Ken and Susan contacted me recently concerning the escalating tensions among their three terriers living in the house. All lovely and outstanding personalities and manners individually, but their younger female has begun to challenge – and fight – with the older male and female.
They had received much advice from fellow dog lovers: Use electronic collars on all of the dogs and shock them if they become aggressive, have them wear muzzles at all times and let them fight it out, blast them with an air horn if any of them begin to behave improperly, etc.
The trouble with these “solutions” is they are all heavy on punishment and at best will only temporarily suppress the behavior, but tensions will continue to build and eventually lead to another fight. Susan has already been injured breaking up a dog fight, and doesn’t want that to happen again. Just as unappealing is the thought of finding another home for one of the dogs, so the solution? Management.
When we choose to live with multiple dogs, we assume that they will all get along well, but this is not always the case. Contributing factors are varied and numerous. A change in the health of a dog can cause disruption among the group, as can a change in the human dynamics or household. Adult dogs behave differently than puppies, and interdog relationships can change over time.
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In this case, it is likely that the younger female was seeking to change her social status, and the two older dogs were becoming fearful of her, but when challenged, would engage in a fight. Ken and Susan were uncomfortable with the idea of corporal punishment – a relief, as it would not yield long term results anyway – and the thought of placing one of their dogs was upsetting as well.
So, we created distinct spaces to prevent any confrontations between the younger dog and the elders. A baby gate in the hallway created separate areas within the home. The dogs all slept in crates at night, so adjustments in location were made to prevent visible access between dogs. Dogs are rotated throughout the day, so each has access to all parts of the home as is the norm and access to all family members. The two older dogs get along well, so they continue to spend time together. The younger female is by no means ostracized – she gets her time with all of the family members as well, and the additional exercise, play and training on which a young and active girl her age thrives.
The biggest takeaway from this management solution? Almost immediately, the owners felt they could relax, as they no longer feared another incident would be able to occur. And they also noticed an obvious change in the behavior of the older dogs: Their tension level decreased as well. Previously, the older male and female were hesitant to enter a room where the younger dog was. Now all dogs are back to being relaxed, and harmony has been restored. Not every behavior is “fixable,” but very often management is the solution.
Lisa Moore’s pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.