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Redirected AggressionCuervo - Yellow Lab

When my dogs get super excited and start whimpering to go outside, I know better than to let them. It means that someone is out there with whom they wish to interact. It could be a neighbor whom they want to bark at, the neighbor's dogs whom they want to run up and down the fence with, or a cat who has wandered into the yard whom they want to chase. Usually, they just stand at the back door and look out wistully at the object of their interest since I won't open the door. One day, the frustration was simply too much, and one of my dogs jumped on the other. It was mild - just a growl and a snap. But, if the frustration level had been higher, it could have been much worse. It turns out that a cat was just hanging out in my back yard, and since he couldn't go after the cat, he turned his frustration to the dog beside him.

Ideally, there would be no desire to aggress towards anyone, and therefore no frustration to turn on the nearest target. Therefore, if a dog is redirecting aggression, the solution is to look at the type of aggression that is being redirected and work on that. See the Aggression Main page for a list of forms of aggression. However, in this case, the source of "aggression" was predatory. Since prey drive cannot be turned off in dogs, the solution for this is management. Remove the dog from the source of frustration. In my case, that means no longer allowing my dogs to stare out the back door when there is obviously something out there that has their intense focus. If your dog is barking or growling at a door or window, remove him from the window. Crate him if necessary. In my case, the dogs were perfectly quiet. So, even if your dog is quiet, if he is intensely focused on something, redirect his attention elsewhere. Anytime he is in a heightened state of awareness that could potentially send him over the edge, bring him back to Earth quickly.

Redirected aggression can also occur with a dog being walked on leash. In this case, it may not be possible to remove the dog from the source. Move as far away as you can, and get your dog to focus on you. If you can keep his focus off the source, you can keep him from going into a hyper-aroused state of mind. You may also wish to work on this in controlled situations to condition the dog to respond calmly rather than aggressively to whatever is triggering this response. For example, if your dog becomes aggressive on leash when other dogs pass by, work on exposing him at a safe distance to other dogs while you praise him and give treats for a calm response. Decrease the distance until he is consistently calm when other dogs pass by. 

If you have multiple dogs, redirected aggression can be a problem when they are in the yard together. If someone walks by who they feel is a threat, and they cannot get to that person, they may fight with one another. Work on territorial aggression to prevent this behavior. If you hear them barking at a passerby, bring them inside until they have calmed down.

Caution! - Do not put yourself in danger to break up a fight between dogs. Never reach for a dog's collar if he is fighting with another dog. You could lose a finger, or worse! If you can, douse them with water to break them up. If that gets them a safe distance apart, then and only then you can grab one and separate him from the other dog.

Additional Resources

On-leash Aggression
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