Small dog on outdoor loveseat exhibits antisocial behavior by growling at larger dog

How Should I Handle My Rescue Dog’s Antisocial Behavior?

If you have just adopted a rescue dog, you may discover he has some antisocial behavior toward other dogs. This behavior can range from complete avoidance to aggressive lunging and barking. Regardless of where your dog is on this spectrum, you will want your new pooch to learn how to socialize with other dogs. This will allow you to safely integrate your rescue dog with other household pets and neighborhood dogs.

Socialization also helps to reduce reactivity while walking on a leash or visiting a dog park. Additionally, you will greatly enrich your dog’s life through safe interaction and playtime with other dogs.

The best way to handle a rescue dog’s antisocial behavior involves identifying the triggers of inappropriate behavior, redirecting your dog’s attention, and de-sensitizing your dog’s triggers. By slowly providing opportunities in a safe setting for social interaction, your dog will eventually learn appropriate behavior.

Why a Rescue Dog May be Antisocial

Contrary to what you may think, most dogs adopted from shelters who have antisocial behavior have not been abused. More likely, they have been isolated during their stay at the shelter or in their prior home with little opportunity to play or interact with other dogs. Therefore, the primary reason for antisocial behavior is due to under-socialization in young dogs and pups.

Additionally, some puppies are adopted at very young ages. They may not have been given enough time to learn socialization skills. Even if they did get some training from their mother, puppies need to also learn how to behave within their new human household. If this is ignored when they are puppies, socialization training for adult dogs will be harder. See my post, Are Adult Rescue Dogs Harder to Train than Puppies? for more information about the importance of socialization at a young age.

For dogs rescued from abusive or neglected situations, the isolation and lack of socialization are compounded by the trauma they experience. Out of a necessity to survive, these dogs will adopt coping mechanisms that may lead to unwanted behaviors later in life. In some cases, their behavior may get worse before it gets better. It is not a linear process Just be patient and do not expect too much in the beginning.

Dog breeds make a difference as well. Some dogs are simply more friendly than others due to their genetics. Beagles, Pugs, and Golden Retrievers are some of the friendliest dogs on the planet. Others, such as German Shepherds, Cattle Dogs, and Pit Bulls, can be more prone to guarded behavior and aggression. But this is what they were bred for. And it is the old nature versus nurture argument. How a dog is raised and handled will usually be more significant than their DNA.

Signs of Antisocial Behavior in Rescue Dogs

Dogs who are clueless about how to socialize or play, usually avoid other dogs and simply do not engage with them. If your dog is still traumatized or just extremely shy, he may even run into another room or hide under furniture when other dogs enter his space. Symptoms of a shy or frightened dog are:

  • Rolling over and being submissive
  • Tucking his tail between his legs
  • Dropping to the floor and freezing
  • Running into his crate
  • Hiding
  • Keeping a distance and remaining aloof

Dogs who are more aggressive may lash out at another dog and start a fight. Other behaviors to watch for may include:

  • Ears are laid back
  • Growling
  • Snarling and baring teeth
  • Barking
  • Lunging
  • Whining, yelping, nipping

It is important to pay attention to your dog’s body language and vocalizations to anticipate how he might react toward another dog. By interpreting his movements, you might be able to head off a confrontation.

Recommendations for Handling Antisocial Behaviors

Small older dog plays tug of war with puppy
A new puppy learns to play with his housemate.
Photo by Judy Swayne.

Introducing a New Dog to Pets in Your Home

The best way to introduce a new dog to your home with existing pets is to remove your pets initially. Take them to a neighbor’s house or daycare for a few hours. Give your new pup a chance to check out your yard and the rooms of your house. Let him sniff around a bit and be sure to give him plenty of good treats. Keep everything calm, relaxed, and positive.

Next, place him in a separate room with the door open and a child’s safety gate in the doorway. Then bring your other pets back into the house. Offer them some good treats as well, and then introduce them through the safety of the safety gate. If any of the dogs get upset or bark, keep them apart at a greater distance and keep talking calmly and offering treats.

