Please Help - What can I do?

Posted by lschneider
Jun 25, 2008
Hi everyone,

I have 2 dogs - a cocker spaniel and a springer spaniel. Both males, both neutered. The springer is 10 years old, the cocker is 8.

They've had a number of fights and my cocker probably starts the fights most of the time - but not always. Sometimes these fights just start out of the blue. I have seen my springer jump on my cocker ready to fight, just because my cocker is coughing. Of course, the cocker is the one the gets hurt every time because the springer is bigger and weighs over 30 pounds more than my cocker. FYI - They can go without fighting sometimes for almost a year.

The cocker has been to the vet many times with bite wounds. Well, less than 2 weeks ago a fight began - my cocker started it. The springer took out my cockers eye and it had to be removed. I'm devestated. We are keeping the dogs separated - my cocker is always growling at my springer. I can't say I blame him at this point, but it's making things tough. I know I should get rid of one of the dogs - it's so hard. I love them both - though I'm a little mad at the springer. My family is close to the springer - (he's a very loving, sweet dog) and give him all their attention -- so needless to say - I try to give my cocker attention. My family says " who's going to want a 10 year old springer spaniel that's 22 pound over weight? They'll just put him to sleep." And after all my cocker (likes people, but kind of stays to himself) has been through - how can I give him up?

My cocker is healing and should get his stitches out any day, but I can't get over this. I am a nervous wreak and just sick about this situation.

Is there anything I can do?
Posted by Todd
Jul 15, 2008
Hi there and thanks for the post, sorry for the delay in replying.

I am sorry to here there is a bit of friction in the house. Interdog aggression is a very serious issue and i am so glad you have asked for help.
Often in a house as one dog gets older the order of the dogs can get a bit frayed and one dog may get aggressive.

I think the first place to start is to get the springer checked over by the vet. There is a condition in older dogs called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. This can cause changes in behaviour like you have been seeing.

Not only is it good to make sure this isn't a problem but also to rule out other issues.

In the mean time i would encourage you to keep the two dogs separated until we can have them getting along. Is there anyway we can keep the two dogs at different ends of the house or at least in different rooms.

A muzzle is also a very good idea both for you, your families and the dog's safety. Use it whenever the dog's are around each other until you can trust them.

The other thing that will be very helpful is to get another person who may be able to handle one of the dogs while you handle the others so you can relax about having them around each other.

Now to how we are going to deal with this issue in particular.

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.

You should reprimand your dogs for unacceptable behavior, no matter what that behavior is. If you do not reprimand your dogs poor behavior then they 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 (either one) 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.

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. 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. During the training the cocker will have to be muzzled to stop any problems 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 (to avoid the springer getting attacked), 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.
Posted by Todd
Jul 15, 2008

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.

he 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.

Good luck, this will take a great deal of time and effort. The cocker may require medication for a while to take the edge of or you can try DAP which you can get from your vet.

PLease let me know if i can help anymore and don't give up on either dog as i am sure you will make some progress.