Q: I have two adult dogs. The problem is when the two of them are together. When I walk one or the other — NO problem. But when I walk the two of them together they go NUTS when they see another dog. And I do mean nuts – they fight each other, they bark and growl, they lunge at other dogs. I have even gotten bitten myself, although not through the skin, and interestingly, when they realized that they did that they stopped immediately. It was apparent that the bite was an accident and they were deeply sorry.

The funny thing is that when I have friends bring their dogs to my home – on their own turf, where I would expect a problem – there is no problem. Both of them are very friendly. When I take them to dog club, where they each go once a week for continuing classes, they are friendly to all the other dogs.

The problem occurs only when we go for a walk – all three of us together. They walk like angels UNTIL we see a dog. I have even had people remark to me how well they walk together. You might suggest that we need to walk separately – but I love having both of them with me.

They are getting a reputation in the neighborhood and people cross the street when they see us coming. It not only makes me feel bad because they LOVE to say hi to people, but I worry about the paranoia around dogs. And I don’t want anyone to question whether they are friendly – and I don’t want them attacked by another dog because they are being idiots. Plus the problem is expanding – they now want to go nuts about skateboards and bikes.

Please help!

A: From what you wrote, the answer lies in the fact that dogs are contextual. That means that you must go back to the beginning of a behavior and build it up again whenever the context changes. For example, if you teach a dog how to sit on the carpet in the living room, you have re-teach the behavior on the tile in the kitchen. If you put a baseball cap on your head, that’s another context and you have to re-teach again from the beginning. Eventually dogs will “generalize” which means they, in essence, are saying, “I know where you’re going with this and you don’t have to start from the beginning every time the situation changes. Now I understand that ‘sit’ means ‘sit’ no matter where we are or what’s going on.”

The aggression you are speaking of when they go after one another is “transference” or “redirected” aggression. The reason they are “triggering,” so-to-speak, while together on walks has to do with that particular context and it’s most probably influenced by a combination of being on a leash (restraint) and being together on leashes (pack mentality).The answer lies in setting them up to be successful by keeping a distance from the approaching stimulus so the aggression doesn’t trigger. Then you need to teach them what you want them TO DO. For example, step-by-step teach them to lie down and stay at a distance where they won’t get up while the other dog passes. Gradually decrease the distance until the other dog can pass within a foot of your dogs. This takes a while and ONLY POSITIVE METHODS SHOULD BE USED!!!!

You have to train and be successful with one dog, then the other, then put them together. When you put them together, I suggest you have another person with you to help out. You must start at the beginning again, teaching your dogs to lie down and stay as you have changed the context (both dogs together). Because you have already formed the brain pathway for the down behavior individually, this should happen very quickly.

I am giving general advice here and there may be more to the problem but a professional can assess and set up a program for you. You can find a trainer in your area that uses only positive training methods through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (www.APDT.com) or The National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (www.NADOI.org).

Recommended Resource:

My DVD, The Dog Whisperer, Beginning and Intermediate Dog Training for Puppies and Dogs, might help but hiring a trainer who uses only positive methods will also speed the process up.