Stray Saint vrs Resident Alpha Chessie

Posted by ChessieSaint
Sep 29, 2011
I have 4 dogs. I found a Saint Bernard 5 months ago, who was running loose and have taken him in, had him neutered and vaccinated. Initially the alpha Chessie made it clear he was the boss and the Saint wouldn't even fight back. Sometime in the last month or two......the Saint began challenging that position. He is estimated to be about 1 1/2 years and the Chessie is a little over 2. Initially, it was low grumbles from the Saint, who got time outs for such behavior. The Saint also displayed some aggression toward the people if we wanted him to do (or not do)something against his will. He would nip, without breaking the skin, if we pulled on his collar, for example, to get out of a vehicle when he didn't want to. I thought he just needed someone to put him in his place. I've watched Ceasar and for some crazy reason, we thought my husband could "break him down," which I now understand to have likely complicated his problems.
So I spoke with a trainer and we seemed to be making some progress with the dominance issues versus the people in the house. But, 3 weeks ago, the fighting between the two dogs got incredibly worse and they went at each other with everything they had, leaving me to try to break it up, which I did inappropriately and got bit. This was significant enough to visit the ER and require 4 or so days off work with a nonfunctional arm. Neither of them was hurt enough to go to the vet, but had knicks, which we cleaned up and treated at home.
We have kept them separated since. I have tried to rehome the Saint, thinking an environment with less dogs and an experienced owner would be the best, though heartbreaking, choice. All rescues are full and some won't even consider him because he now has a documented bite.
Today, my husband decided to take the two for a walk together....try to get them to get over it. (NOt a wise decision alone) Initially, he said they did well and then all of a sudden the Saint started grumbling and the fight started. He had to separate them, which again, was extremely difficult.
I have read what I can get my hands on. I am currently reading the Secrets to Dog Training. I understand we need to further establish ourselves as the alphas and how to do so. I do not know how to proceed with these two dogs. I do not want to put the Saint down, but cannot seem to work out how to make this situation work. I will not drop him at a shelter, as that would be a death mission after a few days of extreme fear for him.
I need specific help and quick. I also fear the instability in the house's effect on the rest of the dogs. Currently the Saint is in a finished basement room with access to a fenced area away that is inaccessible to the other areas of our yard. We do put the other dogs with both the ones that fight without any significant issues; all the dogs are altered.
Any suggestions or ideas would be greatly appreciated! Thanks so much.
Posted by KOPCaroline
Oct 1, 2011
Hey there!

First off, do you have any idea how old the Saint is? Just curious, but wondering how "set in his ways" he might be (the younger the better chance of re-training!). Also, are your other dogs neutered?

I think keeping the dogs seperate is a good idea for now, but if you want them to get along and not have to rehome the Saint, controlled exposure is going to be necessary. The part of the yard that the Saint can access, is it fenced off from the rest? As in, could you let the other dogs out and they could communicate/sniff across the fence without being able to get at each other? This is a good way to start of good relations.

If you have some way of controlling both dogs, slow, calm meetings can help the situation. I imagine the situation is the new Saint trying to claim a bit of dominance in what was a settled house, and your current alpha dog is not reacting well. If you try putting the Saint with one of the other dogs first, to get him calm and happy in the presence of another dog, then swap out for your Chessie, it might help a bit. Only let them be around each other for a few minutes (10 tops to begin with) and talk to the two of them in calm tones. Once ten minutes is up, or as soon as one of them starts getting agitated (whichever is first), remove the Saint. If you want Chessie to remain alpha, you have to be sure to treat your new arrival as subordinate - remove him from the room first, feed him last, give him attention last, etc etc. It might be a good idea to get muzzles and leashes for the first bit of interactions between the two - we dont need your or them getting hurt again!

Be sure to praise both dogs HEAPS, give out treats and pats, while they are tolerating each other in these intro sessions. When you can end a session with neither getting agitated, be sure they know they've done a good job. If either works up, verbally reprimand them in a stern voice and remove the Saint, then Chessie from the room. Try to use the same room/area every time - it may even help to limit both dogs' access to the area any time except during these meetings - that helps make it a neutral area of the house - neither has control of it otherwise.

Ultimately this is a very tense situation, and even slow introductions may not work. You may find that the Saint will do better in a one dog household, which is sad, but just keep it in the back of your mind (I think it already is!). Its worth a go though.

You could also look into putting the Saint with a DAP pheromone plug in or spray some on him before interacting with Chessie. Alternatively, your vet might have anti-anxiety drugs that you could use to start getting him interacting in a calm manner.

I hope this advice makes some sort of sense. Its limited, I know, but it is harder (as I'm sure you know) because of the intensity of the fights - its obviously not just typical dogs play fighting/rough and tumbling. Please keep us updated!