Shaker Can, Dominance and Being the Boss

Frenchies Mac and Mabel fight.

The lady has unfortunately been following outdated and harmful advice. A shaker can was in each room of the house.

This always seems so sad to me. Someone who loves her dogs dearly and is both distressed and frightened by their fighting seeks help, and is given outdated advice.

Every shaker can now gone.

Shaker can used to stop fighting

Mac

Scaring the dog with a shaker can with coins in it or pinning him down is never the answer.

Rattling a shaker can in the dogs’ faces to scare them doesn’t address the problem at all. It may immediately interrupt them, but it does nothing to deal with the cause.

A shaker can will only increase arousal, anger or stress – the cause of the fighting in the first place. We need instead to deal with the problem at source.

The first thing the lady very happily did was to go round her house and remove the cans.

Barking up the wrong tree.

The advice given has caused the lady to ‘bark up the wrong tree’ so to speak. How modern dog training and behaviour has got to where it is today by the great Ian Dunbar.

Assuming the problem is about dominance, only solvable by trying to force the two dogs into some sort of hierarchy with the human at the top, is a very common way of making things worse. It can mean favouring one dog over the other to give it ‘top dog’ position just because she’s the older and was there first, even if that’s not always her natural place.

I believe the aggression probably started with Mabel being able to bully Mac from a very early age. This has very likely programmed him to be a bully himself – with her. He cracked at about six months old and turned on her.

How can further bullying by the humans by way of shaker can or pinning down not make things worse?

Punishment.

A problem with the dominance method is that we then use punishment.  Shaker cans are ‘positive punishment’. Punishment doesn’t tell the dog what it should do. It causes frustration. Punishment can scare the dog which is bad for our relationship. Punishment causes bewilderment and frustration. It may even cause the dog to shut down. Punishment will always add to stress levels.

Mabel

I could go on and on.

Mac and Mabel fortunately are resilient by nature but without doubt it will have escalated their aggression problems and general arousal levels.

We will deal with this matter at source now – by reducing arousal levels. Let’s now remove all pressure possible. We discussed all the areas they can do this, including on walks.

Very important is to prevent any further rehearsal of behaviour that can lead to a fight. There are immediate triggers – mainly food or quarrelling over an item. On each occasion, however, the dogs were already excited or aroused by either some sort of change or by the presence of other people.

Management.

Management is key. The lady will now gate the kitchen.

She will be able to predict and prevent danger situations. Behind the gate isn’t ‘time-out’ in terms of punishment. It will be to give one dog, now over-aroused, a break with something to do or to chew that can help him, or her, to calm down. It will probably be the younger Mac, the more excitable of the two.

They can’t have chew items when together for fear of fighting. Separated by the gate they will be able to get rid of some of their frustration and arousal on a bone, a chew, some foraging or a toy. Their lives can be given more enrichment.

There have only been a couple of really major fights so far. If the lady uses the gate and splits them a lot sooner there should be no more. She knows the triggers. She knows the things that get them particularly wound up.

A shaker can? No! She will step in sooner to control play. She can call one dog away. She could stand over them or walk between them as a third dog might to split them. If left a bit too long, she can break their eye contact by shoving something between them – a cushion perhaps.

Keeping calm, she then will separate them, putting one each side of the gate with something else to do.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Mac and Mabel. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

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