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Unleashed: Dealing with family feuds

Lots of people have more than one dog in their household, and for the most part it’s great, but every now and again there can be issues. Now if you grew up with brothers or sisters, you probably had your fair share of spats back in the day – to some degree, these are ‘normal’. And every now and again, for a variety of reasons, our dogs may have a little ‘spat’ with another dog in the house.

Sunday 3 January 2021, 01:30PM

Photo: Ariana Suarez / Unsplash

Photo: Ariana Suarez / Unsplash

However, dealing with genuine dog-dog aggression within your pack at home, is not pleasant, nor is it any easy quick fix. A lot of the time, the easiest and best solution is to find a home for one of the dogs. I don’t say this lightly, but understand if your dogs have a serious aggressive issue, then it may indeed be safer for all parties.

With that said, if you have the time and patience and can work with carefully managing things, then it can be possible to fix the issues, or at least get to a point where the pack members are tolerant enough of each other to not be a problem.

Broken friendship?

Imagine you and your good mate have a barny, which concludes with one of you getting punched. Forgiveness may be hard to come by, especially in the beginning, and even so you are possibly going to be a bit tentative around that person for a little while. We’re also hoping that whilst we’re being tentative, our friend isn’t misreading that signal as something else. The same is true with our dogs. And while it sounds obvious, it’s really important that we work well to manage the situation and prevent future fights and escalations. The more they occur, the harder it becomes to rebuild the trust and friendship.

Why is this happening?

There could be any number of things going on between the dogs. Some of the more common reasons could revolve around:

Sickness. Maybe one of the dogs isn’t feeling themselves, and acting out. Again in a similar way to humans, when we’re not feeling quite so perky, we may become more agitated and reactive. Equally, if we’re in pain, either from illness or injury, the same applies. It’s always a good starting point to have your dogs checked over by a veterinarian, run some blood work and check for any aches and pains, or issues that your dog (or dogs) may be dealing with.

Stress and fear can play a big part in our dogs reactivity levels, and things like stress can be triggered by a host of different things. This year has been massively stressful for all of us, and our dogs are highly sensitive to that stress. Also higher levels of arousal in our dogs, which may not necessarily be solely the domain of intact dogs, but can also be true of those that are sterilised – can have a big impact on their reactivity. And if any of our dogs are possessive over certain things such as food, or toys, then that is something we need to work at too.

Trying to identify the triggers, and start point of these aggressive, or reactive, episodes is really important, so we can work more closely on mitigating those factors and resolving the issues.

How do we fix it?

Dan About Thailand

With all things dog, it comes down to management AND training. Management prevents the problem from occurring, training shows the dog how to do something else. For obvious reasons, management is the starting point here, whereby we separate the dogs,  both physically and visually. This allows the dogs to have their own safe, calm space where they feel relaxed, and not threatened. 

It also gives you space to then work and train with each dog individually, building up some more control and basic behaviours that will come in super handy later on. Put dogs in different parts of the house, different rooms, or use baby gates (that are covered to create a solid ‘wall’) to create separation – as long as the dogs have their own space, that’s the key. 

Next you want to work relentlessly on engagement, and focus between you and your dogs individually. Starting from just the two of you and increasing that to other distractions being present – not the other dog just yet, but other dogs in general, people, whatever… as long as you can redirect your dog’s focus to you. Do the same thing with each dog. Doing it a handful of times makes no difference, doing this hundreds of times a day and things start to change.

From here, it’s all about slowly and carefully putting the dogs back together in closer proximity. Starting at a distance where they can see each other, but are non-reactive and slowly inching forward over time. Again, this can take weeks and months of work. Do not expect things to go quickly. It is all about creating a positive experience for both dogs in this phase, making sure they are comfortable. As with anything in dog training, if it’s not working, go back a step or two to where the dog is comfy, and work from there.

If our dogs are now tolerating each other, we can start to reduce the distance between them, but all the while trying to maintain their focus on us, not the other dog. Remember this is all about positive association, not shouting or correcting them. 

You can see from here, it’s all about adding small steps to our dogs, to slowly get them closer, but in a controlled, and positive manner. Essentially, you want each dog to think, “Hey, having him around is really positive and fun.” 

A word on muzzling your dog…

I often get asked if we should muzzle our dogs, and while a muzzle can certainly help as a management tool, it does have its drawbacks. Muzzles by default do not train your dog to do anything different, and more often than not, actually make things worse. You have to use them correctly.

Again, working with this issue can be tough. And I’d advise getting in touch with us first so we can help create a more focussed plan for you. So if you would like some more information on canine training, or behavioural issues, then please to contact us on 091 654 1960, email, or check our website CPA is accredited with the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), as an American Kennel Club (AKC) Evaluator and a Professional Member of the IACP.

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