Why Does My Dog Attack Fearful Dogs?

Adrienne Farricelli

If your dog attacks fearful dogs, you want to tackle the issue considering that this behavior doesn't offer any benefit, neither to your dog or the attacked dog. Until the day dogs can talk, revealing exactly what goes through their mind, we can only make some assumptions based on what we know so far about dogs and their behaviors.

"My dog attacks fearful dogs, what can I do to stop this behavior?" Is my dog being a bully? Should I stop him from frequenting the dog park or meeting other dogs off-leash? These are all good questions. The answers may vary though based on several factors. One thing though is for sure: allowing your dog to rehearse the troublesome behavior is not good. 

A Bully Approach

Some dogs may be engaging in what we call "bully behaviors" and fearful dogs offer the perfect opportunity for bully dogs to...yep, you got it, act like like bullies. 

After all, it's much easier to target dogs who display fearful behaviors compared to the more confident looking ones. Let's say that bully dogs who attack fearful dogs seem to know how to pick their battles wisely. 

There are plenty of stories of dogs sharing the household where one dogs acts like a bully repeatedly attacking the softer tempered dog who happens to often act fearful. These poor dogs are victims and often afraid to do just about anything, even just to move from one spot to another.

Often times, the bully dog is a young dog, perhaps from 6 months to 3 years of age, who targets dogs who appear to be less confident or dogs who are smaller. Sometimes, bully dogs may also target older dogs who are starting to get weaker and slower as they age. 

It goes without saying that bullying behaviors in dogs must be stopped considering that acting like a bully is rewarding considering that, from these dogs' perspective, they are "winning" any time a timid dog backs off. 

A Sign of Insecurity

Sometimes, dogs who attack fearful dogs may be fearful, insecure dogs themselves. Bullies could have been bullied at some time in the past, or these dogs may simply react towards fearful dogs because they display body language that tells them they might be in danger.

It may happen to people too that one may sense anxiety coming from some people and that anxiety ends up rubbing on them too. It may therefore happen that dogs might just act out of instinct and lash out at the other dog due to the stress felt at the moment. 

Lack of Socialization

Dogs who attack fearful, skittish dogs may be dogs who haven't been socialized enough. These dogs may therefore fail to understand what these dogs are trying to convey. 

Fearful dogs pull their ears back and tuck their tails, in an attempt to make themselves small and appear as no threat. It's as if these dogs are saying: "I mean no harm, please don't hurt me."

 Ideally, dogs would understand this body language and back off. An under socialized dog though may fail to get the message and may instead decide to attack just because they are not familiar with the ABCs of canine communication. 

Coming On Too Strong

Sometimes, what really happens is that some dogs approach other dogs in a pushy, too confident way and this approach may cause dogs to feel threatened, so they will display appeasement body language. 

It's therefore not that these dogs target specifically fearful dogs, it's that they approach dogs the wrong way, triggering other dogs to give signs of not being comfortable. Once close, the dog will therefore attack these dogs. 

Now That You Know...

As seen, dogs may attack fearful dogs for a variety of reasons. Truth is, there are many variables involved when dogs interact so there can be several dynamics going on. Safety if paramount in these cases. So if my dog attacks fearful dogs, what can I do to stop the behavior?" Here are a few tips. 

  • Play it safe. Avoid as much as possible encounters with dogs who seem to trigger the behavior. This is both to protect your dog and the other dog on the receiving end. Fearful dogs may bite too, not to mention, your dog's approach may cause emotional traumas to  timid dogs which may be difficult to overcome. It is not correct to knowingly put this type of stress on somebody's else dog. Not to mention, the more your dog rehearses the attacking behavior, the more this behavior will put roots, considering that the behavior may feel reinforcing to your dog.  
  • Keep your dog on leash and avoid off-leash areas and dog parks where shy, fearful dogs may be present. 
  • Train your dog a strong response to disengage when asked to. A powerful recall (come when called) is a must with these dogs. Even better, train your dog to check-in with you before going to meet other dogs. Have a dog trainer help you out. 
  • Behavior modification can be used if the behavior stems from anxiety/insecurity possibly due to undersocialization. In this case, the aim is to create positive associations with dogs displaying fearful body language through desensitization and counterconditioning. Please consult with a dog behavior professional for safety and correct implementation of behavior modification. 
  • In some cases, dogs may attack fearful dogs out of predatory drive. Predatory drift in dogs is a phenomenon that can be triggered by a smaller dog squealing in fear and running away. 
  • For mild cases, where the "attacks" are mostly ritualistic displays with no harm done, enlist the help of a dog trainer to teach you how to read the earliest signs of trouble so that you can micromanage enough to catch your dog before he has time to react causing little to no emotional damage to the other dog. Find a dog trainer who is very proficient with body language and dealing with dog-to-dog interaction at dog parks or day care facilities. 
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