2 dog household-fear aggression fighting?

Posted by Bec
May 30, 2010
I have two dogs that both seem to be reacting from fear aggression and they are at the stage of viciously fighting where we have to pull them apart to stop it as it seems they will fight until one is killed. The fights in the last week have escalated to blood wounds, with both of them have similar and equal level of injuries – neither one could be said to have winning any of the fights.
They are both females (spayed) and are mixed breeds (similar mix) – effectively rescue dogs as we live in a developing country where there are many mangy starving dogs and both of the dogs were picked up at separate times from the street as puppies. They both live outside at night as they are also guard dogs, but come in and out of the house during the day and evening.
The first dog (Charlie) is now about 2 years of age and has always tried to be the dominant one over my husband and I. We constantly reinforce our dominance through feeding rules (after the humans eat, can only eat after sitting and told its ‘okay’ to eat); not letting her through the door first; not allowed on couches or in the bedroom. She always tries to assert her dominance by putting her paw or head onto legs/ hand when you are sitting or trying to jump up when we arrive home – we have found she doesn’t want to ever give up trying to be the dominant one so do our best to consistently reinforce her place. When she does need reminding, she is very quickly put in her place and overly submissive – she will roll immediately onto her back and show her belly and is very obedient to sit and stay and come when she is focused on the ‘leaders’ (which is most of the time). As a younger dog she was very fearful and she still has some of that to a degree – very frightened of thunder (shaking and hiding) and takes some time to relax when in the car going to the beach. She was always friendly with visitors and other dogs.

Enter dog 2 – we got this dog when she was about 6 to 8 weeks old. Charlie and Koolikwee (means ‘Dog Dog’ in local language where we live) were really good when Kooli was little – they would constantly play and had no problems and seemed to enjoy each other’s company all the time. Kooli very much seemed to follow Charlie – learning from her and copying everything and anything Charlie did and learning from Charlie the correct behavior.

Kooli is now about 10 to 11 months old and has matured into a slightly bigger but definitely heavier dog than Charlie. Kooli doesn’t seem too concerned about becoming the pack leader and has no real issues with the humans been the boss. She is a much more relaxed, happy go lucky dog and just wants to play, eat and sleep.

However, Charlie is not making that easy for Kooli. Charlie has started to attack her if Kooli comes near us and Kooli has reached the stage of been completely terrified. If they can see each other (in the house or outside together) Kooli will cower and shake and show complete fear, including whimpering. She will try to get close to us seemingly to protect her, but that will set Charlie off more. Charlie doesn’t go straight into aggression – she will stare down Kooli and Charlie will be shaking with seeming fear herself and will raise her lip and growl a little. I can get them to be calm and relaxed if I am with them, but it takes a long time and they can’t be trusted to be without supervision anymore.

If we discipline Kooli (who is still a naughty puppy at times) eg. say ‘kooli, no’ if kooli is chewing something she shouldn’t, Charlie will over react and attack Kooli – she seems to be wanting to help us discipline and teach Kooli but the outcome is that Kooli is now terrified of Charlie and is reacting by attacking back at Charlie seemingly as a fear aggression response.

They were always fine to eat near each other, but Charlie started to threaten Kooli during food time about 2 weeks ago. Charlie gets her food first and then Kooli eats, but Charlie started to approach Kooli and then eat from Kooli’s bowl. This escalated when Charlie viciously attacked Kooli – seemingly because Kooli didn’t move away from the bowl quick enough. This has contributed to Kooli now terrified to eat a treat or her food knowing Charlie is around. We have separated them to eat where they can’t see each other, but Kooli is still not relaxed with eating and Charlie will be moving around looking to where she knows Kooli is at meal time.

The strangest part of all this that is causing me to have trouble figuring out who is the dominant one between them is the behavior after the fight. They will be broken apart and after they calm down Charlie will gradually approach Kooli and Charlie will exhibit very submissive behavior – she will lick Kooli for hours, mostly under her muzzle and show submissive behavior by showing her belly. Charlie does though sometimes put her head on top of Kooli’s head I assume to assert dominance. Kooli does not relax throughout this and remains tense and fearful and this can set off another fight if Kooli tries to move away from Charlie.
Kooli has never been comfortable with other dogs and has shown fear aggression towards strange dogs – Charlie’s behavior towards other dogs therefore changes and she steps in to be aggressive seemingly to protect Kooli because of Kooli’s fear.
At the moment we are keeping them separated, but this is obviously not a long term solution. I am figuring it is Charlie’s response to Kooli getting older and Charlie is making sure that Kooli knows who is boss. We will continue to enforce Charlie as the dominant dog over Kooli if that is the right thing to do, but it is the submissive behavior by Charlie after the fight that has me confused.
If they were humans I would describe Charlie as been jealous and trying to show who is boss and that Charlie is then apologising to Kooli after the fight. Kooli is now though at a stage of such fear of Charlie that she is reacting very aggressively to protect herself and get in first with the fight before Charlie does.

I’m sorry this story is so long – I wanted to explain as much as I can because I can’t find any information on the net with a similar situation. There are no dog experts were we live and it is unusual here to even have a dog as a ‘pet’, so the internet is our best resource. I am at the stage that one of them may have to be put down because of safety – most likely Charlie as she seems the most unable to control her aggression. I would hate to do this but fear she has gone too far in her behavior and will always be a risk to other dogs and potentially children.

