This is a continuation of last week’s post on the same household dog fights.
As I mentioned in that post, having to manage and live with dogs that are injuring one another is not a picnic. It can be very stressful for the dogs as well as the people. Also, depending on the severity and frequency of the fights, one needs to consider the imminent danger to people. I once consulted with a young couple that had a baby and two of their four dogs were getting into bad fights. One of the things that made this case so complicated is that the husband did not want to do much in the way of managing the dogs or training and refused to let go of the dog that was causing the injuries. The wife was mortified to learn that the chances of their child being in between two fighting dogs once he started crawling was definitively a possibility. Of course, this sounds like an extreme case when it comes to someone getting seriously hurt; not all cases are like this.
To begin with, I suggest that dogs are taught to be comfortable wearing basket muzzles so that when they are not being closely supervised and in the proximity of each other at least they will not hurt one another. The idea is to get the dog comfortable with wearing the muzzle, and not simply plop the muzzle on and be done with it. It goes without saying that people must be very diligent in making sure that the dogs are wearing the muzzles. I know that it’s really hard to be on top of everything all the time, but the reality is that this is what it takes to have dogs that are fighting regain an ability to co-exist peacefully.
Both dogs need to also learn some basic obedience so that they can reliably go to their crate or a bed when asked to do so. They must also learn to take turns going in and out of any door or exiting the car. Since these are amongst the typical situations where dog fights take place.
If the fights have been a result of either one of the dogs guarding an object be it a toy, food, snack, they should not be allowed to have any of these items together. If what they guard is a location such as a bed or a person, things change a bit here, but in essence, the same rule applies.
Once these measures are put in place, dogs need to be taught that in fact, their nemesis actually produces really good stuff for them! One can achieve this by the careful orchestration of presenting valuable resources only when the other dog is present. Again, really careful management must be in place. I would argue that while doable to do it with only one person, it is always best to have one handler per dog.
Now, if one of the dogs is the one that is constantly harassing the other, intimidating or controlling the other dog’s movements we must then also be super proactive in teaching the bully that any intimidation will result in social isolation. This protocol works wonders when again folks have been taught what to look for and are willing and able to follow up implementing the protocol every single time the dog engages in any intimidating behaviors towards the less fortunate dog.
Please forget the nonsense of “supporting the alpha” advice that is still given by many veterinarians and dog trainers that have not looked into the scientific literature regarding social dominance. Moreover, how does one know which one is the “alpha”? As some of my clients have attested they are confused as to which dog is the alpha as they try to implement rules and protocols that require they support the alpha. I cannot say this loud enough! Not only will these measures not work, but most likely they will continue to make the life of one of the dogs (the one that folks consider the subordinate) a living hell. How unfair is this?
When it comes to behavior we must think critically. Rarely is behavior simple in its expression? Dogs are one of the most sophisticated species when it comes to their social relations. For us to imply that we can delve into the intricacies of their complex social relationships with simplistic advice- such as being the leader and supporting the alpha, is really a rotten proposition.
If you have dogs that are fighting in your home, consider carefully all your options. I disagree that love is all that dogs need in order to resolve these issues. Sure, love is nice but they need an understanding of who they are as a species and as individuals. They need our care and for us to be true advocates so that they can remain safe and thrive in the household.
Re-homing is a good option when the family realizes they do not have what it takes to tackle all that it will take to make the dogs be on good terms again. And if an appropriate alternative is found – which is really not that easy. On occasion euthanasia, might be a consideration. In my professional opinion, all possibilities need to be explored with good judgment as well as honesty as one- size- fits- all approach is not really a consideration.