Dog Fights and Fear

Dear WOOF:

I recently had to move from Texas to Michigan with my two male dogs. One is a 2 year old husky, and the other 2 year old mix (of what I'm not sure). We moved in with my family who has a 6 month old male Weimaraner who is very hyper and loves to play and bite them indoors. But once all three get outside, he cowers, and yelps anytime they go near him to play.

The problem is that my two dogs have been fighting with each other more and more lately. I never saw, or heard of them fighting while we lived in Texas, but now they fight at least once, sometimes twice a day. The fights always end with the husky on top, but as soon as they separate, the smaller dog puts his front paws on his back and stays there till the husky sits. I understand that they are going through some anxiety and dealing with the change in weather, and living conditions, and some dominance issues are coming up, but what can I do about them fighting over everything that the other one plays with or chews!

p.s. Getting rid of one of the dogs is not an option. I recently lost my husband, and loosing one of my babies is out of the question.


Hi:

I am so sorry for your loss. At this time especially, you need some peace in your life and home. Your commitment to your dogs will make all the difference as you help them to work through this! Most dog-dog relationship problems can be overcome and I think that a few fairly easy changes may help. I'll start with the fighting you've mentioned between your 2 dogs.

From your email, it appears they are scuffling over possessions/resources (chews and toys). Dogs are natural "resource guarders" and this is a very common problem with housemates! In fact, in my experience with resident dog fights, the culprit in just about every single case can be traced back to this as the root cause!

 

Valued possessions such as food, chew bones, toys, sleeping spaces, petting/affection (also a valuable resource for some dogs) can all contribute to tensions that over time result in an actual fight that appears to have "come out of nowhere". Far more often than not though, there's an established history of one of the dogs "stealing" the others chew bones and/or toys, visiting the others food bowl (often times while the other dog is eating!) and the like. While these types of encounters at first seem like no big deal, they're usually a sign of trouble to come, when the dog who's being pressured by the other to give up his resources/possessions, has had enough, and decides that he won't give up so easily this time, and a fight ensues! Thankfully, incidents like what you've described are more like scuffles or arguments (no significant injuries or vet visits) but they sure look and sound scary! This is not always the case, and of course sometimes more serious, injurious fight episodes do occur, but in your case if you intervene now, you should be able to prevent things from escalating to that point.

 

Being in a new environment and living with a new dog now too is bound to be stressful for all of the dogs, so it's important to keep frustration and tensions between them to an absolute minimum. The future of their relationship rests on the quality of their experiences together now, and you can help them learn to co-exist peacefully!

 

Here's my advice on how to proceed:

- For starters, pick up the toys, chews, etc. and keep them up out of reach. Only provide these things when you're able to keep the dogs separate - consider crating for chew times. Upon release from crating, put away the chews and keep all crate doors closed to prevent any chance for an issue there.

 

- Do a sweep of the yard too. If there are trigger objects out there laying around (bones/rawhides/favorite balls), pick them up as well.

 

- You don't mention a problem between them around their food bowls, feeding times, or food prep time, but there are usually problems there too when resident dogs are getting into fights over other resources. So I suggest that you separate the dogs completely for feeding times (each in their own separate rooms, or crates) Once both dogs are finished, pick up and put the away (even empty food bowls can be a trigger for some dogs!) and release each dog from their room or crate. NOTE: Preparing meal time for the dogs can potentially be another trouble spot, so having each dog in his or her feeding space first, will prevent scuffles during meal prep times.

 

Training is important for all of the dogs as individuals, and in a group together, but immediately managing their environment to help them relax more around one another is in my experience and opinion, the most critical first step. After a couple of weeks of no squabbles/tense encounters between them, start the training process - here's an excellent article on clicker training in the multiple dog householdhttp://www.clickertraining.com/node/3118


As for the weirmaraner's behavior outside with the other 2 dogs - it sounds like a fearful response to me. Perhaps something happened between the dogs while out in the yard that was scary for him, but I'm also concerned that there may be a painful medical problem involved, so have him examined by a veterinarian to rule out any possibilities there as soon as possible. Hopefully all checks out well.

 

If he's fine physically then I'd suspect a fear response. From your description of things, he's cowering and yelping preemptively because he's afraid of the potential for interaction with the other 2 dogs for some reason. So, I suggest that you help him develop more confidence in play outdoors with one dog at a time. Start the weim with the one he seems most comfortable with. You mention that the weim seems to like interacting inside the house, so perhaps you could wait until he's soliciting play from that dog inside, and excitedly usher them outside together! My hope is that the play with that dog would continue out in the yard.

 

Do the same with the other dog and the weim too. Once the weimaraner has gained some confidence and is happily interacting with each of the dogs on their own outside, he should feel less fearful of them and you can have all three in the yard together for brief periods, working up from there.

 

As for the idea of a sort of "dominance" problem being the cause for trouble between the dogs, I hope this article has helped you understand that there's a different culprit to consider! Here's an article called "The Mythical Alpha Dog" by Dr. Ian Dunbar, that will help to further dispel this commonly held belief! Click here to read.


One final suggestion; more one on one time between you and your dogs separately...more walks, rides in the car, games, etc. Connect more with each one individually as well as paired. The increase in exercise and some quality one on one time with you can also help to reduce the stress that they are undoubtedly under with all of the changes that have come about recently for them too!

I sincerely wish you and your family the best of luck, and hope that you find this information helpful.

Should you need further assistance, do not hesitate to contact us again. Thanks for writing.

Best of luck,
Lisa Patrona, Dip. CBST, CPDT-KA, ACDBC, AABP-CDT