The Pets Doc

Dr. Kevin Watkins, DVM

812-273-1803

Canine Behavior – Getting Your Dogs To Get Along

Q : For several years, we had three dogs. Since the death of our oldest dog last year, one of the remaining dogs has become extremely aggressive toward his housemate, even drawing blood on occasion. We had the aggressor neutered, thinking that would help, but the aggression has not stopped and is often unprovoked.

A: When animals in the same household (“pack”) fight or act aggressively toward each other, it is because an unclear dominance hierarchy exists. Your two remaining dogs may be too equal in rank, or in some cases, the aggression occurs because the dogs are very spoiled by the owner and both believe they have “Alpha” status. Since this behavior began after the death of your oldest dog, the aggressor is attempting to claim the higher, or ”privileged,” status within the pack structure.

All recognized behaviorists agree that dogs are descendants of wolves. By studying wolves in their natural environment, behaviorists have been able to gain a better understanding of the domestic canine and how, and why, they respond to their world. Wolves have a clearly defined pack hierarchy. Unfortunately, that pack structure is frequently unclear or nonexistent in domestic households because most owners simply don’t know they should establish one.

If the attacks are occurring when you are present, the aggressor may think you will support his bid for leadership. If he is doing it in your absence, he is making an independent bid for alpha leadership among the pack. So, how can you stop it?

First, lower the status of both dogs. You’ve already neutered the aggressor, but you may consider neutering the other dog as well. You should also decide which dog will have the higher status, or “privilege of rank.” But, emphasize lowering the status of BOTH dogs before giving any privileges or rank to either one of them.

My advice would be to make the aggressor the lowest ranking member in the pack, or “No. 2” status. The dog that has been the victim in this situation, the one getting attacked, should have the privileges of rank.

Feed him first, greet him first, always allow him to go through doorways before the other by holding the collar of the “No. 2” dog and allow “No. 1” to go first. Allow “No. 1” to lie beside you on the couch (definitely an Alpha space, especially if you’re on it), and make No. 2 lie on the floor. Tether “No. 2” so that he has no freedom inside the house. Most of all, be very obvious to get your message across to both dogs.

Finally, unfortunately, your only other option may be to find another home for one of the dogs.

Margo Watkins, Pet Behavior Counselor

Pawsitive Pet Behavior Blog