Q: My two dogs, who have been housemates for several years, have suddenly begun to have terrible fights. I’m afraid one of them is really going to get hurt. What should I do?
A: When dogs in the same household (“pack”) fight or act aggressively toward each other, it is usually because there is an unclear dominance hierarchy.
The animals may be too equal in rank, very spoiled by the owner, or the dogs may not view the two-legged dogs (“humans”) in their pack as the Alpha ranking members, so they assume they are, and treat everyone in the household as such. Sometimes, one of the dogs will make a bid for dominance in the owner’s presence, thinking they will support them in their bid for leadership. Owners frequently say to me, “That dog runs this house.”
When owners unwittingly subordinate themselves to their dogs, an unclear dominance hierarchy exists in that household, and dogs, being the pack-minded creatures that they are, will attempt to establish one.
Also, dogs experience similar emotions as humans, so another possibility for the fighting could simply be jealousy. Alpha and jealousy aggression are dangerous situations – for the dog that is the object of the aggression, and for you, if you try to break them up.
If you are outside when it happens, spray them with the hose. If you are inside, try dumping a bucket of water on them. But if you reach in and try to drag them apart, both you and your dogs may end up at your respective physician’s office.
When dogs intend to kill, they “go for the throat,” as the saying goes. If the aggression in your pack has escalated to this point, I recommend you consult with a behavior specialist immediately to learn how to reestablish order, rank and safety in your home.