Boris, Betsy and Buster

All three Boxers have a wonderful life, with lots of freedom and lots of love. They have old boy Buster, 11 and entire. There is Boris aged 2 and they have six-year-old Betsy – in the middle. they had Boris castrated a month ago. (I didn’t take the photo as Boris never sat still enough while I was there).

The problems between the two boys have been growing over the past two years. Boris goes for Buster. Nearly always this is in times of arousal or excitement.

The most recent attack seemed to come out of nowhere. Both dogs were standing together looking out of the window into the garden. Something very small must have triggered it – maybe a bird outside or a nearby toy.

Boris attacked Buster.

He was quickly pulled off but poor old Buster promptly had a fit and peed all over the floor.

On their toes

When one dog goes for another, seemingly without direct cause or warning, it’s hard to know what to do. This isn’t a daily event, but now they have to be on their toes constantly in case Boris goes for Buster again.

Now, since the last attack, they are separating the dogs when they can’t keep an eye on them. The utility room is divided by a gate.

When I arrived I sat in the kitchen with the large family – three generations. The grandparents live next door.

We first of all let older Buster into the kitchen to join us along with Betsy. When these two had calmed down we let Boris in too. Everything was fine. Only once, near the end, was their a slight freezing between the two dogs who were together in a small space. I immediately called Boris to me in an upbeat voice and rewarded him for coming.


one dog goes for the other

Boris and Buster in small space

Although I know that Buster may not be totally innocent, the main instigator of the conflict is the young Boris. I would say that as he’s matured and Buster has grown more senile, he’s flexing his muscles. Castration a month ago hasn’t yet made any difference – things are worse in fact.

A key element is arousal. I am certain that Boris’ ‘stress bucket’ is permanently topped up and in this state of mind he will suddenly explode, triggered by the smallest thing. Then he goes for Buster.

While I was there he was very excitable. He constantly jumped up at everyone, particularly me. They sometimes push him off – and at others play and make a fuss of him with his feet on them. Confusing for a dog.

Boris generally lacks self-control. They say one prolonged fit as a puppy may have left him brain damaged, but I think not. They haven’t actually engaged his brain. Brain work, nose work and working for food will help lower his stress levels while some basic training will teach self-control. Clicker work will teach him the behaviour’s that they do want which will avoid frustration.

Clicking for ‘Yes’

Clicker is very good for this – or the word ‘Yes’ if clicker not in your hand.

The young son became adept at clicking Boris for getting back down from jumping up and later for resisting jumping up altogether. Before I left I managed to get the dog to exercise self-control. Instead of jumping up, he sat in front of me for the attention he wanted – without my having to ask him.

So far as the actual fights are concerned, their priority is to prevent them occurring ever again. Each incident makes another more likely. They will put as much management in place as they can, such as having the dogs in the grandparents’ house on bin day or when the hairdresser comes – both of which have triggered fights in the past. They will frost certain windows.

Before Boris goes for Buster

Already they are wise to the early signs so will step in very quickly at first ‘eyeball’. ‘Whale-eye’ is another to look out for where the dog freezes and looks sideways, showing the whites of his eyes. Immediately they will call Boris to them and away from Buster (who is deaf so can’t be called). They will sound up-beat and reward him for coming. If they have left it a little too late, before Boris goes for Buster they will block the dogs’ view of one another.

It’s general build up of arousal, stress levels until their ‘stress bucket’ is nearly overflowing, that is the background to it all. Then one little thing is enough to trigger Boris and he goes for Buster. They will therefore concentrate on lowering excitement, arousal and stress.

A better diet, I believe, is key also. Improving the quality of the food and dropping all those E numbers alone could alone make a difference.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete report. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help