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Can dogs be trained not to attack other dogs? Yes and No.
Motivation: It is important to know that aggression is NORMAL between members of the same species. If a female dog is in heat, and two intact males are nearby, the males will fight, and possibly fight to the death, for the ability to mate with that female dog. It is no different than how two male Mountain Goats, or two male bull Elephants, will butt heads to gain mating rights over a harem of females. If a strange dog enters into the territory of another dog, it is likely that a fight will ensue. It is no different with wolves that mark out a territory, and then will attack stray wolves from another pack that enter their territory. If a dog approaches another dog, and the greeting doesn’t result in them being friends, a big fight might ensue. If an adolescent male is playing a bit too rough and disrespectfully with an adult male, a fight can break out. If you toss a meat bone in the middle of a litter of Fox Terrier puppies, it is very possible a brutal fight will ensue. If a female dog is tending her puppies, and another unknown or unwelcome dog approaches, the mamma dog will attack that other dog to keep it away from her puppies. And I can give many more examples. Furthermore, it is accepted that dogs will be aggressive towards other dogs. If you look at the breed standard for the Doberman, it states: “An aggressive or belligerent attitude towards other dogs shall not be deemed viciousness.” So, just because you did a good job of socializing a dog, doesn’t mean your dog won’t attack another dog (but socialization often reduces the probability). Socialization will not prevent a dog from being a dog, and besides, that isn’t the purpose of socialization in the first place (read my article on socializing your puppy for details).
Trained To Attack: Dogs can also be trained to attack other dogs. it bulls are trained by criminals to attack other dogs, for example. Dogs that have been attacked by other dogs are traumatized, and are often more likely to get in fights in the future. And there are stupid things you can do, even by mistake, to make your dog attack other dogs. I won’t describe how to make a dog into a fighter because I don’t want to spread that kind of knowledge. I don’t want some criminal to read this article and use it to train dogs to kill other dogs. But, my point is that, yes, dogs can be trained to attack other dogs.
Trained Not To Attack: Dogs can also be trained to be LESS LIKELY to attack other dogs. About once a year, I conduct a special class on training dogs to be manageable around other dogs. I have trained numerous dogs to stop fighting other dogs. For example, I had a student with a pit bull mix and an Australian Kelpie. If they were to take the dogs for a walk, and if a stray or loose dog came up to their dogs, a big fight would ensue. After the class, with the same setup, dogs would come up to their face, even barking and challenging their dogs, but their dogs wouldn’t fight, and they could walk past and get away from the situation. In another case, I had a student that had two, intact, male Weimaraners. She had a 2 year old male and a 5 year old male. While they were out of town, they had a friend house sit and care for their dogs. A huge fight broke out, and both dogs were severely injured, requiring hundreds of stitches, and one dog almost lost an ear. The younger dog had a huge flap of skin torn off the side of the dog, left hanging like a loose curtain. After training, the fighting stopped, and they became good friends again. On the other hand, I worked with a Chow Chow mix, an older female. She was made more controllable around other dogs, but there was no way to stop her from attacking other dogs if the got in her face. And you don’t see Dobermans getting in huge fights in the show dog ring. They are managed in such a way to avoid face to face confrontations. And with a bit of training, you can increase your safety margin around other dogs.
Conclusion: Yes, there is training that can be done to lessen the chances a dog will fight with other dogs. Yes, you should enroll in special classes if you have a dog that attacks other dogs to lessen the chance a full fight breaks out. But, there is no amount of training that will make a dog not be a dog. So, that means in some circumstances, and with some breeds or individual dogs, there will be fighting regardless of how much training you do. That is the honest truth. Any trainer that tells you otherwise is just trying to take your money.
Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.