What to do if an aggressive dog approaches your dog

Steps you can take to reduce the risk of an attack on your dog.

The key to a lasting bond is confidence in your own skills. Unlock this power and train your dog to be the perfect life companion.

Dog paws iconDog ears and taill illustration
Dog paws icon
Dog ears and taill illustration

May 24, 2021

What to do if an aggressive dog approaches your dog

In this post I’m delving into what you can do to minimise the risk of an attack or fight occurring if an aggressive dog approaches your dog.

The power of the rear present

If you can see a dog approaching you and your dog and you’re not sure of its temperament, or you think it might be aggressive, the number one BEST thing you can do is to put your dog into a rear-present position.

This means holding your dog so that your dog’s bottom is facing the approaching dog. The best way to do this is by holding your dog, on a lead, between your legs with bottom facing out. Or you can crouch and hold your dog from the side, as Jazmin is doing in the photo below.

In dog terms, this inhibits threat and more dominant behaviours like standing across your dog’s back.

In many cases, this will defuse a situation and prevent an attack occurring. There are appeasing hormones in a dog's anogenital area, so the other dog is unlikely to be aggressive towards your dog if it is approaching your dog’s rear-end.

See in the images below, how the grey Schnauzer cross reacts aggressively to Reggie the Golden Retriever cross when approaching face-to-face. However when Reggie is spun around and presented rear-end first, the Schnauzer is able to sniff and engage in a more sociable manner without lunging, snapping or growling.  

I am using a piece of high value food to lure the Schnauzer in to sniff Reggie's inguinal/ano-genital area to get the interaction going.

When approaching face to face on lead...
the schnauzer reacts aggressively

When approaching the rear-end (using a treat to draw him in)...
he greets in a much less reactive manner

Don't wait until you're faced with an aggressive dog!

HOWEVER! Don’t wait until you’re in this situation to try it. You’ll need to train your dog to accept a rear-present in a relaxed manner and practise it - if your dog is trying to twist around or react to the other dog then it will be more difficult to manage, and also not as effective.

You’ll need a clicker and high value food rewards (such as chicken, cheese or dog roll) for this training. Before you begin each training session, run through some Sit and Down or Zen Down commands using the clicker and food rewards to get your dog in a calm and focused state.

Begin without any other dogs around, just practise walking with your dog on a lead, stopping, then putting your dog between your legs with bottom facing forward. Click and reward your dog for accepting this in a relaxed way. Start by holding your dog here for just a second or two, then release and move on. Gradually increase the amount of time you hold your dog in this position until your dog is comfortable standing like this for a good minute or two.

Then you’ll try the same technique but this time with some other calm, sociable dogs (rally your friends with dogs to help you with this one!).

+ Walk with your dog as usual, clicking and rewarding for calm, relaxed behaviour.
+ When the other dog is approaching, stop and hold your dog between your legs and click and reward.
+ Allow the other dog to approach and sniff your dog’s rear end. Hold your dog until the other dog has finished sniffing, then you can let your dog turn around and sniff the other dog in return. Click and reward all calm, relaxed and sociable responses.
+ Practise this with as many different dogs as you can. Start with dogs that you already know are very sociable, then try it in the park when other dogs you don’t know approach.

If your dog is used to this routine, then if you’re ever approached by an aggressive-looking dog you can use this as a tactic to diffuse the situation. It’s not guaranteed to work with an extremely aggressive dog, but it is your best bet.

Here we practise putting the pup in a rear-present in a controlled setting with a calm, sociable dog

Other tips to prevent aggression towards your dog

+ If you have a male dog, ensure he is neutered. Other dogs are much more likely to react negatively to or start a fight with an entire dog, particularly other entire male dogs, so you’ll reduce the risk of aggression towards your dog if he is neutered.
+ Ensure your own dog is well-trained and knows how to greet other dogs appropriately and sociably. This too will reduce the risk of aggression towards your dog from other dogs.

What I don’t recommend

+ Be cautious about throwing treats on the ground for the other dog. Although in some cases this may distract the dog and be useful, if the dog has an issue with resource guarding it might stimulate a fight or make the situation more serious. If the dogs are already fighting then food is unlikely to interrupt them.
+ Don’t let your dog off the lead. Although many dogs are more reactive on the lead, it’s too risky to let your dog off the lead as then you’ll lose all control. Better to keep your dog on lead but put them in the rear-present position.
+ Don’t run away or try to threaten the other dog. Remain calm, don’t stare at the other dog, and turn your dog slightly side on. Calmly call to the other dog’s owner if possible for help.

I hope you never have to experience this situation but if you do, I hope this technique helps you manage it!

What if your dog is the aggressive dog?

If your dog responds aggressively to other dogs, our Virtual Training Schools can help. We show you exactly how to first get your dog into a calm learning state, looking to you for direction; then we use training techniques which will teach your dog how to greet other dogs without aggression or reactivity. It’s seriously transformative when done correctly - imagine  being able to walk your dog peacefully without worrying about them reacting to other dogs you come across!

Free training tips!

Sign up to our newsletter for free tips and dog training advice that will transform your relationship with your dog.

Immediately receive a free Essential Training Tips booklet
10% discount on all Virtual Schools and Store products
Regular training advice and tips
Articles tailored to your dog's stage of life
Insights into your dog
Join for free
Graphic of dog ears
Mockup of book reading Mark Vette's Essential training tips
Arrow pointing up icon