Sibling Rivalry: Dealing With Dogs That Don't Get Along
This article addresses how to deal with two dogs that fight, or simply will not get along. Portions of this article use information that was originally supplied by Paul Owens, CPDT. Paul Owens is the author of the book the Dog Whisperer and he is featured on the Dog Whisperer DVD.
Having two dogs that fight can be frustrating, scary and dangerous for all parties. If your dogs can’t seem to get along, your immediate concern should be for the dogs’ safety. The first and most important step is to set up your environment so that it is impossible for your dogs to attack one another or any other dogs. Start by establishing separate areas of the house for each dog using Dog Gates, Dog Crates or other equipment to keep them apart. Do not let the dogs interact again until both have a very strong understanding of the “Leave it” cue (see below).
There are several forms of reactive behavior most commonly called “agression”: fear/pain induced, resource-guarding (Dog Food, Dog Toys, people), and redirected (dog can’t get to something and takes it out on whomever is closest). There are no quick fixes and because this behavior has most likely escalated over time, it will take time to change. A visit to a professional behaviorist/trainer who is well-versed in positive training methods is strongly recommended. He or she can evaluate the situation and set you up on a behavior modification program. You can visit the Association of Professional Dog Trainers website or ask your veterinarian for a referral.
Medical check-ups may be necessary to see if there are any physiological problems influencing the dogs’ behavior. It is important to avoid training that includes jerking, forcing a dog to the ground, hitting, shocking or shaking. Neither should choke, prong or shock collars should be used in your training. Gentle, No-Pull Harnesses such as the SENSE-ation Harness are highly recommended for training purposes and can be a great help.
In addition to consulting a professional dog trainer, you can begin working separately with each dog on deference skills. This means you will need to teach each dog a “Leave it” cue. The goal is to train each dog to disengage from whatever bevahior he is involved in and come to you immediately. The best way to start is to train your dog to relinquish something to you on cue. Begin with something of moderate value to the dog (i.e., a Dog Toy or Dog Treat). Place the object of value in the center of the room, then with the dog on Leash, casually walk the dog by the object. When the dog notices the object say his name, then “Leave it” and using very gentle pressure on the collar move him toward you with your leash. When he relinquishes the object and engages with you give him lots of treats.
If you clicker train, mark the moment with a click and then give the treats. Repeat this step until the dog can successfully relinquish the object on the verbal cue only (no pressure on the Collar). Then increase the value of the object and repeat. Gradually the dog will build up this skill and you will be able to use your “Leave it” cue with any distraction in the environment: food, toys, other dogs, people. Only then should you consider re-introducing dogs that have previously attacked one another.
Dogs that continue to attack each other, even after training, should be separated permanently. Some dogs simply cannot abide other dogs and are happier being the “only child”. This is not the fault of the dog, only a special consideration that makes a dog unique. All dogs have their own personalities, and some are more amenable to canine interaction than others.
If you do have to separate your dogs permanently, please ensure your pet’s safety by finding a suitable new home for your dog. Make every attempt to hand pick the new family personally. Be open about why you are separating the dogs, and do not hide the information that you have about your dog. Recommend positive reinforcement training for the dog, as it is both safe and effective. Follow up with the new owner and visit the dog’s new surroundings after adoption, to make sure that the new environment is good for the dog.