Dog Fights amongst pack members

Posted by petnut2
Jan 9, 2008
We have a 10 year old Rhodesian Ridgeback mix and a 5 year old Rhodesian Ridgeback. We just adopted a 6 year old German Shepherd/Rott mix. All dogs have seemingly gotten along fine most of the time, but there have been three fights in 3 months with our oldest (male) and the new addition (female) . It is my opinion that there is a dominance issue and also the new gal has not been socialized ever. She was in a back yard and was clearly hit in her face often.

The fights are serious. My husband got knicked last night when we pulled them apart.

I can see that the new female is possessive about toys. I am not sure the best way to handle this. My older dog has been possesive about toys also, but he will let her have a toy if she tries to get it. But he is also the one who starts the fights. She just doesn't back down.

We do all the standard things, they get walked every day, they know we are the pack leaders, they are obedient dogs who don't get away with too much, but obviously something has gone wrong. How do I fix it?
Posted by Todd
Jan 9, 2008
Hi there
Thank you for your question

Inter-dog aggression of housemates is one of the most difficult problems to solve. The dogs are together all the time, so they get endless practice with the agonistic behavior and little relief from each other. You will need to retrain the dogs one at a time as well as constantly manage the environment to prevent further fighting. It can be a very daunting task as you probably well know.

Safety is the most important thing in this situation and i will explain later how to safetly break up fights. But never get in between them. Although you are the alpha you are also trying to stop them, DON'T. Think about a muzzle for any situation you are nervous or worried about.

First of all I would encourage you, and any other family members, to read the bonus book "Secrets to becoming the Alpha Dog". Although it sounds as the dogs have sorted out who is boss, it is important to make sure you establish yourself and your family as Alpha over all of your dogs, such that when they do play up they listen to your commands. This book will give you a good understanding of the hierarchical nature and behavior of your dog. Follow the tips in this book as much as possible and you should get good results within a couple of weeks. If you treat your dog as an equal it may well see it as an opportunity to challenge your position. For example, be aware that allowing your dog onto the couch, bed, etc will give it the leeway that it needs to be able to challenge your position as the alpha dog in the relationship. This behavior change may occur quite gradually, without you even noticing it, until your dog starts showing aggressive tendencies when you try to move it!

Reprimanding Method

You should reprimand your dogs for unacceptable behavior, no matter what that behavior is. If you do not reprimand your dog's 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).

Try the following techniques to reinforce your status as alpha dog

o 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 her move so that you can pass by.
o 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.
o 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. At mealtimes make sure that your dog or dogs eat after all of the humans have.
o Do not feed your dogs tidbits or let it pester you at the table. Save the morsels and tidbits for training sessions instead.
o Do not greet your dogs straightaway when you arrive home. Make it wait until you are ready and then call them to you.
o When your dog wants to go outside for a walk, make it sit and wait until you are ready to go. Note that this technique doesn't apply when house breaking.
o 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.
o It is vitally important that your dogs have good all-round obedience skills. 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.
o Do not inadvertently reinforce poor behavior from your dogs. You must be consistent in your attitude to your dog. For example, if your dog is allowed to jump on you when you are playing with it but is not allowed to jump up at any other time then how is it meant to know the difference?

From here there are a number of approaches you can take to this type of aggression. You can reinforce one dog as the dominant dog. I think it is best to reinforce the dog that is challenging as this will result in far less aggression situations. But if you consider another dog to be a better alpha you can reinforce their position, really it is what you think will be the easiest situation to deal with.
In my experience reinforcement or letting the dogs sort it out with a muzzle is not very successful. I prefer to encourage all of your dogs to get along and they will get rewarded for doing this.

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. You may want to consider separating all the dogs when you are not there, this will mean that when you are there they understand who is boss and what to do. I know this is not always easy but is a very helpful tool. I would also recommend banning the dogs from the bed as this can be a very strong aggression trigger and the last thing you want is a full blown fight on top of you.

Here is the plan:

1. Firstly muzzle one dog, 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.

[B]Stopping Dog Fights[/B]

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. Blankets can be a way to stop them from a distance but be careful whatever you do.

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.
Posted by Todd
Jan 9, 2008
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. Be sure to keep the dogs apart if you believe they will simply start fighting, and I would definitely recommend muzzling for a start when introducing any of the dogs together (depending on what dog you believe is the most aggressive.) This will help prevent any serious harm being inflicted on either of them. Having two handlers may make training easier to begin with also.

Exercise, and plenty of it, separately for each dog is very important and i am glad you are doing this. I would take the toys away until you are happy both dogs aren't aggressive. But until then no toys.

I am happy to give you more help as you go along as this is a very very serious problem.
Best of luck with your situation. I hope you make progress with your dogs. With time and patience I believe you could definitely make a breakthrough, but be sure to keep the dogs apart in the meantime until you are more comfortable you have control over them. You sound patient and caring so i am sure you will have success. Good Luck

Kind Regards
Todd Field

Sorry it was so long i had to split it up into separate posts