Canine Behavior/Carolina Dog Out of Character Aggression
I've got 2 rescues, 1 female Carolina Dog who is 2 years old/spayed and just under 60lbs. She was returned twice to the animal shelter prior to our adoption of her for "unrealistic expectations". She is extremely stranger wary and if on a leash will thrash and buck if a stranger approaches. If she's at the dog park and something strikes her wrong about an individual she will stalk them silently when their back is turned almost like a coyote. Sniffing their heels before racing away, but also her hackles rise and she gives short warning barks while circling.
My other dog is a death row dog from Oakland, CA. A "blue gotti?" bully pit. He appears full blooded, and we adopted him from a notorious kill shelter on his last day (his 2nd day there). We chose him simply because he was the most pathetic looking dog. We had zero experience with pitbulls initially, but have quickly learned "him" if not all pitbulls. Bloody ears from at home crop, malnourished (40lbs underweight), eyes filmed over from infection, bites, scars, etc. They found him running down the road with a link of busted chain. No one claimed him obviously. Former fight or bait dog possibly. They guessed 3 years old, but who knows. He's neutered since adoption, 85lbs now and come a LONG way in behaviors. Almost 3k in vet bills and 1 year later he's a gentle giant...... at home. With us, and strangers who are introduced by us.
He is however fiercely protective when something is unexpected. His prey drive? Unbelievable tenacity. He's never off leash in public or outdoors. Severe unaltered male dog aggression. SEVERE. Has to be dragged away forcibly and cannot be redirected.
The question I have is odd maybe. Our two dogs are inseparable. Sharing the same crate even though they have their own. The bully is alpha. But our Carolina has this notorious habit of actively luring other dogs close to our Bully under the guise of play. She'll be having the best time, but is ultimately using chase to get other dogs within lunging range. It is completely intentional.
She also will become hyper aggressive with any female dog that shows interest in him. Hackles, blocking, lip curl, freezing and not accepting submission signs. She doesn't fight, just becomes aggressively possessive. Running interference if you will.
And once, when another owner did not heed our pleas to keep his dog away from our bully which we were walking on leash far from any other dogs. She actively put herself in harm's way, peering out from underneath his head, protecting his throat maybe? But snarling, hackles, just the most vicious display. The approaching dog was MUCH larger than either of ours. She isn't like this. She's a wiggle butt, timid, just a cuddler. But there is definitely some dynamic I'm missing here. What is going on?! We no longer take them to dog parks whatsoever. Any advice is appreciated as our Carolina honestly does love the dog park, but behaves bizarrely whenever he is within sighting distance (even outside the fence line!) They do not do this anywhere else.
Thank you for your question. It's great that these two have bonded so well with each other.
I agree, I think that neither of these dogs should be spending time at a dog park - even outside on leash. Your male for obvious reasons - he is highly dog-aggressive with male dogs. Your female because she shows a severe resource guarding of other females when they are near your male. Don't mistake that resource guarding as sweet or romantic, though. She is responding the same as if he were a bone she valued. She sees him as a resource that is worth guarding and sees certain female dogs as a threat to her resource. . .
Your description regarding the experience with the off leash dog approaching - if I'm picturing correctly, your female was standing behind the male, but peering out under his head and giving a big aggressive display with snarls and growls, etc. If I'm picturing correctly, then I would interpret that encounter as the female being frightened (hiding behind), but also bolstered by the presence of her 'brother'. We can think of it as similar to human interactions where if you're faced with a bully or mugger and you're by yourself, you would likely just do what they ask and try to not get hurt. But if you have a friend with you - support - you might feel more confident resisting or even trying to get the bully/mugger to back down completely. There's power in numbers.
If you are confident that her aggressive behavior is triggered only by the presence of your male, then you can try to bring her to the park - leaving him at home. But you may find that her behavior at this point has become more about the dynamic she has at the park and not so much about his presence.
If these were my dogs, I would seek out fields or woods or other local areas where there are not likely to be any dogs at all and take the dogs there - still on leash - to wander and explore and have off property time and exercise. In fact, my two dogs are both quite friendly and social, but I prefer planned play dates with dogs whose temperament I am familiar, rather than random encounters with dogs I don't know. So, even though my dogs actually do quite well, I don't go to dog parks (and neither do any of my training colleagues... just too many unknowns and protecting our dogs' sense of sociability is more important than random play).
You can also look at the book Behavior Adjustment Training 2.0: New Practical Techniques for Fear, Frustration and Aggression
, by Grisha Stewart. You would need to work each dog separately and at a sufficient distance that the dog is not reacting to the triggers and build up their skill slowly, at their pace before working the dogs together. And then take note that when the dogs are together, they feed off each other's energy and so you'd need to start at a great distance again - possibly more distance when they're together than either of them needs when they're solo. There is definitely some nuance to this process, and given the behavior you've witnessed since these dogs have been in your care, I strongly encourage you to work with a professional in your area who is familiar with BAT techniques as well as classical counter conditioning, desensitization and operant conditioning. The knowledgeable and skilled professional can help you learn better how to read the more subtle signs of rising agitation and how best to help intervene to reduce that rising arousal before the dog's reach their reactivity threshold (before they feel they need to growl, snarl and even before they become fixated on a target)
I hope some of this information proves useful. If I have failed to answer your actual question, please feel free to followup with clarification as I'm not 100% sure I've addressed your actual concern.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Worcester, MA Animal Behavior Specialist
Masters Candidate (2016) - Animals and Public Policy (Animal Behavior)
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine