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Hi all,
I'm the owner of a 3 year old, spayed mut and I've identified a pattern of behavior that she has developed over the past year. I've had her since she was a young pup and I made sure to socialize her as much as possible including semi-weekly daycare and visits with my older sister's dogs with whom she has formed a tight bond. She was very skittish when I first got her and at daycare the employees said she never really did much other than watch the other dogs. Since then, she has become much more confident and relaxed around strangers. Last year we moved into a new apartment complex with a small dog park and plenty of other dogs for neighbors. Unfortunately, she became incrementally more confrontational with a select few other females, especially in the park. This behavior usual occurs when she and another dog approach each other closely, at which point she will become motionless and stare them down while the fur on her spine stands erect. This has become a telltale sign for me to quickly get her attention or pull her away because the next move she makes is to snap and make nasty, guttural noises. A few "fights" have ensued as a result (I put fights in quotes because thankfully she doesn't seem intent on drawing blood but is merely attempting to assert her dominance) and it's been troubling to watch and handle, so now I keep an eye on her when other females are around to see if she displays the aforementioned body language. Some dogs have certainly over-stepped her personal boundaries or played a little too rough and elicited a response from her, but there is an obvious divide between this type of aggression and her hormonally-driven aggression. My best guess is that she reached her sexual maturity at 2 or 2 1/2 and gained enough self-security to be competitive among other females. To be clear, this type of behavior is almost entirely contained to the apartment area, as we frequent other parks and off leash trails virtually incident free and in fact, she is very affectionate towards other dogs in those settings. I assume hormones and territorial dominance are at play and I'm not sure if there is any solution to this, but I was mostly hoping any readers out there could provide me with accounts of their personal experiences of such behavior and what they found to be useful in curbing it.
 

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I think you have probably got it right when you identify that it's a proximity thing. Socialisation in dogs isn't about them being best friends with other dogs, it's about them experiencing a wide range of sights and sounds people to the age of 16 weeks, which is when crucial changes in the brain occur. In the same way that it would be unnatural for you to greet and hug every other person in the supermarket, equally it's quite normal for your girl not to want to be friends with every other dog in the dog park. Dogs really don't naturally behave like social butterflies, being dog neutral (with perhaps a small circle of friends) is far more normal, as it is for most people too.

But by having her in that enclosed space, she has no way of keeping her distance so she is, in canine body language (the stiffening, the stare) telling them very clearly to keep away. When they ignore that she has to take it to the next level, the snap. I will link a chart of canine body language that you may find helpful, it's titles the ladder of aggression although I prefer ladder of anxiety.

Anayway, in dog training we speak about the three Ds - distance, duration, distraction. Distance you have already identified - she is happy enough as long as they keep far enough away not to be in her personal space. Duration - she might tolerate a dog in her space for X minutes but not X+1. Distraction - a quiet calm dog might be ok but a bouncy one not.

So, to sum up, don't try to force her to interact (think of the hell of shy, antisocial people being forced to go to parties again and again) and let her have her space. If the dog park is busy, go somewhere else or go at different times. Protect her from having to take matters into her own hands by keeping her out of situations she can't tolerate.
 
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