By Melinda Johnson, 1997
It’s far better to AVOID fights then to try to break one up. There are some dogs that will never fight, but many perfectly good dogs will. Here are some suggestions for pack management with dogs who might fight:
1.) All meals are served in the dogs’ crates, behind baby gates, or in separate, closed-door rooms. This prevents fights over food and also stops the ‘piggy’ dog from chowing down all the goodies out of the ‘skinny’ or shy dog’s bowl. Nobody should be put in a position of defending their food. Mealtimes should be peaceful.
2.) Any high value treats such as filled bones, marrow bones, pig ears, Buster cubes, filled Kongs, etc. should be given ONLY when the dogs are alone in separate crates or separate rooms.
3.) Never serve special treats unless you’re right there to supervise all interaction. Never throw down new chew toys and then leave for work, leaving your dogs loose.
4.) Keep an eye on your dogs. Be aware of any strutting, stiff body postures, trying to get ‘taller’ over another dog, staring, or anything that could look like one dog is challenging another. If you see it, stomp your foot on the floor (noise interruption) and say (in your firm voice), “KNOCK IT OFF!”. When this breaks up the behavior, immediately praise and love up everybody. Better yet, click and treat! Remove any object such as a food dish or toy that is causing the problem.
5.) Never, never, never champion and defend a beta dog because it’s depressed at it’s pack position or because you feel sorry for it!!! Do NOT mess with whatever the dogs think their pecking order might be.
6.) If a beta who is challenging an alpha dog for pack position keeps climbing into an alpha dog’s crate and sleeping there, keep the crate door closed at night to prevent this. This is a classic challenge for pack position.
7.) Dogs are very competitive in a pack. This means they may have contests to see who can play harder, run faster, corner tighter, and other such games. As long as this remains friendly, it’s OK. But keep in mind the whole picture of your dogs’ lives together when you’re evaluating the situation.
8.) Another time dogs are likely to fight is at the fence line when there’s a distraction such as another dog on the other side of the fence, or even over who’s first to answer the front door when guests arrive. You might think about this before you leave the house and leave dogs who have fought before loose in these areas.
10.) Make sure everybody gets their fair share of meals, treats, toys, petting, play, training and attention so there’s no need to fight for these things.
11.) There are no absolutes.
Every time pack management questions arise, several people will suggest that you allow the dogs to work things out alone. They’ll assure you that this is the only way to go. Sometimes this can work, but this is dependent on the breed, individual temperaments and respective sizes of the dogs involved. Use your better judgment. Don’t let a Rottweiller freely go at a Yorkie or a 2 year old pick on a 15 year old. Often these remarks are followed by someone telling how they lost a dog (evenly matched in breed and size to it’s opponent) to a dogfight by following this philosophy.
My own decision is be informed, and to observe carefully and use my intuition. If I feel like standing back, because the tussle is mild, the dogs appear to be evenly matched, neither dog is too aggressive and there’s little history of problems in that arena, I stand back. If one dog is being harassed repeatedly by another and the calm dog finally says, “Enough!”, I let that be. I will put an end to the harassment myself if I think it’s gone on too long. If I decide to intervene based on the gravity of the situation, my past observations watching tensions build, or because my instincts tell me to, I step in without guilt or doubts. The potential risk is too great.
Two males together in the same house can be a tricky proposition. For Bullmastiffs in particular, it is recommended that two males NEVER be allowed to be together unsupervised (and only under direct and careful supervision at ALL other times). Extreme caution must be observed as well with intact females. In many breeds, it’s not recommended. Even in breeds reputed for getting along well, there can be two individuals (male or female) who have endless problems. The problems usually arise at the onset of sexual maturity for the younger or beta dog, but can happen between spayed/neutered dogs or bitches, at any time and for reasons you may never be able to fathom. Opposite sexes are less likely to fight, but it can happen.
Remember that if you have more than two dogs, several dogs can gang up against one dog and may not stop until that dog is dead. Packs may turn on
their own if the victim is old or sick, and occasionally they will even turn on the very young. Protect puppies, geriatric, and ill dogs by keeping them separated from stronger pack members when you’re away from home and with supervision when you are home.
Here’s one thing you might try if you have one perpetrator and one victim. Do you wear a particular cologne or hand lotion? Try applying your scent to the victim for a week or two and see what happens. Dogs are VERY scent-oriented. You smell like love, warmth, food, water, all the good effect of stopping aggression and building friendships. This works with cats, too.
Remember that in a pack situation, a dog may act out by chewing, soiling, or displaying other troublesome behaviors. These may be a result of something you did, changes in living arrangements or schedules, additions or subtractions of family or pack members, or simply a response to another dog’s actions. Sometimes it’s hard to guess why things aren’t going right, so don’t always blame yourself.
Each dog is different. Each situation has to be independently evaluated. If dog fighting in your home is just an occasional nuisance, do what you need to do to live with it and prevent fights. However, if the situation is making your life or your dog’s life miserable, be willing to carefully place a dog with another loving family and get back to having a harmonious home. Life’s too short to be miserable, and your dog’s life is even shorter. Make sure it’s a good one. If you place one dog, be alert to changes in pack dynamics. Another dog might try to take the first dog’s place as antagonizer.
– Know in your own mind the differences between what you will tolerate and what you will not. Set your house rules and stick to them. It’s your life, your house, and your dogs. Within the bounds of being reasonable and fair, within the bounds of humane treatment, it’s your call.
– Don’t worry about being alpha; just be clear within yourself and your dogs will know you are the boss.
– Keep learning.
– Observe your dogs carefully.
– When in doubt, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t take risks, especially with a dog who has fought or bitten before. Use adult supervision, leashes, neutering/spaying, closed doors and gates, or whatever is needed.
– Experiment; if what you’re doing isn’t working, try something else. Try to give changes time to work.
– Use your clicker and treats to reward behaviors you like.
– Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to figure out what a dog is thinking.
– Don’t beat yourself up crying over mistakes you think you may have made. Life goes on.
– All’s fair in love and war, and that includes breaking up a serious dog fight with a broom, or whatever means you can find. An emergency is an emergency.
– Be good to yourself. Take breaks. Take a bubble bath. Take a vacation.
– Don’t do anything against your better judgment, no matter who said to do it. Trust your observation and intuition above all.