Are hormones to blame?
For nearly a year the two dogs had been the best of friends. They had their first spat around the first time when both had come into season but everything settled down again.
The family adopted Tibetan Terrier Dylis about a year ago to join Sybil, a Goldendoodle, age 4. Over the past six weeks the two dogs have become increasingly aggressive towards one another with the younger Dylis the instigator. Around the same time Sybil had another season but it’s unclear whether Dylis did also. Very possibly her hormones are troubling her.
The fights haven’t resulted in injury – yet.
No longer happy dogs
Neither dog is the happy dog she used to be. Dylis now obsessively keeps an eye the larger Sybil, on where Sybil is and what she is doing.
This compulsion to control Sybil isn’t a happy state of mind for her to be in. Sybil isn’t happy either. Though driven to retaliate, she would much prefer peace.
She gets extremely distressed when Dylis is still in battle mode after they have been parted and won’t give up. It’s a bit like a human who has had a row and simply won’t let things rest. She will then face the wall and simply bark at nothing in what they describe as a ‘distraught’ fashion.
Are hormones to blame?
Why the fighting actually started can only be guesswork but it very likely originated at what was apparently the younger Dylis’ first season, when both dogs’ seasons coincided, and hormones.
It’s quite common for a younger dog, as she matures, to challenge the older one – particularly when they are both of the same sex. To quote Stanley Coren, ‘If we look at the overall characteristics of the dogs involved, we find that the instigator of the aggression is usually the dog that has been most recently brought into the household (70 percent).’.
We unpicked some of the incidents. Arousal levels are undoubtedly a large part of the catalyst for things erupting, as is the presence of humans.
The more calm, quiet, slow and boring that people are around the dogs for now, the better. Activities should use the dogs’ noses and brains, not raise their arousal levels. Interestingly, the dogs are always fine in the mornings after a peaceful night and when people are leaving them alone.
The presence of humans and the dogs’ arousal levels go together. Hands-on exciting play is great fun for the dogs, but this excited fun has fallout later.
Sybil’s body language
The fights mostly occur around where a person is sitting with one of the dogs. I saw it happen.
Sybil’s body-language is the first sign of trouble. She can read Dylis much better than we can. The moment she looks away from Dylis, we know that Dylis is sending out vibes and Sybil is avoiding trouble.
Now is the time to act and step in before it escalates, removing Dylis and doing something else with her. They now have a gate so they can separate the dogs quickly.
We looked at ways of pre-empting trouble and of ways to react if something kicks off, what to do immediately afterwards along with ways of reuniting them after having been separated.
Dylis controls doorways
Dylis likes to control territory and rooms from Sybil to the extent that the larger dog won’t enter at all.
At bedtime, if Dylis is in bed first, Sybil won’t enter the room and sleeps alone on the landing. When the two dogs have been for a walk or out in the garden, Dylis runs indoors first and intimidates Sybil.
The family will now arrange it so Sybil enters a room ahead of Dylis, by either calling Dylis or gently holding her back. They will take Sybil up to bed first so she’s already there when Dylis arrives.
Though hormones may well be at the bottom of Dylis’ behaviour in particular, the whole thing is increasingly becoming a habit – a learned behaviour. As soon as anything stresses Dylis in any way she now defaults onto controlling Sybil. There are times Sybil herself will now start it.
What function does Dylis’ behaviour fulfil?
Dylis must be getting some sort of reinforcement, relief or satisfaction out of the behaviour else she wouldn’t do it. Every behaviour has a function of some sort.
It’s like something is constantly bugging her that needs relief and it could well be related to hormones – a kind of doggy pmt perhaps. Whether or not this is the case, we will be working on the relationship between the two dogs.
Overall I feel things are by no means extreme – yet. There has been no damage done and a proper fight would have resulted in both dogs being injured. Dylis is making her point: ‘I control you; I control where you go, where you sleep and who you sit with’.
Sybil is being subtly intimidated. Then that moment comes when she turns.
To spay or not to spay
We will now work hard in every way possible for these two lovely dogs to become good friends again.
Whatever the decision we make about spaying, behaviour work is now key. The photo above was taken just a couple of days after my visit, proving behaviour work is a large part of the solution.
I am investigating the views of other professionals as to whether spaying one or both dogs would be a good idea in this particular case but deliberately won’t advise here. Each case must be taken on its own merits and they must discuss with their vet. The decision taken for Sybil and Dylis may well not be the right one for another pair of entire females.
Then they had just Sybil spayed and things went dramatically downhill. We decided that they needed a level playing field and had Dylis spayed also.