Teaching a Family How to Read Dog Body Language to Stop Future Dog Fights

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 11, 2017

For this Los Angeles dog training session we worked with 9 month-old German Shepherd / Husky mix Zev (right) who has gotten into a few fights with 7 year-old Maltese Shih Tzu mix Bentley.

Because of a few incidents, I wouldn’t call them dog fights, the guardian was keeping Zev and Bentley separated most of the time. The guardian had arranged to take Zev to daycare which is extremely helpful in multiple ways.

First, Zev is a puppy who is still developing his social skills. Id estimate around 90% of my dog behavior clients skipped taking heir puppy to socialization classes which is a huge mistake. Puppies full personalities don’t materialize until they are close to 9 months so Zev is really just coming into himself.

Additionally, the exercise Zev gets at daycare will help make him much easier to manage as well as the behavior modification techniques we will be using.

When I chatted with the guardian about the dogs backstories, I learned that Bentley was pretty spoiled and dint have any real rules in place. You can sometimes get away with that with one smaller dog, but when you bring in a new puppy, that lack of structure can lead to many unwanted dog behavior problems including dog on dog aggression or dog fights over possessions which is what happened between these two dogs.

I was disappointed to hear that the guardian had hired a trainer who came over nearly 10 times, yet the dogs didn’t even know the most basic of commands. This was on top of sending Zev away to a doggy boot camp for several weeks.

When I learned that some of these problems happened around the time Zev returned from this boot camp, I began to suspect the trainers there used force and fear based training methods. These old, out of date training methods rely on pain and punishment as motivators for the dog. I have seen this backfire many times as it pretty much introduces these concepts and reinforces their use to the puppy.

After going over ways to add structure as well as how to enforce rules and boundaries, I showed the guardian how she can help the dogs by petting them with a purpose and rewarding desired behaviors through passive training.

Next I spent about 10 minutes training the dogs to sit, lay down, sit up and stand up on command. Lets just say the guardian was pleased with my progress, but frustrated that the previous trainer failed to do so in almost a dozen sessions.

Speaking of which, if you have a dog and are considering sending it to an away training camp, be careful. Many of these are great, but there are some who use force and punishment based training (harsh corrections, choke chains, prong collars, shock collars, yelling, alpha rolls and worse) which often have very detrimental impacts on the dog’s confidence and cause a myriad of different problems.

If you are considering a training away scenario, ask for references, check them and ask if they are force free and use positive dog training methods. Good places should be able to answer those questions easily and offer a list of clients who will vouch for them. As long as you stay away from force and fear based training, your dog should thrive. Remember, you are your dog’s advocate.

While separating dogs is a smart approach initially, doing so over the long haul will have negative consequences for Zev and prevent things from getting better. I went over the best ways and times to have them together (after day care, supervised and without any objects to fight over) and things to watch out for.

Recognizing dog warning signs gives you the ability to read your dog and spot arguments before they become full blown dog fights. Many people don’t know how to identify when a dog is warning another dog or person. Dog body language can be tricky, unless you know what to look for. To help the guardian recognize these canine warning signs, we shot a video where I went over calming signals as well as warning signs.

Spotting a combination of these dog warning signs throughs their posture and movement can give the guardian the ability to recognize when things are going the wrong direction. Redirecting the dogs with a focus command or separating them right away can help stop dog fights from happening in the first place.

Anytime I have dogs who are not getting along or fighting, I have found that walking them together is a great way to help them develop a more positive association / experiences with one another.

To help ensure the walks go well, I went over my rules for a structured walk and some other tips to help the dogs behave on the walk.

This is a complicated situation as Zev was on some drugs which prevented me from seeing his genuine personality. That said, adding structure, rewarding desired behaviors and building up the dog’s confidence by teaching them some basic commands should all help.

I want the guardian to spend a few weeks going over these new dog training tips and behavior suggestions to see how the dogs progress. We will likely need an additional session or two to make sure things are going the right direction.

After observing the dogs together, Im convinced this is not a case of dog aggression. The dogs were together with relaxed body language, interacting and passing by one another without incident. There was only one outburst between them and it was minor and only happened when I was pushing the boundaries.

Im optimistic that Zev wont need to be on drugs once the leader follower dynamic shifts bask to the human taking the lead. I told the guardian to call or text me right away if there are nay issues or things stop working. The sooner we make any corrections, the easier and more effective they are to implement.

To help the guardian remember all the things we went over in the session I shot a roadmap to success video summarizing the session. You can check it out in the video below.

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