Help -- we're so embarrassed! We've taken our corgi Henry, now 18mos old, on vacation to our relatives. They have a middle-aged female boxer named Hannah, an extremely sweet, extremely submissive dog, but Henry is behaving like a huge jerk to her! He freaks out and runs after her barking and snarling when she goes outside. He'll suddenly bark and lunge at her when both of them appear to be doing nothing at all. And heaven forbid someone puts down a bone or a treat, he'll be all over her snarling and squealing like he wants to kill her. But, all this is strangely intermittent. Most of the time, he and she get along great! They sniff each other, they share food, they nap and get petted and nose around without any concern for the other one. It's only sometimes, usually when Hannah gets excited to go outside or affectionate when someone new arrives. But it's also unpredictable -- sometimes it just comes out of the blue!
At first we figured Henry was just herding her and getting upset when she "tried to leave the pack" (went outside). But after he started bossing her around and attacking her over treats and toys, we got seriously concerned. Ours is a one-dog house; Henry is used to being to only dog around. And at dog parks he plays really well with all the other dogs, whatever size or breed. He doesn't appear to ever take a dominant position? What could be messing him up now, and what can we do about it? We intervene, we separate them, we remove the stimuli, but we need to train him to relax co-habitating with another dog. We just don't know how! Please help!
"When a submissive dog owns the house but a more dominant dog is brought in and does not live there, there is social imbalance."
I think that is an excellent point. I also think a submissive dog can become dog aggressive due to anxiety but being sympathetic without being accepting of unacceptable behaviors may train them to manage interactions in more appropriate fashion. All of the comments make some great points. It can be scary to experience this behavior, but I am sure it is common in large, high-excitement settings.
I had a similar embarrassing experience this year at our large family Christmas gathering. My corgi, Sully, is very submissive and gentle as well as laid-back, almost to the point of a coma. Still, in the past few days she acted out by growling and barking at any animal who was getting attention from one of the people she considered her own "special people." There were four cats and one very large, gentle yellow lab in attendance and Sully hates too lose her special spot with one of my young granddaughters, either of my son-in-laws, and one of my friends. She REALLY hates to see another animal getting attention from me, but she knows better than to complain openly at least.
It is horrifying to see her lunge at a small kitten for example, but she is smart enough to avoid confrontation with the larger, more aggressive cats. She managed to make some progress with the lab because my daughter and son-in-law were willing to let them "work it out" but it was stressful to watch the toy sharing issues and potential food issues regarding which animal eats which food out of which bowl. This is the second time I have witnessed this issue. Both times were when the yellow lab was involved, but it seems more like an issue of Sully having anxiety over losing favor and hierarchy in the family. I react as instantly and as firmly as possible. I said "NO!" and put her in lock down (the bathroom) for a few minutes. She was allowed to come out but was supervised and sent back if necessary. The resource guarding about food and toys is unacceptable (in my mind) so she was fed, and not allowed to "take it" without my permission as a reminder of her status. I tried not to keep her on the leash as it only adds to her anxiety and slows the adjustment, but growling, barking, and especially lunging are never allowed and I want that to be VERY clear so I restrained her at times. I do think the message is getting through, but I am lucky my family seems to understand, though I am not sure everyone really gets why I feel the need to stomp this behavior out immediately and why I am so harsh with this "sweet little dog." I do think she can be taught to stop this behavior, but I think it is resource guarding that may require some animal behavioral consultation to manage effectively. I feel like we really made some progress, but lack of socialization with other dogs has made family gatherings a bit stressful, especially if some people inadvertently reinforce negative dog behaviors from the "cute" little corgi. I hope you can nip this in the bud. As Anna wrote, it is unprovoked aggression, but the dog may have felt provoked and justified. That doesn't mean it is EVER acceptable. I do think it can be stopped if caught early and dealt with swiftly, effectively and consistently. I personally think that dogs that are "not good with other dogs, pets, people, etc." just need to be trained and socialized, but I am NOT an expert. I don't think avoiding situations is the best solution though. I hope it works out well for you as time passes. It is sad and embarrassing but a written training plan for proper socialization might help if the anxiety level is high on future events. Just my unprofessional opinion of course. Good luck!