Aggression between household dogs (Proceedings)
In social animals, aggression towards conspecifics is normal within the group and when dominance hierarchies change. Otherwise, a social structure keeps fighting to a minimum.
Aggression is normal
In social animals, aggression towards conspecifics is normal within the group and when dominance hierarchies change. Otherwise, a social structure keeps fighting to a minimum. Aggression towards territorial intruders is adaptive to animals in nature.
Very upsetting to owners
Aggression towards other family dogs is upsetting to the owners emotionally, and it can interfere with their daily routine (juggling dogs between inside and outside, being unable to pet one dog without it getting attacked).
Dominance-status aggression towards household dogs
History and causes
Due to an established hierarchy, the dogs get along fine when the owners are gone. Owners interfere with the social structure that maintains peace among dogs in the home. Fighting is especially prevalent when the owners return from an absence. The possible cause of the fighting are that the subordinate feels protected when owners are around and does not act subordinate to the dominant dog. The dominant starts a fight to reinforce its position.
• Avoid the trigger points, at least at first. If they are fighting around the food bowl, feed them separately. If they are fighting over rawhides, give them each their own and separate them.
• Avoid having the dogs together where they can injure each other.
• Use head halters (Gentle Leaders) so that the owners can be more in control of the dogs. Both dogs should wear their own, or at least the subordinate dog needs to wear one. The same goes for muzzles (basket/cage-type muzzles) if the owners are uncomfortable.
- Muzzles are NOT to be used to put on the dogs and let them "fight it out." The dogs continue to have the same emotional arousal, maybe even more than if they didn't have the muzzles on, because the owners may let them interact in an aggressive manner more readily, knowing that they can't physically hurt each other.
Owners need to be in control
Have the owners in the household be in control of the dogs, by using the "Nothing in life is free/No free lunch" program. This gives the owners more control over the situations in an indirect, nonconfrontational manner.
Support the dominant dog
Communicate to the subordinate (and dominant) that the same rules are being followed when owners are home as when they are away. When altercations less than a fight arise, admonish the subordinate and place him or her into another room, such as a bathroom. Support the dominant dog. Treat the dominant dog as favorite; pet it first and most, let out the door first, etc. If an actual fight breaks out, both dogs are socially punished, with the most subordinate dog sent away first.
Integrate the dogs together
When you can't eliminate the trigger points, or when it is time to more closely integrate the dogs, make sure that there are plenty of those resources to go around. There should be multiple copies of each toy around, not just a couple of each. If one dog has the large, pink, squeaky squirrel, there is a good chance that the other dog wants it, too, so have many large, pink, squeaky squirrels in your house.
Play down greetings and other exciting instances to reduce excitement, which can lead to aggressive incidents.
If the animals involved are intact males and you have difficulty getting results with the above procedures, then castrating both dogs, or just the subordinate, may help. Castration of dogs decreases aggression towards other dogs in about 30% of cases.
In many instances this problem is resolved rather quickly. Complications arise when people are mostly attached to the subordinate ("old family favorite"), or with two people living together and each one is attached to a different dog and cannot jointly agree to treat one as a favorite. Owners often find treating this problem difficult to do, and sometimes find it hard to understand why they are punishing the subordinate one, "because s/he didn't do anything wrong" or "the other dog is the bully." Spend time with the owners discussing the reasons behind your recommendations, to have them see the reasoning behind the treatment.
• *Have them try your recommendations full force for 2 weeks and keep track of their dogs' interactions. If the owners see the turnaround, which should be quickly, they will be more likely to continue with the treatment.
If you can't determine who is most dominant
Sometimes it is difficult to determine which dog in the household is the more dominant (videotapes can help greatly). Pick the dog that you think is most likely to be the dominant one, have the owners treat as such, and reevaluate at the end of 2 weeks. If the wrong dog is chosen the first time, you should not see a decrease in the aggression. At that point, discuss with the owners the exact treatment they had done, have the owner switch the dog that they are supporting and support the other dog for 2 weeks if applicable. If there is no clear hierarchy, determine which dog would probably be dominant *if* they were left alone to fight it out. This can be difficult to do. Try to evaluate and see if one dog WANTS it more to be dominant. Sometimes picking the dog that has lived in the house the longest is the right choice, although owners often are already doing this. Facilitate the establishment of one dog as dominant through treating one as a favorite while preventing injury with head halters, leashes, muzzles, etc.
Advise the owners that things can change as the dogs get older, due to infirmity or illness, and the hierarchy may change. It may be a gradual change. They may need to reevaluate their situation at that time.
With larger numbers of dogs in the house, the treatment of the problem becomes more difficult.
Desensitization and counterconditioning
Use desensitization and counterconditioning (DS/CC) to gradually get the dogs used to being close to one another. Reward calm, quiet behavior when the other dog is around, gradually getting closer and closer to the other dog over time. Do pleasurable things together such as taking walks (the dogs may need to be separated from each other by distance during the walks).
If both dogs are intact males, use physiological means, such as castration of the designated subordinate, to tip the balance. Castration of both dogs to reduce fighting tendencies may be attempted if castration of just one does not work. Castration can be expected to reduce the severity of this problem in male dogs in about one-third of the cases.
If dogs cannot even be left in the same room, consider installing a barrier where they can interact without fighting with each other. Later work toward having them around each other without a barrier or muzzle. Rehoming one of the dogs is an option, albeit not the preferred choice.