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Sudden and increasingly aggressive behaviour


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Hey there

I'm in need of some good advice.

We have two whippets who are both becoming randomly but increasingly more aggressive towards other dogs when out on walks. This is becoming very worrying to us and making walking stressful and less enjoyable all round. Both whippets have been very well socialised from the start, taken everywhere and shown everything since they were puppies. Both are neutered/spayed and walked regularly. We just can't explain this sudden behaviour, especially in our younger dog, Loki, and we are at a loss at how to stop it.

Our first whippet, Freya, will be three at the end of this month. She was always an extremely confident puppy and very clever. She's never been timid around strangers or other dogs. She's always gone up into the thick of it, introduced herself boldly and then thoroughly enjoyed playing games of chase with any dog who would pay her attention (she always loved to show off her speed, leaving the other dogs in her wake). She was always happy-go-lucky, bold but friendly. She has a group of local doggy mates that we regularly meet up with on walks. But then as she got closer to a year old, just before she was spayed, we began to notice she could get more bullying and randomly tetchy with other dogs she didn't know. If a dog was running, but wanted nothing to do with Freya, she couldn't seem to resist chasing them, nipping at their flanks, demanding their attention and not listening to us when we tried to recall her. Then she suddenly started taking a dislike to random dogs she met on the street. Her fur would go up and she would start barking aggressively at them over the road (this from a dog who never usually makes a peep of noise). At first we thought it must be dogs who were giving off an aggressive/dominant vibe and Freya, being a dominant character herself, was responding in kind. But then she'd start doing it to dogs that were clearly calm and minding their own business. It was embarrassing and we always tried to correct her. But this aggression only seemed to come in brief random phases and most of the rest of the time Freya was still amenable and friendly to other dogs, just tended to be dominant/over confident with certain individuals.

Other than those little incidences every now and then, Freya is the most perfect dog you could have, sweet natured and extremely quiet in the house, never makes a peep, hardly know she's there and very respectful. You could never imagine her hurting anybody.

Last year, when Freya was 1 and a half, I decided I would like to add another whippet to our family and so 14-week-old Loki arrived. He and Freya love one another. Loki has been absolutely faultless, apart from his tendency to bark once or twice when the door goes, which is something we've always prided in Freya for never doing, and having a real flatulance problem, earning him the nickname 'Darth Vapour'. Loki has been the most loving, good dog you could ever meet. Not an 'alpha' like Freya, he has always been more shy and retiring around strangers and other dogs when he meets them for the first time. He's not fearful or nervous, just more unsure and would never go and put himself in another dog's face and go 'here I am! Now let's see what you've got!' like Freya would. Definitely a 'beta' character and far more lazy. He didn't possess a bad bone in his body, just a happy-go-lucky clown who just wants everybody to love him. His total innocence was endearing.

But lately over the past few months, we've noticed Freya's brief aggressive/tetchy tendencies towards other dogs getting worse. Dogs she had previously been friends with since she was a puppy, she has suddenly been getting into fights with, often unprovoked. We were standing talking to the owner of one of these dogs a month or so ago, just calmly, then all of a sudden, Freya just goes for this other dog's face and is hanging off his lip. She's developed a few enemies on the street as well, there is one dog she just can't stand the sight of and goes crazy whenever they pass. Sometimes it's seemed like a week couldn't go by without Freya getting herself into a scrap with hitherto friends. I've tried to stop her, put her behind me so I am leading the pack, touched her side when I see her start to get aggressive to try and break her concentration and bring her focus back on me but she just ignores me like I'm not even there, I've put her down on her side with my fingers to her neck until she stops fighting and becomes calm and submissive but none of it seems to work. She'll just go out and do it again the next day. Concerned, I told my fiancé I was worried this behaviour would start rubbing off on Loki if we didn't find a way to stop it.

We've always thought we made the mistake of indulging Freya's overconfidence with other dogs when she was younger and that mistake has lead to bullying and aggression as she's got older. Because of this, we were always more vigilant with Loki. But we've never seemed to have to worry. He's never been an overconfident show off. And though Loki's confidence levels are higher than when he was younger, he is 16 months old now, he has never ever seemed to turn a hair or bother with his sister's occasional, though escalating, bad behaviour towards other dogs. He's always been just sweet, innocent Loki, always to be trusted.

That was until the other day. I was taking the whippets for their evening walk after work, when another walker and his dog came the other way along the path. His dog was excitable and straining on his lead towards Freya and Loki, bouncing along on his back legs. Freya and Loki started to respond in kind, though I tried to pull them back and keep them calm

behind me in case Freya started to have a go, but as the dog passed us by, it was Loki who suddenly snapped and started barking and snarling at this excitable dog. Freya, the usual suspect, didn't do anything at all so it wasn't as if she set Loki off. Shocked, I poked Loki in the flank to try and snap him out of the mind set. Loki is usually much more responsive to corrections than Freya is. But instead of stopping immediately and looking at me, in his temper he turned, snarling on my arm and I felt his teeth brush my hand. I was terribly shocked by this behaviour from a dog who previously would never say boo to a goose and is as soft as a brush. Freya has been aggressive on and off towards other dogs since she was 10 months old but even when she's been really 'going for it', when I've intervened, she's never forgotten herself and turned on me, never once, though I've often thought afterwards 'she could have done in that state of mind'. Loki straight away turned on my arm. True, he was lost in a haze of temper but still the behaviour, especially from Loki, was shocking.

