What to do when dogs fight

I got a question recently about fighting breaking out in a pack of three male dogs who up to this point were getting on fairly well. Here is my response:

blkdog2Given that one of the dogs is 10 months old, the increased fighting may be due to increasing testosterone levels in the youngest dog. (The older two are neutered, the youngest was just neutered) Even after he is neutered, these levels will remain high for some time. High testosterone levels not only cause a dog to be more prone to assert himself, they also cause other dogs to assert themselves more frequently toward him.

Don’t be so quick to let the only dog who “isn’t starting the fights” off the hook. Unless you are watching very closely, you may be missing the ways he is starting them. Some dogs have an uncanny way of winding up other dogs with just a look. He may also be using the placement of his body in a way that signals a direct challenge. Just because one dog is quiet doesn’t mean he isn’t causing trouble!

blkdog1All the dogs in the pack are doing what any group of dogs do…working out their status relative to one another. This will happen and it isn’t necessarily a problem as long as you are clear to the dogs that the humans are ultimately in charge. I wouldn’t suggest doing things to challenge the status that is already in place, such as feeding the highest ranking dog last – you run the risk of them fighting even harder when you aren’t around. But neither would I support the status, like allowing a higher ranking dog to take the bone or bed of a lower status dog who is using it. I have a rule in my house: “If your nose is in it or your butt is on it it is yours unless I want it and then it is MINE.” No other dogs have the power to displace another. Only I have that power. Now, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen when I’m not around, I know that it does. But when I am around I do not allow it. And I’m around a lot.

So, I wouldn’t try to actively change the rank order by elevating the lower ranker, but I would be clear that status FIGHTS are no longer allowed. I’d stop stare downs and toy/bone possessing, I’d watch for jockeying for position with you, I’d stop any attempts to displace a dog from a sleeping spot, and I would make sure I was walking them all together often.

blkdog3This isn’t that surprising of an outcome, given you have three male dogs. Once they figure out where they all stand it will settle down. BUT until then it is a serious situation and I would work all of them hard on their obedience skills. Each should have a strong down and settle and should go into it immediately when asked by anyone in the family. I would work them on those skills, plus general obedience skills including work with “leave it” and “watch,” 15 minutes daily and make them do the downs for a half hour minimum. Walks should be an hour long, once a day. You will be busy but the pack will respond more quickly with that sort of intervention.

April 22, 2009 • Tags: , , • Posted in: behavior, dog ownership, training

One Response to “What to do when dogs fight”

  1. valerie - April 22nd, 2009

    This is super helpful. Especially the part about “No other dogs have the power to displace another. Only I have that power.” I totally want dog #2.

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