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Canine Behavior/neutered dog agression toward intact dogs


I have just adopted two sweet 3 year old intact male Golden Retrievers.  My friend's neutered Rat Terrier, who is normally fine and submissive around other dogs, is very aggressive towards them.  The two Retrievers are terrified of the smaller dog now.  I am looking into getting the boys neutered soon, but am curious as to whether or not it will help with the smaller dog's aggression towards them.  I would like for them to all be friends but do not want any of them to get hurt.

Thank you for your question. I don't know how the dogs were introduced to each other - in a neutral territory away from the Rattie's home, on leash (with tight leashes or loose leashes), off leash, in front of the house, in the house, etc. First greetings can set dogs off on the wrong paw, so it's possible the Rattie reacted to having 2 large, strange dogs coming into his space uninvited (from his perspective) and this put him on the defensive.

I don't know what their interaction was like - sniffs of bums/genitalia, sniff of face/ears, polite greetings by averting gaze, lowering closer to the ground (bowing), etc. or stiff bodies, heads and tails high, putting chin or paws over the Rattie's shoulder, back or head... These first interactions play a large role in how the dogs will get along initially, and potentially set their relationship for life.

Will neutering help the Rattie feel better about these two new, large dogs in his world? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on if the Rattie was reacting to hormones or body language. If the former, then about a month after neutering, the dog's hormones will subside and you should see the Rattie relax. If he was responding to body language, then neutering won't really affect that very much.

I would go back a little and try to do some controlled interactions in neutral territory with some parallel walking at a distance (one person for each dog, so you'll need someone to assist you with the two you just adopted). The distance must be great enough that the dogs don't feel a need to react. The Rat Terrier is not compelled to bark at the goldens and the goldens are not feeling/showing any nervousness. Parallel in this case doesn't actually mean perfectly straight lines. Rather it means walking the same direction (or opposite directions toward each other), but there may be some swerving to help the dogs feel better.

When the terrier shows a softer, more polite cut-off signal such as turning his head away or sniffing the ground, the reward is that his person veers AWAY from the goldens for a few steps and then moves back to the actual distance you're working.  Ditto for the goldens - when they show a more confident but calm response (again, head turns, ground sniffs rather than cowering or trying to run away), they are rewarded by getting to swerve off the path AWAY from the Rattie.

This should be done first with just the Golden that seems to set off the terrier the MOST, build up that relationship and then start all over with the other Golden, and then begin again (probably at an even greater distance than the furthest distance needed for a single dog and work both dogs with the terrier.

You'll need the terrier's owner to be on board with you to do this work. There's a GREAT book that will walk you through this whole protocol. It's a bit dry, but it's very clear and has pictures and drawings to help clarify where you're walking and when the reward the dog with greater distance.

The book is called Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT for Fear, Aggression and Frustration by Grisha Stewart.

You may also find On Talking Terms with Dogs - Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas to be very helpful. It's an easy read and meant for pet owners. This book will walk you through a host of very subtle communication signals that dogs do when nervous or uncomfortable as well as when they are clearly asking for more distance (distance-increasing signals), less distance (distance-decreasing signals), when they're content and when they're stressed. Once you know what those cues are, you'll be able to watch for them and then help the dogs (all of them) feel safe and secure because you'll be able to intervene and adjust the environment (create more space, take away a high value toy that may be causing guarding behaviors, etc) so that all the dogs can feel more comfortable.

Now, all of that said, we must also respect that not all dogs will get along with each other, just as not all humans like each other. Sometimes there's just a personality clash and so while we may be able to help them coexist if they must spend time together, they may never be best friends. And, it may be that they just aren't meant to be friends, in which case, they ought not have play dates. But until you've done some work to help them feel more comfortable with each other, I can't know if this is a case of oil and vinegar just not mixing. I didn't see what the terrier did that you felt was aggressive, nor how the goldens responded, so I don't know if there's a HUGE red flag that would suggest just not even pushing it. But, the BAT protocol works at a distance great enough that the dogs are not compelled to react overtly in an aggressive manner, so it can't hurt to try it and see if you can build their tolerance for being in the same space. Just be sure that all dogs present are being respected, breaks are happening if any of the dogs needs a break and you're not working any closer than the dog who needs the most distance.

I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.

Jody, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 5 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been professionally modifying behavior and training obedience for 7 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I have just changed the name of my business. It is no longer Good Dog! Dog Training. The new name is Nutz About Mutz!. If you see previous questions with the Good Dog! website information, that is my response.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a graduate education in animal behavior and learning. (While I completed my coursework and did the requisite research, I did not defend a dissertation. I am qualified, but not certified and so technically not a doctor. This is commonly referred to as Ph.D.-ABD which means All But Dissertation.) My educational focus was with non-human primates, but my personal interest is with domestic dogs and their relationships with humans and other animals. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences.

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