Dangerous to Each Other & People

Question:
My 2 dogs 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 when we are gone.

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

Many cantankerous canine housemates compete for food, pet parent attention, a favored resting area, or access through a doorway. Watch for indicators of tension like stiff body postures, nervous lip licking, yawning, and raised hair over the shoulders. Remain silent. 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 have occurred the outlook sours quickly.

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 these former combatants. But this phase must be carefully tailored; dogs can be so afraid that defensive aggression occurs on sight.

People can also get hurt. Reaching into a dog fight to prevent injuries often results in redirected aggression toward the interfering obstacle (human limb) resulting in serious trauma. Hostility can ramp-up fast. If you think you’re quicker than a raging dog you may be in for a rude surprise. Fingers have been severed.

Forget shortcuts. Basket muzzles can prevent bites but the threatening body signals would continue, deepening the antagonism. Prior to allowing your dogs to comingle you must remove all food and toys from their environment. Feed in different rooms and separate them before giving attention. These situations can be volatile. I advise against attempting to manage it on your own. You are welcome to contact my office for help.

Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog, or a Facebook Live to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.