2 wannabe alpha males

Posted by Lee
Mar 28, 2008
Dear Mr. Stevens,

We have two 18-month-old male miniature dachshunds (black & red) named Brooks and Dunn. Initially, the litter-mates engaged in normal playing and roughhousing with each other, but it quickly escalated to a near-murderous state when they reached seven months old. Now if they are ever in the same room without a barrier between them, they attempt to fight to the death. “No” means absolutely nothing to them when they get this way – all they hear is “let’s get ready to RUMBLE!”

When people see these puppies with their adorable gazes, calmly sitting in their crates just a few feet apart, they can’t believe it! “But they’re so small!” Perhaps... but size has nothing to do with it: imagine taking two ten-pound bowling balls, wrapping them in barbed wire and playing Klik-Klak with them. Separately, they’re angels; together, it’s hell.

We are now reduced to keeping them in separate crates, letting them out and back in separately, feeding and playing with them individually in rooms separated by baby gates just to keep them apart. [What it’s doing, though, is tearing me apart!] Oddly enough, although they could easily grasp each other’s faces and necks over the baby gates, they don’t. They love to chase each other along the gated areas, jump up against a gate, stand on their hind legs, wag their tails, kiss each other over the gate and run back and forth to the other gate, over and over. This is the most confusing part of their behavior to me.

Allow me to give you a little background. At first, Dunn was the alpha male and he was the sweetest and calmest puppy you’d ever seen (also, he was the largest of the entire litter (my gentle little giant)). He is still very sweet, just not calm anymore – but that’s a separate e-mail altogether.... Brooks was and is the exact opposite - playful, hyper, and bounces a lot. At five to six months of age, Brooks (who, by the way, was also the runt of that same litter) decided he didn’t like the hierarchy and began picking fights with Dunn. Dunn would take it until he couldn’t take any more and eventually began fighting back. After a few nasty fights, during which my boyfriend got bitten each time while trying to break them up, we took the advice of a local trainer and of our vet and had Brooks fixed. This only provided us with a temporary lull in the excitement before they were back to their old selves. By the way, using a water hose on them only resulted in two soaking wet (and now slippery) fighting dogs and an angry, wet boyfriend! Muzzles haven’t worked because one of them will somehow wiggle out and try to do serious damage to the other, who is now defenseless due to his being muzzled.

I truly live in fear every single day that one of us will forget where one dog is and accidentally let the other one in the same room at the same time. I don’t want to get rid of either one, but I am not willing to do this for 15 more years. By the way, we also have a 16-year-old female beagle, who is definitely top dog, and a 6-year-old male cat, who was raised by our beagle and believes he’s also a dog. All four get along with each other (the pups think the cat is just a weird-looking dog who can climb trees)... it’s the two pups together that are the problem.

So, there you have my daily life. What are our options? Do we get Dunn fixed, too? Someone suggested we let them duke it out but I can’t warm up to that thought. At this point, nobody even knows who is alpha anymore (our cat is lying in wait hoping to become the de facto leader). We just want to have pets we can enjoy and who can enjoy each other. I would love to once again see them play together in the yard. Any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated. I apologize for the length of this e-mail but you're my last hope....

Thank you.
P.S. Do you make housecalls?
Posted by Todd
Apr 3, 2008
Hi there Lee

Wow sounds like hectic household and i do feel a little sorry for your boyfriend getting caught in the middle.

The below post is one i have used for all cases that revolve around interdog aggression. It may seem a little generic but it completely applies in all aspects to your two dogs and i have had over 25 dogs fixed using this method.

If this program doesn't completely fix the problem i will go over more ideas but we will start with this

But before i begin there are a few things we need to go over -

1) Muzzle - this is the most important item that you can have in your houshold

2) One or both dogs may need medication at some stage but at the least i think a product called DAP should be in the house. This is a natural remedy that works brilliantly in these situations

3) Both dogs should considered being separated unless you are around

Now to the plan -

The first advice i would give you is to ensure you and your family members have read and understand the techniques in the bonus book "Secrets to becoming the Alpha Dog". These are great techniques for maintaining or establishing your position at the head of the household. No matter what the problem is all dogs need to know where the stand in the house for both yours and their peace and comfort.

