Paws for Peace: How to Stop Dogs From Fighting in Your Household

Dog aggression between dogs living under the same roof can indeed raise a number of questions. The most pressing one might be: “Why would two dogs that have lived together, possibly for years, suddenly attack one another?”

Let’s Explore: Why Are My Dogs Fighting?

Why do dogs attack their housemates? It’s not just about some doggy sibling rivalry; the root cause is usually stress. Except for the very rare cases of idiopathic aggression – once referred to as “rage syndrome” or specific breed rages, and wrongly over-diagnosed in the 1960s and ’70s – aggression comes from a buildup of stress that pushes a dog beyond his biting limit.

This can be likened to human “road rage.” Consider the person who draws a weapon in response to a minor traffic issue. There’s usually more to the story, like job loss, relationship troubles, or financial problems. The traffic incident is merely the tipping point, the last stressor that pushes him over his “bite threshold.”

The same principle applies to dogs. If tensions rise between two pets, it’s essential to identify possible stressors in their environment that might be pushing them toward, or even past, their bite threshold. For example, “snow aggression” could be a real concern: recent record snowfalls of 50 inches have reduced exercise opportunities, leading to stress for both the dogs and their human family members who dislike snow.

To handle aggression between your dogs, you need to pinpoint not only the immediate cause, like a fight over food, but all the other stressors in your dog’s life. By reducing or removing these stressors, you decrease the likelihood that your dog will “pull out a .38 revolver,” or in dog terms, use his teeth aggressively.

Find the different stress triggers in your dog

dog annoyed by stress triggers

Identifying the immediate cause of your dogs’ aggression towards each other is often relatively straightforward. It’s typically whatever occurs just before the signs of a fight, such as a hard stare, posturing, growling, or the fight itself.

Tension Over Resources

A widespread trigger is tension over resources. For example, Dog #1 may be enjoying his deer antler on his bed, and Dog #2 approaches. Dog #1 tightens up, communicating to Dog #2, “This is mine, and I won’t share.”

Ideally, Dog #2 backs off, signaling in dog language, “I apologize, I’m just passing by.” However, if things go wrong, a fight might ensue. Dog #2’s approach triggered Dog #1, even if the second dog wasn’t interested in the chew toy. Maybe Dog #2 missed or ignored the warning. Note that resources don’t only include food; they could be a favorite person, a spot on the couch, or access to a doorway. The stressor here is clear: anxiety over losing or sharing a cherished possession.

Less Obvious Triggers

Some triggers might be more hidden. If a dog is in pain but not showing it, just being near another dog who accidentally bumped her before might cause tension. Dogs can hide pain well, particularly slow-developing conditions like arthritis or unilateral pain, where a limp may not be evident. An arthritic dog might react defensively to a more active dog, trying to prevent painful contact, and the owner sees it as “unprovoked” aggression.

Social Aggression

Social aggression occurs when neither of two dogs in the same household is willing to defer to the other. This kind of aggression is about a lack of deference rather than dominance. In behavioral science, “dominance” relates to access to a mutually desired resource, and it can change between encounters. In one situation, one dog may be dominant, while in the next, the other dog might take that role.

Managing the Triggers

Understanding your dogs’ triggers enables you to manage their environment to lessen conflict. This management is essential to any successful modification program. The more the dogs fight, the more tension builds up, and the more they practice fighting, the better they get at it, making it more challenging to resolve. Not to mention the increased risk of someone—dog or human—being seriously hurt.

Managing Stress Triggers in Dogs Prone to Aggression

How can you “manage your dogs’ environment to lessen their exposure to stressors”? In essence, this involves altering the surroundings in which your dogs live to prevent them from encountering situations that stress them out.