Any advice would be appreciated. Many thanks.
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Jun 4, 2010
Hi Bec,

I read the whole story and I got an impression that Charlie is not emotionally stable. It sounds like she is confused with the whole situation. Being a street dog she maybe does not know how she is expected to behave as a good family dog. What breed are they? Generally speaking some female dogs can be very nasty towards some female dogs.

Charlie might think that she should be the dominant one but she doesn't have confidence in herself. When she gets in your way when you are training Kooli, what would you do? Do you reprimand her? When she growls at Kooli over her meal, do you tell her she is not supposed to?

I don't believe there should be a dominant dog when there are only 2-3 dogs. If there are 10 dogs it might be a different story. As long as each dog sees you and your human family as the leader there shouldn't be an obvious ranking between the two dogs.

>She always tries to assert her dominance by putting her paw or head onto legs/ hand when you are sitting or trying to jump up when we arrive home

I don't see the above mentioned behavior as a sign of Charlie's dominance. It sounds like a sign of asking for your attention and it is a natural behavior. Don't you let Charlie puts her head on your lap? I do let my dogs snuggle with me on the couch all the time. Of course you would not want to encourage her being pushy but I would give her a lot of attention whenever I have time. Once she gets a lot of your attention and praises for good behaviors I think she will grow more confident and learn to be nice to her little sister. I would reprimand her unfavorable behaviors such as growling to Kooli by making her sit and watch me/leave it as I encourage Kooli to eat by reassuring her that you would protect her from Charlie.

You should be the one who controls both dogs, as well as the relationship between the two. Charlie doesn't need to control Kooli and Kooli should not be afraid of Charlie.

Are you giving them daily obedience trainings? I don't mean this by "eating before dogs" or "going out the door before dogs" or "not allowing dogs on the furniture". Those are not obedience trainings but just rules. What I mean is a training session that your dogs learn to pay attention to you even with some distractions, or to focus your commands. Once you get their attention, it will be much easier to control your dogs and sort their relationship by teaching them to respect each other. The ideal relationship between you and the dogs is like a pyramid. You are on the top and two dogs are below you, with each dog looking up at you.

I think Charlie's personality will change once she gains confidence that you are the strong leader and she only needs to follow your directions.

Good luck
Posted by Bec
Aug 14, 2010
Dear MaxHollyNoah,

Thank you very much for your comprehensive advice - you are definitely spot on with your observation that Charlie has emotional issues, the effects of being a street stray on how she reacts, and the need for obedience training.

It became clearer that it is really only when the dogs are near me that problems erupt - when it is my husband or our guards (we have a number of guards as security 24 hours and they are all male) the dogs, in particular, Charlie, are able to listen to the 'human pack' and behave and do as the humans say. When I get in the mix, having obviously treated Charlie far too baby like (fur child!) when she was little, it results in Charlie been unstable and not been confident in how to respond. Clearly not what, as a stray Solomons dog, she needed.

In the short term I was able to address this by been a strong human leader who took away her insecurities and did obedience training and both dogs responded positively and we had a happy home again. Been able to obtain some muzzles for Charlie and Kooli also helped in addressing their confidence in not fighting and giving Kooli confidence she would not be bitten and they instead found a way to get along!

However, I subsequently found another stray that I couldn't bear to leave on the streets and we now have a pack of 3 - Charlie is again reacting badly as my husband is away for work in Haiti, although the stray is responding with equal or more aggression towards Charlie. Doesn't' make for a happy pack of humans or dogs!

After a lot internet research and talking to other expats with local dogs, I have come up with that Solomons dogs (I live in Solomon Islands - small pacific island between Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu) are not quite at the complete domestic dog stage. There isn't much research on their origins, but based on their physical attributes and behaviour they are seemingly linked closely to Dingos in Australia, Singing dogs in Papua New Guinea or native dogs of south east Asia. It is interesting to see the differences - lack of dewclaws, and different body language amongst the dogs to the domesticated dog. My three do have different physical attributes and I think at times simply don't understand the body language of each other - eg. what a play bow means or what is meant to suggest who gets to be dominant. And then add to that mix trying to fit in a pack of humans is a lot for them to try and figure out. I also read on the internet that 'breeds' of this dog are commonly on their own and aren't used to be living with other dogs.

In any event, the happy outcome to this is that I have found a home for Charlie and Kooli where they will live together in a village with a local friend who is easily able to control their behaviour and for who they never fight and respect him as their human leader. They can get along happily in such an environment. They will live without the expectations of dog behaviour of an expat dog family and a strong male which they seem to need! The latest stray will also end up with a good home without any other dogs to result in any issues for her.

A very interesting lesson for me to have learnt having always previously been around western world domestic dogs. I have also realised the drastic need for a pound or dog facility for this country - there is nothing available to help the dogs here and it is a very sad situation.

Once again, thank you very much for your insightful advice.

Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Aug 15, 2010
Hi Bec,

Thank you so much for your update. I am so glad you were able to find permanent homes for the 3 dogs.

It is interesting that dogs on the island are not as domesticated as ours. It is very nice of you to foster and acclimate those dogs to live with people and find homes for them. It will be an endless effort since I believe those dogs are not spayed/neutered.

Thank you for everything you are doing there.