What can possibly cause your loving, well-behaved dog to suddenly and unexpectedly turn into Cujo when certain other dogs are near? Scuffles in the doggie world happen every now and then, and fortunately, these are often minor. Though dog fights can look very intense, many fights that appear vicious end in no serious damage to either canine. However, sometimes injurious fights do occur. Dogs typically have their own "good" reasons for fighting, so if you know and understand the common causes from your dog's perspective, you may be able to prevent the fights from happening in the first place.
If your dog tends to growl, lunge and act as if he wants to kill other dogs, chances are high he may have an underlying anxiety issue. Confident dogs are generally stable, calm fellows who must find a very good reason to initiate a fight. Dogs who want to initiate fights are often insecure and perceive other dogs as threats. The underlying cause may be a lack of sufficient contact with other dogs and the inability to read their communicative signals, according to the American Animal Hospital Association.
In the dog world, resources are often a cause for fights. Food, toys, bones and even less tangible resources such as sleeping areas, access to owners and mates may trigger a fight. Basically, anything perceived as valuable can be defended. Some dogs may be more possessive than others, and therefore more willing to use their aggressive displays to guard what they perceive as a prized item.
Some pushy dogs may challenge other dogs and will fight until the other dog defers and shows appeasement gestures. Even then, these dogs may not back down. Some dogs may develop a belligerent attitude towards other dogs once they reach social maturity, which is often targeted towards same-sex dogs. Dogs who engage in bully fighting are not dog park material, and in severe cases may require the intervention of a dog behavior professional.
As a male puppy matures into an adolescent, his testosterone levels raise and he may start testing the waters on how much he can get away with. Older dogs will work on putting these youngsters back into their place. After a few loud scuffles, these fellows most likely learn their boundaries and how to communicate in a more socially acceptable manner. Interestingly, at times some youngsters may actually teach the older dog to back away.
Have you ever seen dogs bark at a trigger behind a fence and then fight amongst each other? This form of fighting is known as "redirected aggression" and tends to arise when arousal states are high. Frustrated and unable to get to the trigger, these dogs redirect their frustration on each other with the end result of causing a full-blown fight.
Other Forms of Fighting
Maternal aggression is apparent when a mother dog is willing to fight to protect her litter from other dogs. Some dogs will also fight when another dog invades their property or comes too close to their owners. Because pain and some medical conditions may reduce tolerance levels in dogs, it's not a bad idea to have your normally friendly dog see a vet if he is fighting with other dogs out of the blue and without an explanation.
By Adrienne Farricelli
American Animal Hospital Association: Reasons Why Dogs Fight
Paw Rescue: Fights Between Dogs -- How to Avoid and Stop Them
VeterinaryPartner.com: Fighting Dogs
Pet Professional Guild: How to Break up Dog Fights!