If the dogs are triggering stress in each other, the initial step is to maintain separation. This can be done through diligent use of barriers such as doors, fences, baby gates, crates, or tethers. Thoughtful placement helps; for instance, place each dog’s crate or tethering spot out of the other’s line of sight. Ensure to take them outside separately for bathroom breaks, and start separation early before feeding time to minimize tensions that can arise in the rush to be fed first.

Moreover, make an effort to shield your dogs from additional stress inducers. For instance, imagine one of your dogs reacts strongly to the sight of the mailman approaching your home, causing an aggressive barking response that also agitates the other dog.

Several solutions might be applied to tackle this issue:

Install Shutters: By putting shutters on the window, you can obstruct the dogs’ view, making the mailman’s approach less noticeable.
Close the Door to the Front Room: To further isolate the dogs from the sight and sound of the mailman, you might close the door to the room facing the street.
Relocate the Mailbox: Moving the mailbox closer to the sidewalk and further from the front door can also reduce the proximity of the mail carrier to your home.
Get a Post Office Box: An even more radical solution would be to opt for a post office box, removing the need for a mail carrier to approach your house altogether.

The key is to be inventive and proactive in your approach. Recognizing specific triggers and implementing measures to reduce or eliminate them will contribute significantly to a more peaceful and stress-free environment for dogs showing signs of aggression.

How to Halt Dog Fights: Steps to help your dogs get along

dogs who get alonge

In most cases, my preferred method to stop dogs from fighting involves changing the dogs’ opinion of each other through a process known as counter-conditioning and desensitization (CC&D).

CC&D for aggression within a pack requires altering your dogs’ perception of each other from negative to positive. The most straightforward way to build this positive association is often by using highly desirable treats, such as chicken, as most dogs find it appealing, and it’s also a low-fat, low-calorie food.

Steps to Counter-Condition Your Dogs to Get Along:

a) Find the Threshold Distance: Identify the distance at which your dogs can be near each other but not display fear or arousal. If one dog has a higher threshold distance, work at that distance.

b) Introduce with Leash at Threshold: Holding Dog A on a leash, introduce Dog B at the chosen distance. Begin feeding both dogs chicken as soon as they notice each other.

c) Remove and Repeat: After a few seconds, have Dog B step out of sight, and stop feeding the chicken. Repeat this process until both dogs consistently react positively to each other at this distance.

d) Increase Time of Exposure: Gradually increase the time Dog B stays in sight while continuing to feed chicken. Allow them to look at each other occasionally, rewarding them with chicken.

e) Increase Intensity with Movement: When the length of time seems irrelevant to the dogs, increase intensity by having Dog B move, first slowly, then with more energy, even adding commands like sit, down, and roll over.

f) Decrease Distance Gradually: Start bringing Dog A closer to Dog B’s location, reducing the distance as you obtain consistent positive responses from both dogs.

g) Increase Intensity with More Movement: Return to the original threshold and increase the intensity by having Dog B move more, gradually decreasing distance until both dogs are content to be near each other.

h) Natural Movement at Decreased Distance: Increase intensity by letting both dogs move more naturally, decreasing distance gradually, until they can be within six feet of each other and still be relaxed.

i) Engage in Enjoyable Activities Together: Find activities both dogs enjoy, like car rides or hiking, and engage in them together but separated enough to avoid tension.

j) Cautious Reintroduction: When ready for them to interact again, allow a controlled greeting through a barrier first. Also, consider desensitizing both dogs to a muzzle during this period, so they can be muzzled when they first interact, ensuring safety.

Concluding Thoughts: The more complicated the relationship between the dogs, the more challenging behavior modification will be. Factors like previous negative interactions, injuries, and strong emotions will lengthen the reprogramming process. If the dogs were once good friends, it might be easier.

Wanna know more about dog behavior?

Explore these informative blogs to deepen your understanding and enhance your relationship with your canine friend:

Each blog offers insights, tips, and techniques from professionals and experienced dog owners alike. Learn how to communicate with your dog, understand their needs, and establish a relationship built on trust and mutual respect.

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