Act Early & Be Careful

Question:
I have 2 dogs that have been together for 2.5 years.  The female has always be passive before the male, however in the last month she has become extremely aggressive, taking his food, even growling when he attempts to get close to us.  The male is now showing up with cuts from fights that are happening during the day when we are gone.  There have been no changes in their routine.

Dr. Nichol:
Aggression between family dogs is common and potentially disastrous. The intensity of this type of hostility can advance fast, making it important to intervene early. There are no simple solutions.

Many dogs like yours compete for food, owner attention, a favored resting area, or access to a doorway. When indicators of tension like stiff body postures, nervous lip licking, yawning, and raised hackles first appear it is time to act. Be careful. Reprimands or punishments would ratchet up the arousal that is already driving these confrontations. Sadly, many dog owners assume that their pets’ differences will resolve on their own or that they should be allowed to “fight it out”. These are big mistakes. Once injuries occur the prognosis diminishes.

Your dogs need to relax and abandon their mutual enmity. Completely segregate them for at least 2 months so they can’t even see each other. It may then be possible to gradually and methodically reintroduce the former combatants.  There are many factors that are particular to each situation. This phase must be carefully tailored.

People can also get hurt. Reaching into a dog fight to prevent injuries often results in the aggression being redirected toward the obstacle (human limb) resulting in serious trauma. Hostility can ramp-up fast. Don’t think you are quicker than a raging dog. Fingers have been severed.

There are shortcuts; all are ill-advised. Basket muzzles can prevent bites but threatening body signals will continue, deepening the hostility. If your dogs are allowed to comingle you must remove all food and toys from their environment. Feed in different rooms and separate them before giving attention. The situation with your dogs is volatile. Attempting to manage it on your own would court disaster. You are welcome to contact my office for a consultation.