Fighting Brother and Sister. Older Dogs

It’s a sad situation.

Fighting with his sister

Hugo

The Irish Terrier brother and sister, now ten years old, have had the occasional spat in the past.

Lottie was always the most confident one. Hugo is more fearful and has been very reliant upon Lottie. He loves his walks, but won’t go without her. It sounds like Lottie has controlled Hugo for years, but now the roles have reversed.

Lottie’s pre-existing heart problem has developed into full-blown heart disease. The fighting has escalated. Probably the two things are connected.

Hugo attacks her.

Their humans desperately need to be able to relax, knowing that there will be no fighting while their backs are turned.

Questions unearthed a pattern that fits most of the incidents.

It seems that it’s access to an area that Hugo controls from Lottie. He places himself where he can see the most important places at the same time – the kitchen doorway access to the sitting room, the pantry door where the dog food is kept, his own eating area and where he can see the lady working in the kitchen. One of his humans is always nearby.

Lottie will be across the kitchen in her favourite place lying by the open back door.

I went to where Hugo chooses to lie and lowered myself so I could see what he sees. He and Lottie could be staring at each other unnoticed – through the table legs.

I wonder what subtle messages pass from Lottie to Hugo? It’s just possible that she’s not a totally innocent party. Possibly she is still pulling his strings and he gets all the flack.

Anyway, what usually happens is that Lottie gets up and starts to walk towards Hugo (and the lady and the sitting room door and the pantry and his food station).

Hugo flies at her.

Lottie retaliates but due to her weakness comes off the worst.

Fighting is becoming more frequent.

The human response isn’t achieving a halt to the fighting. It’s getting worse. They throw water at the dogs which usually gives them a chance to forcibly pull them apart. Like most people would, they then add shouting and scolding.

I suggest they resist their instinctive reaction to shout unless that’s needed to break the dogs up as it simply adds fuel to the fire. From the dogs’ perspective they are probably joining in with yet more anger and noise. The people should be as calm and quiet as they can be. Separate the dogs with as little fuss as possible and ignore them for a while. Afterwards behave like nothing has happened – most dogs do, after all.

Often siblings who have always lived together rely upon one another; and the owners rely upon their dogs having each other for company.

I feel that Hugo now needs to be more focussed on his humans (and not just for attention under his own terms). For this there is no better way than to constantly reinforce, pay, the dog with food for everything he’s asked to do. They need to be able to instantly get his attention if necessary.

Almost immediately I found an unresponsive Hugo running to me when he realised I had food for him. This then puts the dog on remote control. His focus will be on them – not on Lottie.

Due to the fighting, the couple have been reluctant to use food. However, no fights have actually happened around treats or food when not a valuable resource like a bone. They will be careful.

What to do?

If they sense or see stillness or eyeballing, or if they simply feel uneasy, they will call that dog – Hugo probably. They will reward him. If Lottie comes too, they can feed her also. They can tell them both that they are good dogs. Remain upbeat. This works a whole lot better than any ‘Uh-Uh’, warning or scolding.

Motivating Hugo to focus on themselves rather than on Lottie, by using food, will be the best antidote.

So the couple can feel secure that no fighting can happen, management must be in place. Hugo’s ‘guarding’ area should be blocked, perhaps with a dining chair. The dogs can be separated by the closed gate at times – but not always on the same side. We don’t want Hugo’s ‘space guarding’ to take over one of the rooms.

Hugo can be weaned into liking a muzzle.

Then everyone can relax, knowing that poor Lottie is safe. No more living on tenterhooks and human tension being transferred to the dogs.

Being relaxed and calm may even extend Lottie’s life.

 

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 Hugo and Lottie and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. As can advice advocating punishment, as seen here. 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)

Bangers and Mash, Daschunds

Miniature daschund having his tummy tickled

Mash

Yesterday evening I went to visit Bangers and Mash (don’t you love it!), brother Miniature Dachshunds age 15 months.

Mash on the left having his tummy tickled (not by me – I never got that close) is the more nervous and noisy one of the pair and despite being considerably smaller than Bangers, he controls him. He prevents him walking where he wants to go with just a stare. He will walk the long way around to avoid a doorway Mash is occupying. Mash bullies Bangers and takes all toys off him to hoard for himself.They play beautifully but occasionally, when particularly stressed by something, they have a full blown fight, with a lot of noise, sounding and looking vicious but fortunately no damage has yet been done.