Eventually, they will get used to each other as long as you keep the experience positive, and upbeat, and downplay the drama. After a few hours or days, you should be able to remove the gate and let them check each other out. But just stay on guard and do not leave them alone together, until you are certain they will get along.

Walking on a Leash at the Park Can Bring out Antisocial Behaviors

Two dogs on leashes walking together in the park.

Walking on a leash around your neighborhood or at the local park may be the most challenging time. Dogs are more naturally protective and territorial when walking on a leash. Your dog may be frightened by his new neighborhood. He will want to defend both himself and you from any potential threat such as an unfriendly dog. Additionally, meeting another dog head-on while restricted by a leash is unnatural for a dog. Dogs prefer to move alongside one another, sniff, and be free to move or run away if they perceive the other dog to be a threat.

The best thing to do with a reactive dog is to simply redirect him. Turn around and go in the opposite direction and don’t let your dog meet head-on with another dog. You can also use distraction with treats or do some on the spot training like sit, shake, or stay commands. This breaks the impulse and gets your dog to focus on you.

Some dogs may never stop being reactive while on a leash, but others may calm down in time. By keeping the walk experience positive and by rewarding good behavior with treats, however, you may be able to reduce how much your dog reacts.

Dog Parks

Two brown dogs playing together at doggie day care
Finding a new friend at the dog park.

Dog parks are always dicey. Do some research and try to find a local dog park where owners pay attention to their dogs if they get out of hand. My favorite dog park is a little more of a drive from my home, but the owners are almost always respectful and mindful of what their dog is doing.

Unfortunately, I have been to dog parks where owners are totally ignoring their dogs and looking at their phones. In the meantime, a fight involving their dogs ensues and they are at the opposite end of the park. If I notice any aggressive behavior from other dogs, I immediately move my dogs away from them and also let the owner know.

The last thing you want to do is to expose your dog to a potentially aggressive dog, while you are trying to teach him how to play with other dogs. But a friendly dog park can be a great way to allow your new dog a chance to interact, socialize, and play.

Play Dates

The best way to teach your dogs how to socialize is with other dogs you know. These may be dogs living with your friends or extended family. Let them meet off-leash in a neutral place such as someone else’s fenced-in yard or a dog park.

Keep everything low-key and friendly and monitor closely. Usually, when dogs are allowed to meet off-leash, they will figure out how much they want to interact. Over time they will get used to each other and probably learn to play together. Be sure to see my post “How to Play with a Rescue Dog” about dogs who do not know how to play.

What SomeTrainers and Vets Say About Antisocial Behavior

“Helping an aggressive dog become more confident by teaching him to see a perceived threat or potential loss of a valued resource in a different light is the key to successfully changing the behavior.

Victoria Stilwell

Victoria Stilwell, a well-known author, and dog trainer says in a post about dog aggression, “Helping an aggressive dog become more confident by teaching him to see a perceived threat or potential loss of a valued resource in a different light is the key to successfully changing the behavior. For some dogs, this can be achieved in a relatively short period of time, but others require more time; each dog learns at a different pace. Positive reinforcement is the most effective philosophy to use in these cases, because the methods have a lasting impact, even on so-called ‘red zone’ dogs.”

Another experienced trainer, Jan Pedersen, said in her post, Living an Active Life with a Reactive Dog, that training a reactive dog is a complex subject, but most aggression comes from a place of fear or anxiety.

So overall in the management category, avoid your dog’s triggers, have a plan, walk your dog in less busy areas if possible, and make sure you have a secure leash and harness (or leash and collar) combination. These are all ways to prevent your dog from being placed in a situation where they have a chance to practice reactivity and escalate reactivity to aggression.

VCA Hospitals state that fear or anxiety-based aggression is the most common type of aggression in dogs. They just want the trigger or source of their fear to go away.

Final Thoughts

Most antisocial behavior in dogs is fear-based. Therefore, it is important to work with your dog to provide positive experiences and reinforcement of good behavior. Shelter and rescue dogs may need a little extra time to first settle in and feel safe in their environment. But they can often be integrated successfully with other household pets and learn appropriate social behaviors

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