I came home and told my fiancé and said maybe it was the energy coming off that other dog that had made Loki snap, he had felt threatened. However, the next day when Matt took them out, I got home from work and he told me Loki had gone snapping and snarling on his lead at three other dogs, dogs that had just been calm and minding their own business, no provocation at all. He said Freya hadn't even been bothered. They did meet another three other dogs, but these were all ignored without incident. It's just seems so random.

This sudden turn in Loki has been troubling me but today I got home from work and Matt told me that the pair of them together had just gone and attacked a Jack Russell terrier that had been passing innocently by. All three dogs were off the lead and the owner of the dog had to snatch his little dog out of the way but Matt said Freya and Loki continued to jump up trying to get at this dog in the man's arms.

I'm just at a loss as to what to do. Both dogs have always been so well behaved and well socialised. I've always been proud to take them out, they are both very beautiful and always have lots of admirers, we've always been able to take them anywhere, cafes, pubs etc, without ever a problem with people commenting on their quiet, good behaviour while their own dogs have been acting up. But now it seems our good dogs are turning in to utterly embarrassing hoodlums with no outside provocation that I can see. Ever since Loki snapped at that first dog, he goes for something nearly every time he goes out.

Freya and Loki are our first dogs, and until we had them, I've always been more of a horse/cat person. I've been around those all my life but not dogs. Being into Natural Horsemanship, before we brought Freya home at 10 weeks of age, I did extensive research into dog behaviourists' books and 'dog whisperers' so I would know as best I could how to raise a puppy and tackle behavioural problems should they arise. Freya and Loki have never been spoiled, though they want for nothing, they have always known who the 'alphas' are and their boundaries. Their only fault is maybe an excitable greeting when I come in from work, jumping up and such. I always wait with the 'no touch, no talk, no eye contact' until they calm down and only fuss them once they've settled, but despite this, they never seem to stop the exuberant jumping up to greet people. Matt works from home most of the time, so they are never left alone for long periods of time. When Matt is working away, they have a dog walker come in to take them for their lunchtime walk. They are always walked at least threes times a day, so plenty of exercise, plenty of opportunity to run flat out as whippets should. They are fed on Applaws kibble, 75% meat 25% no added grain food, twice a day after morning and evening walks.

The only mistake I see that we might have made is that we let them walk in front of us on the lead, which technically we shouldn't allow as it puts them in a position of power. I've often made them walk behind me on the lead, especially these last few days, in an attempt to correct this turn in behaviour. I won't let them approach anyone excitedly now, even in play with a dog they get on well with. I'm trying to make sure they stay calm and submissive in all situations. But it doesn't seem to make a difference. They walk quietly behind me and seem to listen in most situations but if they take a dislike to someone coming the other way, they just pull out from behind me and still do what they want to do and have now both attacked a dog today. None of the corrections I've read about and seen performed seem to have any effect.

I know it's one thing reading about it and seeing an expert putting it into practice and then an entirely different kettle of fish when it comes to doing it yourself. I know in animal behaviour, a correction mistimed by just a fraction of a second either way can render the message you are trying to convey ineffective and I just feel I'm not fluent enough in 'dog' to know if I'm doing it right. Horses I read by second nature, but dogs... Not so confident.

I just want to stop what I can see becoming a real problem now there are two of them being aggressive. We've got a pack on our hands making it harder to control and correct and far more dangerous. I just feel it starting to affect my relationship with them.

Can anyone advise? Matt wants to start putting muzzles on them before they damage somebody else's dog. I'm also worried about them getting injured being thin-skinned whippets if they get into a serious fight. Freya has already got a slight scar on her face from a scrap she started with a 'friend'. There are also correction collars, which some of our dog walking acquaintances have used to good effect with their own dogs' problems but I know most of the time such equipment should only be placed in the hands of experts and again the effectiveness of such things is down to exact timing and reading a dog's body language correctly.

I'm sorry about the long winded story but I wanted to put the entire background out there in the hopes someone can shed light on this behaviour and how best to stop it.

Much thanks for everyone's time
First, you need the help of a properly qualified beahaviourist, but make sure you do get a proper one. They will be able to help you to overcome the problems. Second, I agree until you do sort the problem then using muzzles on your dogs will make sure they don't cause harm to other dogs.
Agree with John. A basket style muzzle won't cure the problem but will keep everyone safe. Use something like primula cheese or peanut butter (WITHOUT artificial sweetener) smeared on the muzzle to make it a good thing. Your vet can perhaps suggest a behaviourist, some insurance policies cover this. The behaviourist should be registered with COAPE or the APBC.
Yes a properly qualified behaviourist from COAPE or APBC will help you understand where you are going wrong. They will give you a detailed plan to work on with each dog and continue to support you through your journey. As both dogs were well socialised as pups it will be easier to rehabilitate them than dogs that missed out on the vital early lessons.

I think I may have spotted a bit of belief, on your part, in the old "dominance" theory. This has long been discredited, but the footage and books are still, unfortunately, still around for member of the unsuspecting public to watch and read :(

Correction, side tapping and alpha rolling will all make a dog fearful and, if done around other dogs, can lead them to believe that other dogs are the cause of the emotion they are feeling. This leads your dog to fear the other dog by associating it with the punitive methods used when implementing the old dominance style of training. In other words they have associated being rolled, tapped and corrected with the presence of other dogs and have become defensive around them.

For now, just keep as big a distance as you can between your dogs and other dogs. Muzzle train and use the muzzles where you may meet other dogs in close quarters. Relax as much as you can (!) because this will help your dogs to relax too. Tightening the lead and chastising is all counter productive so do try to resist it.

Try reading "Dominance, Fact of Fiction" by Barry Eaton. It will help you to understand why enlightened dog trainers have moved away from using the old theory.

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