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Canine Library: General

Two Dogs and a Bone of Contention

Dogs may attack each other out of frustration.

Two dogs may attack each other when, and probably because, they cannot get at the true object of their intended attack. Most behaviorists seem to agree that the behavior is an outburst of sheer frustration. Generally, the sound is a lot worse than the fury. It's a noisy way to call the other dog's bluff in a no-win situation, rather than being a true dog fight.

You can compare the scenario to behavior seen in young children: "I saw it first." "No, you didn't." "Yes, I did. . ." which escalates in tempo and volume, but for the most part is nonviolent. In many other ways our dogs remain at about that level of child development.

This behavior demonstrates one of the differences between domesticated dogs and wild dogs. Wild species respect the hierarchy of the group, with the lower ranking dog submitting to the No. 1 animal, or leader of the pack. Which is not to say for a moment that no two wild dogs ever fight, because, of course, they do. But their fights would be over major challenges such as food or breeding rank, not who saw the mailman first or who is first through the door.

Knowing that this situation is not a true dog fight doesn't get you off the hook. The control is in your hands, and you must be forceful enough to make both dogs accept you as their leader. Use the tools of basic obedience training. You can prevent the ruckus if you see it coming, or stop it, by putting the two dogs in a sit-stay, backs to the window and so close together that they are touching. Stand tall over them with an angty scowl on your face for several minutes after they've assumed the position. This will reinforce the cease fire.

If you aren't in time to prevent an encounter as soon as barking begins, distract your dogs. Distractions range from slapping a magazine against the wall to sending an empty soda can with a few pebbles in it crashing onto the floor between or behind the dogs as you shout "No!" Or you might want to use one of the battery-operated noisemakers available in pet stores or through pet-supply catalogs.

Use the minimum distraction that works on your dogs. If you react with excessive force or shouting, you run the risk of increasing aggressive behavior--which is the very thing you want to avoid. As soon as the dogs stop, or when you can safely interfere, put them on the side-by-side sit-stay.

They are not suddenly going to become angels of compliance, so you will no doubt need to physically (by their collars) put them in a sit. So you won't encounter teeth in the process, the dogs' frenzy must be stopped if only for a couple of seconds. Standing over them not only enforces this time-out discipline but clearly makes you the "pack leader" in the dogs' eyes. End it with an "OK" and nothing more. Dogs learn a lot from being ignored.

When behavior goes beyond noise and posturing to true aggressive fighting (maybe with veterinary bills to prove it), seek professional help immediately. One dog fight is one too many. This is not the time to sign up for obedience, look for help in a book, ask a friend or get advice on the phone. You need a qualified person to come into your home to work with the dogs and you in the setting where the altercations took place. Look in your local phone book to find a trainer or behaviorist.

Dog bites are serious and can be costly. If you fear your dogs, you are no longer in control, and no one knows it better, or quicker, than a dog!

Author(s): McLennan, Bardi
Publication: Dog Fancy
Issue Date: March 1993

Canine Library: General