As I stated in the previous blog post, the dominance model does very little in really helping us understand dog social stratification. More importantly, it does not help us in keeping harmony in the home within our dog population or resolve problems when they arise.
Instead, consider the following suggestions to keep the peace at home and resolve conflicts between your dogs should these arise. Keep in mind that dogs, like any other highly social species, will have some level of conflict at a given time. The goal is to learn how to manage the dogs so that conflict is mostly absent from their relationship and if it arises you can swiftly resolve them.
1. Learn about dog body language so that you can differentiate between affiliative (friendly) behaviors and threats. This website has tons of good information: www.ispeakdog.org
2. Think of your dogs as “dependents” that need some direction when it comes to following household rules. As the adult in the room, your job is to make sure your dogs understand the rules of the household. For this to happen you need consistency in implementing the rules and consequences for not following them.
By consequence I never recommend you use any form of intimidation of force with your dog.
A very crafty way of applying a consequence is to REMOVE whatever your dog wanted in the first place and which resulted in not following the now learned household rules. For example: You do not want your dogs rushing out the front door, you have taught a solid wait (do not move forward) behavior, one of your dog tries to muscle its way out, if you are positioned between the dog and the front door you can body-block the exit thus preventing your dog from rushing out. You have defacto removed the opportunity to rush out the front door.
NOTE: If your dog is guarding any object from you, the above recommendation of removing the coveted object does not stand. You can, however; find one of my earlier post that speaks directly to how to handle this situation.
3. Treat your dogs equally while considering that they are individuals. In other words, do not play favorites or assume one is the “alpha” and as such deserves preferential treatment. Nothing can disrupt good dog relations than thinking that the “alpha” needs to be given preferential treatment.
4. Control valuable resources: Watch closely and see if your dogs compete for food when eating a meal or if one of them is intimidating the other in order to get their food. If there is any tension around meal times, feed your dogs separately. It is okay for dogs to explore an empty food bowl, but not to do so while the other dog is still eating its meal since your dog might tolerate this behavior now but not necessarily later and now you have a reason for their fights. The same goes for chewies and toys. When offering a chewy segregate the dogs to different areas of the home or crate them if they have been crate trained. Remove any leftovers as to avoid a threat in the hopes of accessing the item.
It is important to clarify that a dog’s interest in another dog’s goods is normal dog behavior. Still it should be managed to make sure dogs learn to keep their paws off items that are not theirs. You can help your pups by managing closely and re-direct as needed.
4. Ideally your dogs are really good friends (even though good friends also have issue here and there, right?). Your goal is to help your dog’s friendship grow. If it does, your life and theirs will be less stressful. If your dogs are not BFFs- they do not play with each other, “hang out” together – in essence they do not enjoy each other’s company you must be extra vigilant that one of them is not intimidating the other.
Intimidation or bullying is best described as the bully trying to control the other dog’s movement, being extra forceful to get your attention or any other good. The bully’s target will probably not want to make things worse so it will sling away when in the presence of the bully, avoid him or her at all costs.
In my view, this is a situation that needs to be remedied ASAP. It will NOT improve because we think, “they will work it out”. They won’t! At some point this dynamic can change and as a result your dogs are fighting. This is where you need to step in and be the adult in the room.
How to then to “discipline” this kind of behavior? First off, nip it in the bud. Make sure that the one that aggressing understands that you are not happy with this behavior and that there will be consequences. The best consequence for dealing with bullying is to isolate the infractor away from the family fun for a few minutes. This might require having the dog drag a line so that it is easier to retrieve him/her that way instead of dragging the dog by the collar. Your dog should ONLY drag a line when being supervised. In addition, if one of the dogs is a bully, I strongly suggest dogs be separated at all times with the exception of when someone watching them.
At this point it is important to “repair” their relationship in hopes that all dogs learn not to be pushy when they want something. The easiest way to ensure your dogs are good buddies is to first prevent them from being rude to each other (excessive displays of aggression or some of the typical bullying behaviors described above). Friendships are formed when dogs get to do fun stuff together.
One of the most difficult cases I get to work on are those where dogs that lived together are fighting. It is impossible to give really good advice via a blog post once things have gone south. The best course of action if you are in this situation is to work with someone who really understands dog ethology and is versed in reward-based training. Remember that aggression begets aggression- just don’t go there or let anyone tell you that you need to dominate your dog(s) in order to set them straight. You do not. This fallacy is not based on what we know about dog’s social interactions and structure. It is at best a very watered down distortion.