Fighting in the House Fetch Magazine - January, 2006
Fighting in the house.
You may have thought for many reasons bringing home another dog to your household was going to be a wonderful thing. Whatever your reasoning to do so, you now have created a “multiple” dog household. Living with multiple dogs can sometimes be challenging. With any canine pack there is always a clear leader who keeps the peace among lower ranking members. Since dogs have an innate sense to include you into their pack, it is up to you to establish your leadership role if you wish to keep your pack living harmoniously together. If you are having problems amongst your dogs, you may first want to evaluate how you are leading the pack. Everything your dog does and/or reacts to is because of pack mentality. Owners unfortunately sometimes add fuel to the fire when they expect their dogs to respond to them as a child would. Although our dogs can sometimes act like humans; dogs are not people and do not want to live in the world as we do. Equal treatment for all does not apply. Don’t get me wrong, we can love them all the same, but how we treat them and live with them should not be the same. If we expect our dogs to understand us….we owe it to understand them.
Dominance CAN BE THE ROOT OF YOUR PROBLEM:
Dominance happens in dogs when one thinks they are above the other in the pack. Dogs have an incredible drive to lead or be lead. A dog may think it is the pack leader by how we act and by giving them all the same luxuries that we the pack leader should only be entitled to (I.E. sleeping in our bed, petting them every time they ask us for it, feeding them before we eat or feeding them from the table). Your dog may even think he is the leader if at anytime you gave your dog a command and they decided they did not want to do it and you allowed them to ignore you. A leader never has to do what a subordinate asks it to do. Even if the owner is perceived as the pack leader, we may still add to the dominance pack problem by our own unconscious actions in how we treat each individual member. As a leader, we must nurture and respect pack rank and order.
Why do dogs fight?
For starters there are really only A few possible reasons why your dogs are not getting along.
1) Your dogs do not see you as their pack leader. If your dogs did respect you as their leader and a fight broke out, you would be able to step in, give them a command and they would respond immediately. In a pack, the leader runs the show and decides who fights, when and when to stop. No Pack member would ever challenge the leader. He would respect their wishes, immediately.
2) You are the leader, but are treating your pack all equal. This is important to do with our children; however, dogs need to be recognized in rank order. They can never be treated equal with another pack member or you are just setting up for dominant aggression issues. Same sex dogs are more likely to exhibit aggression toward each other because in the wild dogs of the same gender would have to determine who was going to be the leader amongst them. Although, it is seldom, dominance aggression can be prevalent in opposite sex pack members too.
3) You and your dog are speaking TWO different languages. For example, many people try and pet their dogs when their dog shows aggression. Owners often think that this “petting” will either calm the dog, reassure the dog and/or give him confidence. In reality, the dog interprets this as the owner telling him, “Good dog! Yes, that is very good…be more aggressive”, thus inadvertently reinforcing the unwanted behavior.
How can you create a cohesive pack?
First and foremost, obedience training for every dog in your household is a must. Training creates a vocabulary that you can use so when you do ask your dog to do something they will respond instantly. If you have a particularly dominant dog, seek the help of a professional dog trainer before starting any training program.
Second, reinforce your leadership by doing everything first (eat first, go through doorways first, walk your dog on leash not allowing your dog to pull you down the sidewalk). Also, your lounging and sleeping quarters should not be the same as your dogs. No more are they allowed to sleep in the bed or allowed on furniture. Dogs should be provided their own space.
Third, you must create and adhere to a ranking system. Observe and decide who the more dominant dog is (usually it is the dog that was there first). Dominant dogs should eat before the other dogs, go for a walks before the others, get a treat before the others, and go through door ways and outside before the others. This will help the pack understand where the leader sees them according to rank and simultaneously reassures the dominant dog that yes you see him higher up on the pack and will protect him and his rank. This in turn, signals to the less dominate dog that the pack leader also sees him below the other dog and not to challenge. If a scuffle should arise you must correct BOTH dogs and let them know this will not be tolerated from the leader. A leader always protects its pack. The worst thing to do after a scuffle is to coddle and give affection to the subordinate dog. This will only confuse your dominant dog and cause him to challenge the lesser dog more to keep re-establishing his rank within the pack.
If you are having consistent scuffles, both dogs should have a collar and leash on at all times when there are together. This will prevent the owner from getting bit should they have to step in. If toys seem to be the trigger there should be none available when the dogs are together. If food is the trigger they should be fed and given treats separately (crates if need be).
In the end, by using the power of the pack, giving strong leadership, being consistent on what behavior is expected from all, and establishing clear boundaries can make living with your multiple dogs easier and less stressful.