Aggression In The Multi-Dog Household
So what do you do when you cannot avoid the other dog or the triggers because both dogs live in the same household? There are many reasons that would cause two dogs in the same household to fight. In today’s article I explain the stressors and triggers that may be responsible for your dog’s need to fight.
Determine If You Have An Aggression Problem
- The fighting seems to be one long ongoing issue rather than specific and isolated incidents caused by specific triggers.
- The fighting is especially vicious or intense (blood drawn and dog bites that latch on and do not let go).
- The purpose of the fight is to inflict harm to the other dog rather than just to drive the other dog away.
- The fight does not stop when one dog submits to the other dog.
- The intensity of the behaviours or the attack are out of proportion to the incident. (making a mountain out of a molehill).
When dogs fight due to small isolated incidents these behaviours are much more easily corrected than the larger issue related to generalized aggression. In the case of generalized aggression, the dog(s) are ticking time bombs of aggressive behaviour and everything seems to set them off.
Why Does This Aggression Keep Happening?
For the battle weary dog owner it almost does not matter why two dogs aren’t getting along. After living with the strain of fighting dogs it only matters that it places the entire household in a constant state of tension and stress. This situation can leave the owner exhausted, jumpy, and always wondering when the next behavioural flare up is going to happen. The humans feel like they have to walk on eggshells. The dogs feel like they are in constant state of stress. Basically, no one in the household is very happy under these circumstances. But in order to fix the problem it helps to first understand the problem.
Just as there are some people whose personalities clash, not all dogs will get along with each other. When the dog personalities don’t mesh or when dogs are constantly reacting to triggers and stressors, it causes the dogs to live under the pressure of sustained stress. The aggressive behavioural outbursts are the symptom of the ongoing stress and the inability of one or more of the dogs to be able to process the stress in a less physical way. The result of this continued stress and the poor coping mechanisms ends in an aggressive explosion of behaviour. Dealing with dog aggression is never fun but when the aggression comes from the dogs living under the same roof it becomes unbelievably stressful and even scary to live in this situation day after day. The chances of being able to successfully modify this behaviour in a dog will depend on:
- How long this behaviour has been happening.
- The number of negative altercations the dogs have had with each other.
- The intensity level that the aggressive outbursts have reached.
The longer the dogs have been engaged in this behaviour, the more serious the nature of their fights, and the more intense the altercations between the dogs the LESS chance you have being able to eliminate the aggression. With strict and constant supervision you may be able to somewhat manage the behaviours but you will most likely never be able to completely eliminate the aggressive behaviours. To have any success at modifying this behaviour, the root causes of the aggressive behaviours must be addressed as soon as possible.
Identify The Triggers And Stressors For The Behaviour
Even though to the untrained eye it may look like these aggressive battles happen for “no apparent reason”, there is always something going on that causes stress to push one or both dogs over the bite threshold. Just like a simmering pot, when the heat (pressure) is increased, the pot boils over. This is exactly what happens with dogs. The triggers and stressors of a situation add to the stress of the dogs not getting along until one dog attacks the other dog. When you recognize a situation to be a trigger or a stressor, you can often intervene and prevent the situation from escalating into full out aggressive attack. The reality is that dogs that live under constant stress will usually become aggressive and fight. Unless the reason for the stresses are removed or markedly reduced, the dog’s aggressiveness only increases as does the incidence of infighting.
Challenges for social status
If not settled with strong leadership skills by the owner, will most likely be addressed through aggressive battles. These battles often occur between dogs of similar age or sex, who are most likely unaltered, and have reached sexual maturity. Hormone fueled dog fights are not uncommon. If one dog refuses to submit to the other dog, then the stalemate is addressed through an aggressive battle.
When a new dog is added to the pack
Especially when one (or both) of the dog(s) are missing crucial socialization skills, this upsets the existing social structure and will most likely result in battles for social status. One dog fights to keep status while the other dog fights to gain status. Also, when a dog is removed from the social structure of a pack it can cause the existing pack members to fight for new social status as they look to fill in the hole left by the absence of the other dog.
When two dominant temperaments have been placed together in one household, fights will happen. When a second dog is added to a household ideally some thought needs to be given to assure that the temperaments of the two dogs are compatible. Two reactive dogs, two un-socialized dogs, two unbalanced dogs, two aggressive dogs, two fearful dogs (the list can go on indefinitely) cannot exist in the same household without the dogs constantly triggering each other. When dogs refuse to defer or submit, it very often ends in battle.
How owners interact and handle the dogs can also contribute triggers and stressors between the dogs. If the owner’s behaviours (consciously or unconsciously) convey signals that elevate the social status of one dog over another, then social status infighting will most likely be triggered. Giving one dog more attention, more affection, “better” toys, beds, or treats or food will give reasons for dogs to fight.
Lack of supervision or leadership
A lack of adequate supervision or visible leadership can cause dogs to defer to working out issues among themselves. Unfortunately, when left to their own devices, how dogs work out issues is through fighting.
Chaotic and unstructured homes
This can cause dogs to be unnecessarily stressed because they have no predictability in their lives. Dogs equate predictability and stability with safety and continued survival. When dogs feel unsafe or unsure about their environment, it causes them to live in constant fear, which in turn causes stress.
