A veterinarian asked me one time if I handled inner-pack aggression (fighting pack-mates). I winced, took a deep breath and said something non-committal. I’ve given a lot of thought to that over the years. Dogs usually don’t fight in a vacuum. The humans are part of the mix. And it is dang hard to change a family system. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when two dogs just cannot live together, regardless of the human dynamic. But, that is not the norm.
So, let me tell you a story about two different clients with the same problem. Dogs fighting. The living situation was similar for both. Specifically,
1) Dogs slept on the bed and did so from the first day they entered the house. In one case it was two big dogs and in another it was two big and two small dogs. And two full-sized humans, BTW
2) Dogs ran willy-nilly up and over the furniture
3) Dogs rushed the door and swarmed visitors. LOUDLY.
4) Dogs were never asked to do something as simple as “stay.” They needed some basic training, STAT
5) Dogs played IN the house with each other in a high-energy/high aroused fashion. High energy play needs to go outside.
6) Dogs had an abundance of free treats and goodies for no reason, other than it made the humans feel good.
7) In one case the dogs got very little exercise
8) In the other case one of the dogs was extremely anxious and alarm barked at every little thing, which triggered the other dog.
9) In both situations, the inside living space was fairly small and/or filled up with stuff, so the dogs were forced to bump into one another moving through tight spaces.
In both cases, I asked the owners to address each of the things on the list. In one situation, I got fired after the third session, because things were not working. The “thing” that was not working was the owners, but the trainer got blamed. They would not/could not do something as basic as get the dogs off of the bed, eliminate high-energy play in the house or increase the dog’s exercise. In the other situation, the owners followed my advice to the letter. It was not easy for them. They absolutely wanted the comfort of the dogs on the bed and on the furniture. I can understand that, but I also understood that if we didn’t establish some rules, one of the dogs would end up at the vet AGAIN. I held firm and they trusted me enough to stick with it. Ten weeks after we started, the dogs are living in peace. All of the barriers are down. And the muzzles are off. Now that the girls are behaving, they are invited up on the bed in the morning for some cuddle time. As a bonus, visitors are no longer greeted at the door with crazy.
Dogs Thrive with Structure and Boundaries
Never ever forget this: Dogs thrive with structure and boundaries. Too much permissiveness and not enough direction about your expectations is very stressful for dogs and stress will often lead to squabbles or all-out fighting.