Q: I am the owner of two fighting
female dogs. These dogs haven't always fought. Until recently, they've
been very peaceful. However, the last few nights as one growls at the
other, a fight begins. One dog is a spayed eight year old female, the
other is an unspayed three year old female. Is there anything I can do
to bring them back together? Would spaying the younger one be the
answer? I don't want to give up one of the dogs. Please help!
A: Although neutering male dogs can
sometimes help prevent fighting, spaying females seldom has the same
effect. Your problem is far from hopeless, though, and giving up one
of the dogs doesn't have to be an option.
Dogs fight for many reasons and the
most common, especially between dogs of the same sex, is a dispute
over their status in the family "pack". Dogs were designed
by nature to run in packs with a clearly defined order of authority
from the top dog on down. As long as everyone knows his or her place
and follows orders, life is usually peaceful.
With most dog packs, it's easy to see
who's boss and how the rest of the dogs fit within the order. Watch
your dogs interact - which one takes the best toy, goes out the door
first, gets to eat first and takes the best sleeping place? This is
the "alpha" dog, the leader of the canine pack. The alpha
dog achieves his (or her) rank by being smarter, stronger or sometimes
just more domineering than the rest. Some dogs are born leaders,
others fall into the alpha role because no one else wants the job.
Most dogs don't mind holding a subordinate position and seldom
challenge the alpha dog's authority.
Trouble starts when a lower ranking
dog tries to move up the pack ladder or "forgets" his place.
This can be a young dog entering his adolescent (teenaged) stage or a
subordinate pack member that senses the alpha dog is getting older,
weaker or losing his authority.
The alpha makes and enforces the
rules. Alpha dogs enforce their authority by the use of stern eye
contact, growling, dominant body postures and if that fails, biting
and fighting. If you watch your dogs closely, you'll see examples of
this eye contact and posture in their daily activities.
Your dog's "pack" includes
his human family as well as the other dogs in the household. You are
alpha in this pack. You have the right to make the rules and it's up
to you to enforce them. Hopefully, your dogs recognize your alpha
status and you've reinforced it through training and discipline. As
alpha, you have every right to make and enforce this rule: "There
shall be no fighting!"
It's always easier and safer to
prevent a fight than to try to stop one that's already in progress.
Very few fights start without reason even if that reason is only clear
to the dogs. If you pay close attention to your dogs, you'll be able
to see the beginnings of an argument - a dirty look, a low growl, a
shove - and be able to nip it in the bud. When you see one of your
dogs "talking trash" to the other, correct her in a firm,
deep, sinister voice: "That's enough!" or "Leave
it!". If you enter the scene late and don't know who started it,
scold them both.
If you catch them while they're still
thinking about arguing, you'll be that much more effective. If
your dogs are a little more serious and aren't responding to your
verbal corrections, you can leave short leads on them so you can give
them leash corrections. Don't be afraid to sound tough; you want them
to understand that this behavior will not be allowed - period. Make it
clear that if they want to fight, they're going to have to fight with you
If your dogs are fighting when you're
not home, it's safest to keep them separated at those times. Most
fights, though, occur in the presence of the owner and are a result of
competition over attention, food, toys and of course, pack status. You
can help prevent these disagreements by recognizing the highest
ranking dog in your pack and favoring it with your attention. This is
the dog you should pet first, feed first and let out the door first.
Giving alpha dog privileges to a lower ranking dog, even if it might
be your personal favorite, confuses the others and can lead to
fighting. All the dogs will be more secure and comfortable with each
other when they're clear on where they stand within the pack.
There are some dogs that just aren't
going to get along no matter what. Some breeds are less sociable than
others and some are known for fighting. In these cases, a permanent
separation may be the best answer. This doesn't mean you have to get
rid of one of the dogs. Those of us who keep multiple dogs including
ones that don't get along are familiar with a system we jokingly call
"musical dogs". One dog spends part of the day with the
family while the other dog is crated, outside in the yard or in
another part of the house. Partway through the day (or at any interval
you want), you switch them. It's not as cozy as having all the dogs
together but can be a very workable solution.
Obedience training for all dogs in
the pack is highly recommended. If your dogs have already been through
a class and understand commands, practice with them on a daily basis.
A long "down" is great for cooling the heels of a
rambunctious younger dog. Another good drill is to put all your dogs
on a "sit/stay", then call each one to you individually for
attention or a treat - the alpha dog first, of course!
Who's In Charge
Here? A Lesson In Becoming Alpha
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