When one or both dogs are not proficient at giving or understanding natural calming signals, the outcome usually results in an aggressive attack. Dogs that are missing socialization skills or dogs that have been removed too early from their mothers and siblings often have very poor social skills and may lack the ability to interpret or give calming signals.
Whether it be food, toys, beds, sleeping areas, floor space, or humans most often will result in an aggressive attack. The fight will be about being afraid to lose an object or trying to gain an object.
Lack of obedience training
When one or both dogs lack any formal obedience training, there may be a lack of control by the owner over the dogs and the dogs out of control behaviours can end up as dog fights.
When dogs are chronically under exercised and mentally under stimulated, it causes dogs to have a surplus of agitated excess energy. This only adds to the stress of the dogs and can very often lead to explosive bouts of dog fighting.
If one dog is in chronic pain, they may be perpetually cranky. They may be trying to drive away the other dog to avoid getting bumped or harassed. The state of being in chronic pain can be the trigger for a dog fight.
Poor quality diet
This may cause dogs to fight. If dogs are not getting adequate nutrition from their diet their bodies may be signalling that they need more nutrition. The dog interprets this signal to mean that at all costs he must get more food or he will not survive. This can cause dogs to go into a primal survival mode where they are combative and testy. This primal survival mode can cause dogs to be in a constant state of stress.
The Role Of The Adopted Dog In Dog Fights
It is truly a wonderful thing when caring people open their hearts and homes to give a dog a second chance at a new life. There are many beautiful heart warming stories out there chronicling the incredible transformations that these Second Chance Dogs can go through …. under the right ownership and under the right circumstances. Sadly, adding a rescue dog to a home with an existing dog is one of the most common circumstances where dog to dog aggression and fighting occurs.
Many people naively think that if they just provide a dog with enough love and a nice home that the dog cannot help but to blossom into a great addition to their family. Sadly, this is not always the case. Often the animal shelters or rescues, in an effort to make room for all the other dogs in need, push the animals through the system without giving enough consideration to the circumstances of the dog.
Sometimes the staff in these places are simply not qualified to accurately assess dog behaviour. These dogs MUST be set up in a home where the dog can be successful. Some shelters may not always see or admit the truth about a rescue dogs’ behaviours. Sometimes the extent of the maladaptive behaviours do not become fully apparent until after the dog has been re-homed and the Honeymoon Period is over.
Regardless why it happened, owners of rescue dogs may suddenly find themselves in a terrifying situation where the dogs are aggressively fighting and they don’t understand why or how to stop it.
How Can I Prevent My Rescue Dog From Fighting?
The best way to avoid turning your home into a battle zone is by giving some careful thought and planning BEFORE you commit to bringing in the second dog. For more information regarding this topic please refer to my article, How To Successfully Integrate Another Husky Into Your Pack.
Some things to consider BEFORE adding a Rescue Dog:
The longer that a dog has been practicing maladaptive behaviours, the harder it will be to counter condition these behaviours. Very often older dogs that have spent most of their lives in abusive or neglectful situations will be very resistant to change. This is not to say that older dogs cannot be rehabilitated, this is only saying that the odds are not very good that they can be motivated to overcome their issues so be mindful of that when considering what dog to add to your family.
Understand that the sad reality is that many dogs end up being given up by their owners because the dogs did not get their needs met. More often than not, these dogs will be lacking crucial socialization, developmental skills, bite inhibition, and obedience training. That means that a dog like this will need constant monitoring, re-training, and guidance. This also means that while the dog is learning these new skills the opportunity for dog fights is very high.
If you do not have the time, patience, or skill set to be able to rehab a dog like this, please think long and hard before committing to adopting a problem dog. It is very hard on a dog to be adopted only for it to be uprooted once again. Be honest about how much experience you have with rehabbing problem behaviours and how much time you have to dedicate to this dog’s issues.
TV dog trainers may look training look easy, but rehabbing a dog is neither easy, nor simple, nor a fast process. Unless you have a lot of direct experience working with rehabbing maladaptive behaviours , maybe leave the tougher cases to more experienced adopters. If you are a naturally timid or fearful person then working with aggressive dog issues is not likely be a good fit for you so steer clear of these cases and opt for an easier dog.
Not every dog ends up in a rescue shelter because it is “broken”. Some dogs are there because something in their environment was changed and they could no longer live with their owners. If you look for a dog with the least amount of maladaptive behaviours, then integration into your family will be that much easier. If the dog you currently have is not well trained or has maladaptive issues of his own (fearful, timid, reactive), then adding another dog with behaviour issues is not advised.
Too many people assume that just because they do not currently share their home with Cujo, that their dog does not have issues. It is not until after they add a second dog do they see the reality and the extent of their first dog’s issues. If possible, have both dog assessed by a Canine Behaviour Specialist for compatibility. If you can avoid a behaviour disaster from occurring, it may be the best money you ever spent.
The best way to ensure peace in your multi-dog household is by ensuring that both dogs are compatible with each other. Prevention is the most effective tool dog fights. Know what you are getting into before you add the second dog. You must think with your head and not just your heart in this matter. In the next article, I give you tips and advice on how best to work with the dog to dog fighting in your household.
As always we welcome your questions, comment, and stories regarding this topic. When we share our stories and our wisdom, we may well be helping someone who may be struggling with their Snow Dog.
Helping all Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.