Dog Behavior: Dogs Fighting Again?

Dog fights amongst canine housemates continue to be a serious concern to peaceable owners. Today I just returned from a lesson with two cute female pit/mix pups – both just under 12 months of age. The initial call was that they had gotten into a fight causing a trip to the vet with punctures. This was the first of a couple of serious fights. Unfortunately the owner did not see it start and is not certain who started the fight and over what they were fighting.

Last week I completed another lesson with two somewhat recently adopted, older, more mature female dogs who had not previously lived together. When the larger of the dogs attacked the smaller one, I got a call from the new owners to sort things out and help them to understand root causes and how to proceed to fix the problem.

Here’s the commonality with the two households:

  1. No structure, therefore no leadership
  2. No consistent training, therefore no commands to which to redirect
  3. No consistent walking for exercise and leadership – constructive management of energy while also reinforcing leadership
  4. Constant dog-initiated petting and doting – all unearned
  5. Both dogs in each household were females
  6. A detailed evaluation of relationships between the dogs starting the fights and their respective owners revealed more attention to the larger dog than the smaller dog who received the brunt of the fight.
  7. A recommended test done in both homes mentioned above, indicated that when the “doting owner” in both households was not at home and the dogs were allowed to be free in the homes while the other owner was present, no fighting occurred. In fact, all got along peaceably.
  8. When the doting owners returned to their respective homes, the competition and the games began again. Fights reoccurred.

So, what’s the message here? Many fights between canine housemates happen in the presence of the owner – and sometimes guarding the owner as a resource. What’s the answer? Put structure back into your relationship with your dogs – you probably both need it and can benefit immeasurably from it. If you are not sure how to go about doing this, give me a call. Keep your dogs separated until you can put a program into effect – and during the program as well.

Remember, “Opportunity Barks!”

(C) Jim Burwell 2010

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3 replies
  1. David Mills
    David Mills says:

    Jim, thanks for your quick and informative response. I’m really sick trying to decide what I should do next. One local dog trainer I spoke with over the phone said I could never trust Rebel and Dixie to not fight again. Do you agree or is there some hope that they can learn to live peaceably together again as they have done for 18 months? For the time being we’re keeping them separated, allowing only one out at a time but we can’t keep this up for the long haul. Is there is way I can “test” them? For example, placing a muzzle on Rebel and leash and seeing how they react together in a controlled setting? I really appreciate your help and advice.

  2. Jim Burwell
    Jim Burwell says:

    David: There are a ton of circumstances surrounding this that I do not know. However I can tell you that lack of structure and leadership from you and your wife play a huge part in this. Your
    dogs are trying to determine amongst themselves who is running the show, when in reality your dogs should understand that both you and your wife and running the show. To help them understand
    this does NOT require that you be hard on your dogs. You need to understand leadership and how to put it into place from a professional dog trainer if you want to turn this around

  3. David mills
    David mills says:

    Rebel and Dixie have co-existed peacefully since I’ve had him. There was never any food aggression and they played together. He was definitely the alpha dog and Dixie submitted to him but in the past 2 wks she has started to become more assertive in gaining attention from us and so forth. Last week they had their first minor skirmish when they came in from the back yard and we had to break them up. Things went well until yesterday when my daughter called me at work to tell me when she came home blood was on the walls, floor and so forth and both dogs were injured. A neighbor was able to separate them (he owns pitbulls) but they brought the fight from the yard into the house. Rebel was injured the most. My wife gave Rebel a bath to clean his wounds and examine him. He was his usual docile, obedient self. Dixie was lying on the floor in my daughter’s room and Rebel came up behind her and leaped over her shoulder and attacked Dixie again, pretty viciously but he still received the worst of it. We treated him and put him in my walk-in closet where he likes to sleep from time to time and Dixie was in another room. This morning he looked much improved and Dixie was limping. I kept them separated trying to figure out what to do about this turn of events. When my wife got home she inadvertently opened our bedroom door where I had Rebel and Dixie was lying on the kitchen floor near the hallway. Rebel looked as if he was going to walk by her but suddenly turned and viciously attacked Dixie again. I beat him with a cane in an attempt to separate them but it didn’t phase him. He had Dixie by the throat and was trying to do great harm. My wife pulled Dixie away and she went outside and I put Rebel back in my bedroom. He was docile with me as always. I spoke earlier today with a local dog trainer and she said there would never be peace between them again — and she was right because the second attack happened minutes after I spoke to her. So I must find a home for Rebel. It will break my heart to have to lose him but I can’t live in fear of another attack, especially if I’m not around and my wife is alone. I don’t know what provoked this after so long but the dog trainer said that my female was perhaps vying for the alpha dog position. The dogs are spayed and neutered. Any opinion as to what happened?

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