Aggression with age?

I have a 5 year old golden doodle. He has never been aggressive. He attended daycare his first 2 years and frequently goes to the dog park so he is well socialized. He still has a lot of energy, but plays less at the dog park. He rarely runs around like he would in the past. However he does this new thing, he finds a stick, chews it and then drops it standing over it. He will wait for another dog to try to get the stick and then will snap at the other dog. He has gotten into 2 fights over sticks in the last few months. 

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  • Most dogs become less interested in playing with other dogs as they get older. It's a normal part of maturing, and it's fine.  They also become less tolerant of puppies and their antics as they get older. This is one reason many rescues won't place a puppy in a home with an older dog. 
    Dog parks are pretty controversial among dog "experts". Many if not most trainers, vets, and behaviorists will tell you not to take a dog to a dog park at all. The wrong encounter with the wrong dog can cause lasting problems. "Socialization" as it applies to dogs does not mean playing with other dogs or even hanging out with other dogs. It means acclimating a dog to human society: different sights, sounds, textures, movements, surfaces, being handled, etc. If dog parks are used at all, it should be for the purpose of your dog being able to run and exercise off leash. The best way to do that is in large parks where there are walking paths or trails that you can use with your dog, away from the group of dogs that hangs out near the entrance mostly unsupervised while their owners socialize with each other or scroll on their phones. Owners must stay with their dogs at a dog park, and engage with them. Walk, throw a ball. Practice heeling or recall. Again, the park needs to be large enough that you and your dog can have some space away from the general mayhem. It's really best if you can go during the least busy times, too.
    The behavior you are describing is not aggression. It's resource guarding. If it were not for the snapping and fighting, it could be seen as way to get someone to chase him, which many dogs love. Mine does, and his behavior is exactly what you describe up to the snapping part. But at that point, instead of snapping, he will grab whatever it is (usually a ball) and run a little way, hoping the other dog, or a person will chase him. The snapping and fighting are what make this resource guarding. As you probably know, that's why most day cares and even some dog parks don't allow any balls or toys. 
    So, if you want to continue to use that park, you are going to have to stay with your dog and engage with him while you are there. Don't let him get hold of sticks. Work on "leave it" and "drop it" commands. Use the park time to strenghten your bond with your dog, he does not need to hang out with other dogs any more. :)

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    • Thanks for your reply that was insightful. When he was younger I would fetch 20 minutes twice a day. There is no suitable fetch area in my current neighborhood. The dog park is large but has scattered trees. In the last 2 years I run him 5 miles twice a day and that seems to be an appropriate workout. I always thought of him "playing with other dogs" as him having a good time. But you are right, perhaps he does not need this type of interaction anymore. The fenced in area is quite large and he enjoys walking around the area. Whats interesting is he knows he is fenced in. If he were to get out of the fence then he actually runs...really runs. 

      I still have no been able to get him to tone down his obsessions with squirrels and cats. He also has this new bahavior patten when walking passed some dogs he lunges out towards the dog. He does this because he would like to meet the other dog, but it can be interpreted by the other dog owner and aggressive. 

      • I think it would be great for you to find a CGC class in your area. It sounds like your dog would really benefit from that type of training work, and it would make walks more enjoyable for both of you. 

        And just an aside for anyone else who happens to be reading this, regardless of how either dog acts or how friendly they may be, you never ever ever EVER allow dogs to "meet" each other on leash. 

        • What irks me are the people with dogs off leash while I have mine on a leash and they say "don't worry my dog is friendly."  How do they know whether the leashed dog is friendly?  This happens often in campgrounds even with rule to keep them leashed.

          I may use a dog park that is empty when I'm out traveling just to give him some exercise, but don't like them otherwise.

          • I agree with you 100%. I wish more people could understand that an unleashed dog approaching a leashed dog can trigger the "fight or flight" response. The leashed dog is essentially trapped and vulnerable. Under those circumstances, it's hard to be "friendly". 
            You are not alone in disliking dog parks. You will find that the people who are most knowledgable about "all things dog" share your view.  

          • I always tell them MY dog is not friendly. 

      • I have a leash reactive dog (same leash behavior you are describing).  For leash reactivity that occurs only sometimes, you can teach your dog to sit while the dog goes by.  You can ask them to focus on you. You can stand in front of your dog, blocking some vision. 

        • That's one reason I suggested a CGC class, because it teaches you how to keep your dog's focus on you rather than the other dog along with many other leash walking skills. And you get the chance to practice around other dogs in a safe environment. 

           

        • This is what we are doing with Toby - asking him to sit anytime a dog goes by.  He is leash reactive (not aggressive, but his body language and the sounds he makes are not friendly).  I actually try to face him away from the dog and towards me so that his focus is completely away from the dog.  I find if I stand in front of him he just tries to peek around my legs.

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