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Dog Tip: Aggression Between Dogs in the Same Household

By Robin Tierney

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The following article contains notes from Larry Lachman's book, Dogs on the Couch:

When it comes to fighting between dogs in the same household, there are four common characteristics:

* Dogs are of the same sex.
* Dogs fight only in the owner's presence.
* Dogs are adult dogs, four years or older.
* Fights involve a struggle for which one will be the dominant dog in the family pack. And in these cases, the owners frequently choose to wrong dog as the dominant dog and begin treating him as such. Or the owners attempt to treat the dogs equally and democratically.

Lachman's advice for reducing aggression between dogs in the same household:

* Grant privileges to the dominant dog. Greet, feed, pet, walk outside with dominant dog first.

* Be consistent in all roles. Maintain a clear-cut hierarchy and help the dogs feel secure in their position in the family pack.

* Discipline the less-dominant dog for horning in on the dominant dog using SSR, Lachman's approach to changing a dog's behavior. SSR stands for Startle (wait 5 minutes), Redirect and then Reward. Lachman recommends using a relatively quiet method of startling the dog, such as firmly stating "OFF!", which you can combine with a loud clap or another unpleasant, interruptive noise. If that doesn't work, he suggests a spritz of water at the dog using a spray bottle, although some trainers do not advise the spray bottle approach. Next, wait 5 minutes, then redirect the dog's attention to you. Reward the dog for redirecting his attention to you.

* Only give dogs attention when they are together. Give attention to dominant dog first.

* Do daily reconditioning exercises: one family member with one dog on one side of yard on leash (and anti-pull device if needed), and the other dog with another family member on the opposite side of the yard. Each dog does 10 sits, 10 downs and a 5-minute stay. Use positive reinforcement.

* Bring dogs closer during the sessions until after 2 to 4 weeks (still on leash) they are side by side doing their downs, sits. Any growling, lunging, aggressive squaring off or breaking stays results in a SRR reprimand.

* After success with this, add a 15-minute cooling down session following the yard exercises. Do this inside the home on the couch, with one person holding one dog at each end of the couch. Gradually bring them closer until (still on leash) they are working through their commands side by side without any provocation.

* At 6 to 8 weeks, do yard and in-home exercises off leash. Remain armed with startle devices.

* Add daily 15 to 30 minute heeling walk, with dominant dog 6 to 10 feet ahead. Discipline submissive dog if he tries to pull ahead -- cut him off, circle around and end up in sit-stay.

* Rub a towel or old shirt on dominant dog to get his scent on it, then put it where submissive dog sleeps and eats. Do the same with the other dog. This helps establish a positive association for each dog with the other dog's scent.

* Separate the dogs when you leave home. When you can't give both dogs attention, neither gets any.

* Have dogs sleep with human pack leaders each night. Dominant dog goes into room first, on leash, then tethered or crated by side of the bed (never tether a dog and leave it alone). Then do same with other dog.

* In the morning, lead the dominant dog out first.

* Separate eating areas.

* Avoid greeting, playing or petting the dogs for any length of time in tight spaces such as hallways, car entrances. These are likely hot spots where dogs begin fighting.

* If any fights break out, yell "OFF!" and blast with water or airhorn or ultrasonic device. If the dogs fail to respond, grab the more aggressive dogUs rear legs or tail and lift up, suspending the dog and removing his center of gravity while rapidly moving back. Do not reach for the head area or grab collars: youUll more than likely get bitten.

* Never have either dog on the same physical plane or level as you. That will reduce your dominant position in the pack. The dogs will respect you less and will ignore you if you command them to stop provoking each other or to stop fighting.

* Never respond to either dog's demand for attention. This is also a subtle way to reduce your authority position, thereby dangerously raising the dog's perception that his position is one of greater authority.

Temporary medication may also be required to take the edge off and give the behavior therapy time to kick in. There seems to be more success if both dogs are giving the medication. Choices include Elavil (amitriptyline) and BuSpar. However, medication alone will not work. A comprehensive behavior therapy intervention, including reconditioning, non-force obedience and human family therapy intervention -- changing the owner's mindset and behaviors -- is also needed to bring about a permanent cure. Three out of five cases treated with the methods described above work out. It will take 8 to 12 weeks of consistently implementing the program to achieve lasting results.

As with human sibling rivalry, owners must modify and change their own behaviors toward the fighting dogs. Punishment typically only serves to bring out aggression and creates new problems. Lachman recommends the use of behavior modification in combination with family systems therapy. This kind of therapy involves establishing healthy boundaries between members of the family, including the dogs, and maintaining a clear hierarchy, while at the same time fostering a sense of loyalty and belonging.

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Use those Spay/Neuter Pets Postage Stamps! The Spay/Neuter stamps, which feature a shelter dog and cat, have been very popular nationwide. May has been designated "Pledge to Use the Spay/Neuter Stamps" Month -- to help spread the message and to encourage the U.S. Postal Service to reprint the stamps. So please use them on all of your letters, bills and packages.

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Last Updated: July 26, 2014 (LET) PawSupport