How to Deal With Your Dogs When They Undergo In-Home Fighting

The best advice I can give about multiple dog problems is to do your utmost to prevent them from occurring. They can be impossible to cure, and like two feuding siblings, sometimes separation for life is the only solution. This is true especially if the two dogs have actually injured each other. Generally, problems arise between two dogs of the same sex. Fighting between members of the opposite sex is very unusual, although it occasionally happens. The problem can be very difficult with males, but it’s even more intense with females. There’s even a saying about it in the behavior world: “Males fight for points, females fight for keeps.”

Behavior modification method

If your dogs are fighting, you should first isolate possible causes and triggers. 11 ere are some questions you should try to answer:

Dogs Fighting

  • Do the dogs get along with each other most of the time?
  • Do they play or just tolerate each other?
  • Is there posturing first—do the dogs stare and growl at each other, or do they just start fighting?
  • Have they injured each other?
  • Do you or someone in your family have to be present for the fight to occur?
  • Is one dog much larger than the other?
  • Is there one clear instigator? (This is difficult to say, usually, because we don’t see the first interaction before a fight.)
  • At what time of day do most fights occur? (Do they occur in the morning, afternoon, or evening?)
  • Where do they occur? (Do they occur outside of the house, in the house, in doorways or halls, near beds, near food, or near you?)

If only one or two fights have occurred and there were no injuries, you stand a fairly good chance of getting the dogs back together. If they don’t become bosom buddies, at least they might become amicable housemates. If there have been multiple fights, it’s much more difficult.

Address the triggers

Your job, once you’ve answered the questions above, is to address and manage them one by one. For instance, if the dogs fight in hallways in the evening (very common), you might want to have them on tie-downs, chewing on something good. (As parents of toddlers know, late afternoon and evening can be very trying with youngsters—they are rather irritable, to put it mildly.) If you think you have to be present for the fights to start, and then leave when you feel tensions mount, or implement the following “hot dog” cue. If food is a trigger, by all means feed them separately, and remove any signs of food when they’ve finished. If toys are the trigger, remove all toys, except when they’re on their tie-downs. If they fight in the bedroom, then remove them both from the bedroom and have them sleep separately (in crates, if necessary). The same is true if they fight when one is in bed and the other approaches, as occasionally happens in my house. Just move their beds when they’re not in them.

Ensure plenty of exercise

Make sure the dogs get lots of exercise, together if possible. Take them both to class, or practice their obedience several times a day. You can make them earn their food from you by hand-feeding them bit by bit if you have the time. Play the “fastest sit” game (whoever sits first gets the treat first), and do it for everything they consider important: going through doors, getting petted, or getting into a vehicle. By the way, even dogs who fight over food don’t do it when it’s being hand-fed.

Laughter as a diffuser

Laughter is one of the best ways to defuse tension in a household. If you, the Ultimate Leader, don’t take them seriously, many status-related problems never go anywhere. We even have an exercise called the “hot dog” cue to help keep relationships on an even keel. The cue itself was taught to a good friend of mine by an elderly lady with three Pit Bulls (all lovingly given to her by her children). It seems the dogs all got along very well most of the time. There was one acknowledged leader among the dogs, and she kept the peace. But as the leader dog got older, things got dicier.

The most precious resource was the woman herself, and occasionally when all three were putting their heads on her lap, one of the younger ones would stare at the leader, and all hell would break loose. They’d had a couple of devastating fights, and the woman couldn’t stand it anymore. As a result, she developed a signal to help diffuse these situations. As soon as she saw one dog engage another (with “the look”) she’d call out in a cheerful voice, “Hot dogs!” Then she’d get up and hobble to the kitchen, where she’d open the refrigerator door and pull out three whole hot dogs. After sitting, each of the dogs got one. By that time, they were feeling just fine again—crisis averted!

When I analyzed what had occurred, it seemed to me there were three important components to this exercise. First, the woman had a consistent cue that meant great things to the dogs, and her timing was excellent. It was given at the precursor to the problem, not when the fight had begun, which would have been far too late. Second, she moved. This is important with any in-house dog-to-dog dispute (or child-to-child dispute); you need to move the target resource (her, in this case) and divert their attention from one another. Third, she went to a predictable location, where a certain behavior was required (“sit”) followed by a reliable reward that took a bit of time to ingest. Ever since she so obligingly taught me that exercise, I’ve used it with many dogs with great success.

Filed Under: Pets & Animals


About the Author: Fred Goodson has a passion for pets and animals. He has 4 dogs and is planning to have another one. He is also a blogger who writes about pets and animals. Currently, he is living in New Jersey.

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