My Dog Runs Up to Other Dogs, Sniffs, and Attacks

Last updated on:

“If [my dog] sees a random dog in the field and gets a chance to run to it, she goes up to it and starts off good by just smelling it. But a couple of seconds later she goes to start fighting with it then I have to go break them apart.” – Snippy Sniffer

We got this request for help from our Ask a Behavior Consultant page recently and will do our best to respond quickly here.

For more assistance, check out these Journey Dog Training Resources:

The white dog in this photo is being VERY rude. His posture is forward and he’s “T Stancing” the other dog, which is an intimidating position to assume. This sort of behavior is likely to start a fight.

Why Does My Dog Attack Other Dogs Without Warning?

Whenever we’re dealing with a dog behavior issue, one of our first questions is usually – WHY? The reality is, we often just don’t know.

There are many factors that come together to influence a dog’s behavior, including:

  • Their genetics (aggressive parents)
  • Early and in-utero development (high stress hormones, stressful experiences as a neonate),
  • Socialization (lack of socialization to other dogs or bad experiences)
  • A traumatic event (being attacked by other dogs)
  • Or, in most cases… a combination of all of the above.

In most cases, we just don’t know. That’s ok – we can still address the problem without knowing exactly what’s causing it.

It can feel confusing to see your dog willingly approach another dog before attacking. If she didn’t want to say hi or make friends, why did she approach the other dog?

It sounds like this dog is actually charging up to other dogs to either scare them off or to gather intel on their intentions. But no matter what the other dogs do, she’s going to decide that they’re a threat and need to be told off.

This is kind of like a guy in a bar who’s looking for a fight. Sure, he swaggers up to the group of strangers and claps one of them on the back, but he’s not FRIENDLY. He’s ready to take the slightest offense and turn it into a brawl. Based on what “Snippy Sniffer” says, I suspect their dog is like this guy!

The pug in this photo is uncomfortable witht he lab’s proximity. He is stiff, with his mouth tightly closed. He’s also keeping his eyes on the lab without turning to face the lab directly; this indicates wariness and tension. If the lab gets much closer, the pug is likely to react poorly.

How Do I Stop My Dog From Attacking Other Dogs After Sniffing Them?

Step 0: Ensure Your dog is Healthy, Happy, and Enriched

Before embarking on any behavior change protocol or tackling a new behavior problem, it’s imperative that we ensure the dog’s needs are being met. If your dog is attacking other dogs due to an anxiety condition, phobia, pain, or other medical issue, that must be treated first. Don’t just talk to your general vet for this – seek out a Board-Certified Veterinary Behaviorist if you can.

Pain and medical conditions are often closely related to behavior issues. In fact, Behavior Vets of Colorado have suggested that ~80% of their patients have undiagnosed and untreated pain (personal communications).

Likewise, if your dog is “starved” for exercise, enrichment, and company, the behavior change plan is likely to fail.

Step 1: Avoid the Issue

The first step to solving this problem is simple, if not easy: prevent it. If your dog has proven, time and time again, that she will attack other dogs if given the chance to greet them, your dog CANNOT be allowed off-leash where there’s a chance of encountering other dogs.

This is true even if your dog isn’t sending the other dogs to the vet. An attack is an attack, even if there’s no blood. And your dog is attacking other dogs.

I know that’s not what you want to read, but imagine that you’re in the other dog owner’s shoes: your dog is minding his own business, then out of nowhere an off-leash dog approaches your dog, sniffs him, and then attacks or picks a fight. It’s not fair to put other dogs and their owners through that. In fact, you might even be setting yourself up to get in trouble with the local authorities if you keep it up.

This means that you and your dog are not going to go to any dog parks or other areas with lots of off-leash dogs for the time being. Your dog has proven that she’s not trustworthy AND does not want to greet other dogs.

Based on your dog’s behavior with unknown dogs, she doesn’t want to make friends. She is not being deprived by avoiding strange dogs; she’s staying comfortable.

Step 2: Get Safe

If you want to continue taking your dog to areas where other dogs might be, you’ll need to ensure that your dog is not a danger to other dogs. Try to pick parks and trails where there aren’t many other dogs to set your dog up for success.

This means acquiring a long line and a muzzle. When you’re out on the trails, your dog will wear both. Unless the trail is absolutely deserted, you’ll keep the long line in your hands to give her extra freedom while retaining control over her movement.

Ensure that you help your dog feel comfortable hiking in the muzzle, and that the muzzle you buy is appropriate for hiking. You don’t want a heavy leather muzzle or a fabric muzzle that closes your dog’s mouth; look for a lightweight plastic, vinyl, or biothane muzzle that keeps your dog from hurting other dogs while allowing her to pant, drink, and eat treats.

Step 3: Teach Your Dog New Skills

This is the hardest step. I’ve had plenty of clients with dogs who attack other dogs after greetings decide to just do steps 1 and 2. There’s nothing wrong with that; just adjust your outings and get some gear, and you’re good to go.

I highly recommend Sarah Stremming’s Barky Lunge-y Protocol for this. Basically, your job is to start getting your dog comfortable with the sight of other dogs, teach your dog other ways to interact with the world near other dogs, and gradually reduce the space between your dog and the other dog.

Check out Sarha’s full resources below. If you’re stuck, book a call with our team to have one of our expert dog behavior consultants help you with a customized plan.

Barky Lunge-y 1: Introductions and Definitions
Barky-Lungey 2: Desensitization
Barky-Lungey 3: Remedial Socialization
Barky-Lungey 4: Differential Reinforcement
Barky-Lungey 5: Listener Questions

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Join up with our pack

Get tons of great dog training tips and tricks you won't find anywhere else, along with exclusive deals and discounts only for pack members.