Here are some ways to reinforce your position-
1) If you come across your dogs while they are sleeping or lying on the floor then you can reinforce your position as alpha dog by making him move so that you can pass by.

2) Make sure that you always go through doorways first. A good method to reinforce your position as alpha dog is to walk your dog around the house on the leash, making your dog wait while you walk through doorways first.

3) At mealtimes make sure that your dogs eat after all of the humans have.

4) Do not feed your dogs tidbits or let it pester you at the table. Save the morsels and tidbits for training sessions instead.

5) Do not greet your dogs straightaway when you arrive home. Make it wait until you are ready and then call it to you.

6) Whenever your dogs want attention or anything wait till they are sitting and being well behaved.

7) When you give a command make sure that you are in a position to enforce the action that you require from your dog, especially in the initial stages of Alpha Dog training. Also, use the Alarm-No-Command technique as described in the Alpha Dog bonus book to reprimand your dog if it does not obey your command.

Generally I do not recommend people give their dogs bones as this encourages the aggression, because in the wild the alpha dog would be the only one to have the privilege of chewing the bones. The reason your dog growls at you when you approach it with a bone is because it believes that it has the right to the bone and is trying to discipline you for challenging your dog for its dominant role.

I also think it is very important that both dogs be banned from couches and beds as these are items that can be used to represent dominance.

You should reprimand your dog for unacceptable behavior, no matter what that behavior is. If you do not reprimand your dogs poor behavior then it will feel that it has the right to behave that way and it will take much longer to correct the behavior.

What I recommend you do, is the next time your dog acts poorly and exhibits dominant tendencies (growling), saturate your dog with the garden hose or a bucket of water, or if it is inside, throw a heavy blanket over your dog and be sure to reprimand it. DO NOT yell, as this has no effect on the dominant dog. Growl instead, use a guttural growl like " AAHHH!" instead of "No!", as this makes a sharper sound then "No" (If done correctly it may hurt your throat a little).

The next step you will have to take is to work very hard on both dogs obedience. Regular training sessions are key to improving your dog's obedience responses and keeping it used to answering your commands. Concentrate on the sit and stay, down and stay, heel and wait commands. The more obedient they are the more likely you are to have success and get them to respond to you when they have misbehaved. This training will take a lot of time and patience.

There are a number of approaches you can take from here to deal with the aggression issues. The one method i think is more successful is to train the dogs to be friends, not to reinforce one as the alpha dog (another option).
It is important in this situation not to enforce one dog's dominance, but rather make it clear that they will both be generously rewarded for displaying socially acceptable behavior. Before trying to undertake any training it is important both dogs understand basic sit and stay commands and that you have adequate control such that they are unlikely to harm one another. Spend a month or so with the dogs separate and enforce the alpha dog rules and reteach basic obedience commands. I can not reinforce how important muzzles are in aggressive dogs.

After a month the following controlled exercises may help:

1. Firstly muzzle Brooks, then put both dogs in a sit near you. Pet one, and then feed that one. Then, feed the other one for tolerating your interactions with the first one. At first, this is best done with a second handler, but after the dogs become better at self-restraint, you can do this alone.

2. Sit on the sofa and call the dogs over. Ask one dog to sit or lie down. Make a fuss over Dog 2. Reward the sitting/downed Dog 1 for tolerance and remaining in place. Then reverse this: put Dog 2 in a sit or down position and make a big fuss over Dog 1. Reward Dog 2 for tolerance and staying. Again, you can do this by yourself if you have confidence that a brawl won't break out. Otherwise use a second handler to keep an eye on the sitting/downed dog. This exercise is best practiced on leash.

3. Remember that if you take one dog for a walk, leave the other one behind and kennel the walked dog on return. When things are calm for 5 – 15 minutes, get both dogs out and put them in sit and down together for a treat (never facing each other). Then allow them to interact, if you think that it is safe to do so at this point in training. Follow this advice when you work the dogs as well. Kennel one dog, and work the other dog. Then trade, kenneling one and getting the other out to work. After a 5 – 15 minute rest period, get the dogs out and carefully work them together. You may need two handlers for this also.

