I’ve spent a lot of time discussing dog reactivity and issues with strangers or other dogs that we see on walks. Sometimes however dogs have aggression at home with the other dogs they live with. This issue can be heart breaking for so many reasons and often families are left confused and unsure about what to do.
Dog fights happen at home for so many reasons. It’s important to pinpoint the reason why. People often say that it starts out of no where but there are reasons for aggression in the home; it’s not random. Consider the following:
- Rule out any health concerns including soreness. Dogs may suddenly appear aggressive when they are struggling with pain or an illness. Dogs are also very good at hiding when they are unwell which is why it’s important to seek out a full check up including blood work with your Veterinarian. I also recommend working with a Veterinary Chiropractor or Osteopath as they may be able to pinpoint subtle lameness that a general practitioner may miss. Health issues that can trigger aggression can be anything from a cruciate tear to Epilepsy to Hypothyroidism.
- Resource Guarding. Dogs will fight over toys, people, spaces, food, treats, etc. If your dog has a resource guarding issue there’s a lot you can do to solve the issue. I’d recommend reading Mine by Jean Donaldson and consult with a professional to help resolve the issue immediately.
- Redirection onto to your other dog(s) due to barrier reactivity. When a dog is reactive through a window, fence or on leash they can sometimes target the dog closest to them when they are frustrated and over aroused. Incidentally, a non-reactive dog will sometimes go after a reactive one for acting unstable and causing them to be fearful or agitated. Avoid walking a reactive dog with others.
- Bullying behaviour amongst your dogs. It’s important to not let dogs harass each other. One dog may be acting aggressive because another is guarding spaces, people, etc. The issue doesn’t always start with the dog with aggression. Sometimes it can be as simple as one dog is tired of being mounted by another that will trigger a dog fight.
- Health concerns in your other dogs. Sometimes if a dog develops a health issue another dog in the home will target them. This is extremely hard on the family as they struggle to care for their sick dog. In cases like this the dogs should be separated immediately. The relationship may be repairable when the other dog is well again however sometimes the damage is long lasting.
- Sibling Syndrome. This can affect dogs that are siblings from the same litter or even two dogs that are of similar age. As the dogs grow older the issue gets worse and worse. It tends to be worse when the dogs are the same gender but male/female pairs can fight as well. Avoid getting littermates at all costs as well as dogs of the same gender/age. There are exceptions to this however most cases of intra-household aggression are between dogs of similar ages and genders particularly littermates.
- Anxiety. When one dog in the home has anxiety it can present as aggression (along with other behaviour issues). It’s really important to seek help for your dog if they are anxious. Living in a constant state of alertness affects their quality of life and there are lots of options to help treat canine anxiety. Anxiety can present as disobedience and avoidance behaviour so sometimes dogs labelled “disobedient” are really anxious.
One you’ve been able to pinpoint the reason(s) why your dogs may have aggression issues at home you can come up with your plan on how to manage the behaviour. There are times when it is no longer safe to keep two dogs in a home together and this should be considered. Dogs can kill each other or severely injure one another and that shouldn’t be overlooked. If your dogs are fighting and injuring one another then you have a serious situation on your hand and you should immediately separate the dogs and consult a professional. There are many situations where it would be appropriate to re-home one of the dogs (of course with full disclosure to the new family and a home without small children or other dogs). Families should not be made to feel bad when they need to re-home a dog to keep another safe in the home. Decisions need to be made for the best interest of all of the dogs.
- Work one on one with each of the dogs on a daily basis to build confidence, ensure they are getting their needs met and encourage obedience.
- Encourage arousal decreasing activities including scentwork, trick training, interactive feeding and massage.
- Seek out a Veterinarian who can advise on appropriate medications for anxiety, over arousal and/or any underlying medical concerns.
- Seek out an experience positive reinforcement trainer who specializes in dog to dog aggression and can work with your Veterinarian.
- Provide each dog with their own private space and give them a quiet area to relax, eat and sleep without being around one another.
- Keep all activities with the dogs calm and avoid getting them amped up.
- If redirection isn’t an issue take them on long, quiet walks together to increase the bond.
- Remove any items that would trigger a dog fight from common areas including toys, chews, food, etc. Some dogs will fight over water dishes so make sure you have more than one in different locations. I’m a big fan of providing a personal water dish in each dog’s sleeping area.
- If necessary have only one dog out at a time. Many people refer to this as rotation and it’s not a great long term solution but may be necessary to keep the dogs safe while you come up with a training plan or re-home one of the dogs.
- Consider teaching one or both dogs to comfortably wear a muzzle in order to keep interactions safe while training.
Things to remember:
- Intra-household dog aggression isn’t necessarily your fault. Great owners sometimes have this issue. You shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed. Dogs are animals and not everything they do makes sense in the human world.
- Some dogs do need to be re-homed in this situation and it be the best solution for all the animals involved. Allowing aggression to escalate in a home is abusive to the dog being injured and will make it harder to find a new home for the aggressor.
- It’s also possible to work through these issues if you have the resources, time and patience available. Each situation should be evaluated independently.
- Seek out assistance immediately, the more fights that occur the worse the relationship is damaged.