Canine Behavior/Issues with unneutered/dominant dogs
We adopted our 2 year old male boxer pit mix in Jan of 2013. He is neutered. We did not get any background information from the shelter. When we first got him, on walks, he would seem to get excited to meet other dogs. A few times after sniffing dogs, would start to growl and lunge. It took us about a month or two to noticed that most of these dogs were unneutered adult males. He loves to play with most dogs, he goes to daycare twice a week, and I take him to dog parks and pet stores on a regular basis. He will play with unneutered puppies (about 9 months or younger) just fine. When he plays with dogs, he seems to take his turn, will roll on his back, and mouth gently. He loves to run and wrestle. With smaller dogs, he will lay down to try to get to their level. One example is I went to a dog park and he was playing with a Jack Russell, rolling on his back, letting the dog climb on him, and they were mouthing gently. I was telling the owner that he had this issue with unneutered males and she didn't quite believe me because he was playing so nicely with her dog. Low and behold a new dog approached the fence, my dog got up, went over and sniffed, and started barking and lunging(he doesn't bark much, so that was warning signal to me). I went over and took his collar and pulled him away. I could see that the dog was male, but not the entire package, so I asked the owner if he was neutered and he said "not yet." So we left the park (he was playing for awhile anyways). However, there have been instances that I found out that some very small dogs weren't neutered and he was fine with them (but he wouldn't really play with them either). He also seems not to do well with dominant dogs. There has been two/three occasions I have seen him lunge at another neutered dog, one was pinning down great dane puppies and they were whimpering in distress, one dog was highly territorial marking and came over to him and tried to mount him, and one dog he just didn't seem to like right away. I always keep a close eye on him when we are out so I can remove him before any altercations occur. I try to be a responsible owner and before approaching a dog with him, ask the owner if their dog is neutered, check the dog parks to see if dogs are neutered (which they are suppose to be by law) and watch for awhile to see how they play (if I see a dog picking on other dogs) we leave, and if new dogs enter I hold onto my dog until I know he's calm. We also do short time outs when playing so he doesn't get over stimulated. I don't want to seclude him from playing with other dogs because he seems to enjoy it so much. I have tried walking with someone with an unneutered dog a few times to try to expose him in a more controlled environment, but the occasion comes up rarely. Is there a way for him to get over this? I've contemplated seeing a behaviorist for this one issue but am concerned that it might effect other aspects of his personality that I love so much. It might also be note worthy that he doesn't have food or toy aggression, is fine with smaller animals (we have cats and ferrets), doesn't beg or steal food, doesn't respond to dogs barking at him when passing by, and is fairly obedient unless he is really wound up, which takes a little bit more of a firmer tone.
Greetings, and thank you for contacting All Experts!
I hope you have enjoyed your Labor Day holiday so far! I will try my best to answer your question, though keep in mind that at times it's difficult to accurately assess doggy behavior from a keyboard hundreds of miles away. I will also provide links to some articles if you want to further expand on the subject.
The fact that he is reactive towards un-neutered males is not unusual. Indeed, intact males emit a different odor compared to neutered ones. Many times, when an intact male enters the dog park, you can almost literally smell tension in the air. For more causes of reactivity towards intact dogs and common methods dog behavior specialist use you can read this article:
The fact that he plays gently with small dogs is know as self-handicapping and the fact he is on top one moment and pinned over the next is a sign of healthy role-reversal. It's a good thing! You can read more about healthy play styles in this article:
The dog park is not seen very well by many dog trainers, for a very good reason; dog owners bring all sorts of dogs that shouldn't be there in the first place. Bully dogs as you describe, shouldn't be there pinning down puppies. A single event like that may ruin a less-resilient dog for life creating serious fear-based issues. Add on top of that that owners are rarely paying attention and a very small amount of them are able to call their dogs when needed. Dog trainer Grisha Stewart claims "Some professional dog trainers refer to dog parks as “a guarantee of future employment,” because so many behavioral problems start at the park!"
Yet, you mention that you would miss the dog park as it gives your dog an opportunity to play. It would be best therefore to find a compromise and play it safe by perhaps organizing play sessions with dogs you know he perfectly gets along with. This is best for him, the other dogs, and yourself. I can't see how you can manage to screen in a timely matter every dog that enters the dog park (you must be hyper vigilant at all times, which can put a dent in your dog-park experience), nor is it fair for your dog to be exposed to bullies and risk other dogs to get hurt because you weren't able to determine if they were intact or not.
Consider as well that any time you take him to the dog park and he is exposed to an intact dog and reacts by barking and lunging, you are setting him for failure as he gets an opportunity to rehearse the reactive behavior more and more and it becomes more and more ingrained. Management by preventing rehearsal of behavior is key to preventing, and in some cases, solving behavior issues.
You mention you are worried that seeing a behaviorist "might effect other aspects of his personality that you love so much." What aspects are you referring to? I cannot see how seeing a professional may cause changes a dog owner may not appreciate. Unless you see one who uses outdated, harsh coercion-based methods, there's only to gain as you get to learn more on how to read your dog, change his emotions and learn more about his threshold levels so that he won't get wound up and require you to use a firmer tone as you mention.
Note: to learn more about threshold levels in dogs read: http://alexadry.hubpages.com/hub/Dog-Behavior-Understanding-Threshold-Levels-in-
Behavior modification methods. This link gets a bit technical, but it's quite interesting: http://alexadry.hubpages.com/hub/Dog-Behavior-A-Guide-to-Behavior-Modification-T
If you really want to work on this issue, I would recommend seeking out a good force-free dog trainer/behavior consultant. Board certified behaviorists or certified applied animal behaviorists are the credentialed experts with a degree in the field. However, for the moment I would refrain from going to dog parks and opt for play sessions with others in a dog's yard or other fenced area.
I hope this helps better understand the behavior! Please take a moment to leave feedback when you have a chance.
Disclaimer: this answer is not to be used as a substitute for professional behavioral advice. If your dog is displaying aggressive behavior consult with a professional for a hands-on assessment. By reading this answer you accept this disclaimer.