When it comes to meal time you should encourage the two dogs to eat at the same time near each other. Do not put their food bowls down until they are both sitting, listening and behaving. Be prepared for them to show some aggression, if one dog moves towards the others food or growls, reprimand them. The methods above are great for reprimanding the dogs. You really want to reinforce that food aggression is not acceptable. If at any stage one of the dogs misbehaves take its food away and put it into a quiet room. Wait ten minutes and then try again with that dog.

Over the next few weeks you can slowly move the dogs food bowls together. Do this slowly and always watch them. If they misbehave go back to the step where they tolerated each other. You should over time get them to the point where they can eat side by side.

Feeding the dogs side by side from your hand is a great way to reinforce their friendship but be very careful and only do this when you fully trust them. It will take you weeks to get to this stage.

Make sure both dogs get heaps of toys when they are learning to behave. Make sure you teach them to play together and again reinforce good behaviour. Once they will play together then you can try and leave them with the toys, but always keep an eye on them.
Posted by Todd
Apr 3, 2008
Stopping dog fights -

There are several techniques available for stopping dog fights once they have begun. Water has been known to work in some cases, however if the dogs are fixated upon harming one another, it probably will not work at all as you have experienced. Throwing a large heavy blanket over the two dogs may help surprise the dogs and prevent them from fighting long enough for one of the adults in the household to use the "Wheelbarrow" maneuver I will mention in a second. Clanging pots and pans loudly as may be enough to startle the dogs, however growling and reprimanding is unlikely to get the dogs attention.

It is also important to begin learning the tell tale signs of a potential dog fight so you can stop the fight before it even begins. This will include one or both dogs growling, showing their teeth, raising their back and lowering their head. You will probably know the signs having seen your dogs fight previously.

The safest way to break up a fight is to grab the most aggressive dog by the hind legs and pick its rear up like you are holding a "wheel barrow". Then you back up pulling the dog with you. Since the dog is now supporting itself on two feet only, it is not likely to want to continue fighting, and it is very difficult for it to turn to try and bite you.

Then get it out of the room, behind a door, or where ever handy as fast as you can so it is separated from the other dog. If two people are present, each can grab a different dog and wheel him backwards. Please remember that there is NO 100% safe way to break up a dog fight. If you do not feel confident and are not willing to risk a bite try a different method.

The two dogs should then be kept separate for a number of minutes depending on the severity of the attack. 5 minutes is fine for a slight squabble. Longer will of course be needed for a fight to the death. Reintroduce the dogs together immediately after the time out. You have to know your dogs. It is better to leash the dogs, although there is actually a better chance of them making up if they are off leash.

When you reintroduce them, continuously feed treats to both simultaneously, one every few seconds. Do not encourage them to get too close, but allow them to if they want to on their own. Then separate them for a while after just a minute. Repeat this a number of times during the day, each time keeping them together a little longer. End on a happy note, let the dogs think you are not at all worried, but secretly keep an eye on them.

Whenever the two dogs are with each other during the day and are getting on ok, give them treats and reward them for not fighting one another. This will encourage them to be happy together also.

I am not going to candy coat this. Interdog aggression within a household can be very dangerous and tricky to correct. Of utmost importance is your and your family's safety. Do not get involved in trying to break up a fight if you believe you may get bitten and follow the advice given above for safe methods.

This problem will take time to solve and a lot of patience. Your aim is to get the two dogs to behave, accept there position as friends and also as subordinates. Be patient and if you get lost just use common sense and think what would be best now, and later.

Remember rehoming one dog may be an option in the future but we will do our best to avoid this. Print this off so it is easy to follow and keep in contact so i can help you week to week

Good Luck.

Posted by Lee
Apr 9, 2008
Wow. Thank you so much for your detailed and caring response. I will try everything I can to make this work. It may take a little while, but I hope I'm more stubborn than the dogs! Thanks again.