Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on 7x7.com. Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!
Q: My dog is having trouble being around other dogs now. This started about 6 months ago when our older, alpha dog passed away. I'm afraid he's going to hurt another dog at this point. Can you recommend some techniques or training to try? Maybe it's a male dominance thing?
A: First, let me thank you for asking the question of what you can do to find a solution. So many dogs end up in shelters, abandoned, for behavior reasons when in fact there are many workable solutions. So thank you to you and to all of the readers who seek out information to make our lives with our pets loving and lasting.
To begin, the reasons for aggression are rarely as linear as fear or force. There is typically something else going on. The first line of treatment is to take a class appropriate for your dog's behavior issue. There are several great positive reinforcement training classes here taught by Kim Moeller: Growly Dog and Reactive Rover both sound like they could work for you. If you find a class somewhere else, please just ensure it uses positive techniques.
If your dog's case is more severe, you will want to pursue the next stage-behavior assessment and modification.
In order to determine what the motivation for your dog's behavior is, I recommend making an appointment with the behavior service at the SPCA. We will evaluate in detail why your dog is having trouble being around other dogs and designing an individually tailored treatment plan for you and your dog.
In the mean time continue to keep your dog and others safe and do not let him practice any unwanted behavior, as it will take that much longer to properly address is if this is going on for a extended period of time.