train him to wear a muzzle, his been castrated on Friday and I’ve left tons of voicemails with local behaviourists. How can I teach him to walk calmly? Distracting Ollie from another dog isn’t working, I’ve tried fetch, ball, his favourite treats but he’s not interested. His only interest in that time is being able to tear the other dog apart.
    I’m at my Witt’s end!

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Look into our aggression coaching program. email info@thedogtrainingsecret.com for more information.

    [Reply]

  13. Julie Oliver says:

    I have a four year old British bull terrier. He has mitral valve regurgitation. He shows aggression at other dogs and has been know to bite at anyone who comes near me. I have been bitten by him when trying to restrain him when he wanted to get to another dog that was growling at him. My bite had two puncture wounds and required a tetanus shot and cleaning out along with 2 courses of antibiotics. He has also spun around to snap at me when I try to move him away from the fence when he is trying to get at the neighbors dog. I have become afraid of him when I try and restrain or remove him from a situation and I am worried when people come to my house.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Contact a boarded veterinary behaviorist for help

    [Reply]

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