Trouble in paradise

We are at the vet’s office having Rio’s bandage changed when an acquaintance walks through the doors with her dog.  Her dog appears somewhat shaken-up and has a bloody injury close to his eye.  “What happened?” I inquired.  They tell me that this is the fifth time their dog has been attacked by their other male dog.

Yes, these dogs are also “friendly”; they play together, snooze together and then the attacks occur. The level of injury is quite severe. The other dog never gets injured so it is one dog that is always damaging the other dog.

Clearly the owners are very distraught, and knowing this cannot continue as it has been.  They tell me that as young dogs, the dogs did not get into fights, but suddenly the series of fights took place.  What makes it worse is that according to them the fights are becoming more damaging.  We continue to talk as they try to piece together the events as neither one of them was at home when the fight took place.

So far they have not been able to identify the triggers for the fights. What is clear is that they have decided that they cannot subscribe to the super tight management (perhaps through the lives of these dogs). I don’t blame them.  This kind of management is really brutal and never 100% foolproof. My heart goes out to them because they love both dogs, but they are painfully aware that having one of their dogs constantly having fear of being attacked and getting attacked is more than anyone can handle.

Now they are on the phone trying to find out who can help them out while they find a permanent home for the one that is creating the injuries. It is, of course, possible that they might find an appropriate home where this dog can be an only dog.  But the reality is that unfortunately there are too many dogs and not enough homes.  Sad indeed.

I tell them that I have worked with several cases like this where household dogs are fighting.  These cases are some of the most challenging to resolve.  Many times, the answer is rehoming or euthanasia.

I’ve come to bear the understanding that wolves -the genetic past of our dogs very seldom will take in a lonely wolf that is looking to join another pack.  Wolves, while living tight-knit, sometimes go solo in search of another pack that he can join. On occasion, this lonely wolf is admitted into the pack, but that is not the norm.

Clearly our dogs are not wolves, but they still share some genetic wiring of their wild past; wiring that comes to bear in their social relations.

The fact that we choose which dogs we like and which dogs we want to share our lives with is really immaterial to our dogs being able to co-exists.  Simply put:  it is really not “normal” for canids to just get along because someone said you have to.

Even when dogs are well matched to live together close observation and management in the form of having some rules the dogs have learned and implemented can go a long way in keeping harmony in the household. Most folks either are not aware of the underlining conflict between their dogs, and as such respond when the relationship has gone sour.

My concern, of course, is for the dog that is constantly being harassed, intimidated and physically injured in his own home. Can you imagine how stressful this must be?  How detrimental to the well-being of the dog?

Just this morning Deuce walks towards Rio who is totally engage with a Kong and demands in his doggie manner for some of what she is having. I immediately called him away so that he stops bugging Rio and re-directed him to his own crate where his own goodie awaits.

The thing is that if we start on the right foot, the chances of having dogs that do not push their weight around or that choose to not escalate the conflict, but instead diffuse when things are not going their way is quite doable. But as stated -unfortunately most people do not consider the “wild” side of their furry companions when they decide to add one more dog to the mix.  In addition, dogs that initially got along well while young might find themselves as ferocious adversaries once maturity is reached.

My recommendations to those folks that want to bring another dog into their family or that have more than one dog in the midst is to begin to pay attention for any signs of conflict between the dogs such as one dog trying to manage the other dog’s movement by blocking its movement, any posturing with a stiff body or any other displays of aggression such as growls (when this is not in the context of play) sneering, etc. when competing for any coveted resource.

If the dogs are already fighting, owners must find a way to stop the fights by separating the dogs.  In addition, the dogs need to learn alternative ways of expressing desires for things they want such as food, toys, attention and the like. Tight constant management as well as behavior modification must be implemented if we want to stand a chance at a possible reconciliation between the dogs.

Ideally also people get dogs of different sex.  While this is not always possible it might help with the overall relationship and to keep fights at bay as most fights take place between dogs of the same sex.

Size might also be a consideration.  Of course, the smallest dog as a norm, has less than a fighting chance when being confronted by a larger stronger dog.

The initial introduction is also really important. Planning how to go about this can again aid in making sure the relationship gets started right.  Next week, I will give you some ideas on how to manage this important step.