Why do dogs behave fearfully (cowering or trying to run away) or aggressively (snarling or lunging) when they see dogs they don’t know? The behavior can have several possible causes, or it might result from a combination of causes.
It’s not unusual for dogs to become apprehensive of unknown animals as they enter adolescence, especially if they have received insufficient socialization before they are four months old. Aggressive displays resulting from fear can begin anywhere from eight weeks to two years of age in males and females of any breed or mix. Behavior modification may help, but it should begin as early as possible.
If you have a fearful dog who wasn’t socialized, or you don’t know his socialization history, don’t â€œfloodâ€ him with new experiences or meetings with strange dogs in an attempt to make up for past lack of socialization. That will send his fear levels into overdrive.
Certain dogs may have a genetic predisposition to fearfulness. Socialization and behavior modification may help them deal with their fears, but these methods are not silver bullets.
Some breeds have a naturally protective and suspicious nature. If you bought a guardian-breed puppy with the idea that socialization would ensure that he loved everyone, you are probably discovering the extent of your mistake. Early and extensive socialization is important for guardian breeds because it helps them respond appropriately in a wide variety of situations to many different types of people, but they are never going to be â€œhail fellow, well metâ€ kind of dogs at a dog park.
Some dogs are fearfully aggressive because they have suffered trauma. They take on the best-defense-is-a-good-offense strategy because they are so scared. Many dogs were friendly toward other dogs until they were attacked at the dog park or the dog beach or even in their own neighborhood. This is a common cause of fear aggression toward other dogs.
Finally, some dogs may be fearful or aggressive as a result of a combination of these factors. Our goal in this chapter is to help you understand how to recognize and respond to your dog’s fearful, anxious, or stressed behavior in an appropriate and beneficial way. Whatever your dog’s issues at the dog park, it’s a good idea to enlist the services of a board-certified veterinary behaviorist or certified applied animal behaviorist who can help you identify triggers and map out a solution.