Bangers is the larger of the two miniature daschunds

Bangers

The other things that cause concern is how they behave when people come to the house, and when they go out on walks. Mash instigates. When people come to the door, the two barking dogs are blocking the doorway making it hard to open, Mash almost goes for ankles in his frenzy, and sometimes they redirect their frustrations and excitement onto one another. When they seem settled they may fire up again if the person walks about.

On walks they lunge and may go hysterical when approaching people and dogs, and again may redirect onto one another if walked together.

I suspect if these little dogs had their time again, and if from the start the humans had done things differently, things would not be like this. I am convinced that in the first crucial eleven weeks when they were still with the breeder, they will not have experienced sufficient handling, different people and environments, other dogs and so on. Their owners, not knowing the importance of early varied and positive experiences, sheltered them further during the next really important weeks, with a lovely large garden to play in. Then, to ‘socialisie’ them they went to puppy classes with Bangers going ballistic at other dogs and Mash shut down and shaking. They persisted in the common belief that it would break down their fears. In my experience it does the very opposite. So this is where we are at.

Reinforcing only calm behaviour with attention, rather than reacting to noisy or anxious behaviour, is the way to start. They have plenty of visitors to practise on, so if this is handled right, over time, the dogs should become more chilled. The same goes for encountering people or dogs on walks. Pressing ahead and forcing them into situations is the same sort of thing as the puppy classes. If this sort of thing worked, then it would have done so by now. So, things need to be done completely differently. In time the two little brothers will be walked together again, nicely, not particularly reacting to other dogs and, being in a calmer state, not needing to redirect anything onto one another.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.
 

Owner Control Versus Self-Control

Ben, a magnificent Northern Inuit age 15 monthsThis is Ben, a magnificent Northern Inuit age 15 months. He lives with another Inuit and two elderly black Labradors.

Ben is a typical adolescent and he is pushing boundaries. Like a teenager, he sometimes resists being told what to do – especially by the lady. There is some conflict in the way the dogs are ‘brought up’. The male owner is a strict disciplinarian and his rules are obeyed. The lady is softer.

It was a treat to be in the house with such well-mannered dogs. They are very well trained where commands are concerned, I would say possibly somewhat over-regulated. They have to jump through what I consider are unnecessary hoops before they get their food, for instance. A dog given too many commands doesn’t have a chance to work out for himself what he should be doing. There may be too much reliance upon the owners controlling the dogs,  and not the dogs controlling themselves.

A difficulty with this is that the dog learns to respect the firm disciplinarian at the expense of the weaker person, so when she the tries to control the adolescent Ben he revolts. And then what can she do?

I was called out because Ben had freaked out a training class with the lady. He was obviously severely stressed already by various things happening in the class and decided that he wasn’t going to do what she wanted. He jumped at her quite aggressively and grabbed her arms, bruising her. She was devastated and in tears. The trainer resorted to putting a choke chain on him. The reason for his going to class in the first place was to socialise him with other dogs, but being told ‘Leave It’  harshly whenever he went to sniff another dog will not have been helping him to learn natural, calm ways of encountering other dogs.

I suggested they abandon the class altogether. It is simply too stressful and counterproductive, and is damaging Ben’s relationship with the lady. He knows all the commands he could ever need. I don’t say this of all classes but they need to be chosen carefully, and any advocating choke chains (pain) I would run a mile from.

The gentleman could quite happily carry on with the dogs as he is, but not the lady, so they will both need to do things a bit differently so that the dogs don’t get mixed messages. They need the chance to learn self-control.

Ben can learn to approach other dogs without fear or aggression if given time and support to work it out for himself, rather than being shouted at – ‘No’ and ‘Leave It’, forced into situations for which he’s not ready, or distracted with treats which teaches him nothing. Rewarding him with treats for being calm when looking at another dog is a different matter.

Training is one thing; in many ways Leadership is another. To behave like a ‘dog’ leader doesn’t require commands. Dogs don’t talk, after all.

Five weeks after my visit, this email: “Last night there were no dogs around so I let him off for a while. Then out of the woods comes a White Labrador and Ben races over to him. Oh god I think here we go especially when i realised it was a male showing dominance but no they greeted each other nicely, no growling, no noise, no squaring up……..They played!!!! They played really nicely… Ben didnt even react when the lab tried to hump his head. I can’t tell you what joy that gave me. I know we’ve got a long way to go but it was wonderful to see him let down his guard and be a young dog for a while. I recognise that it will probably take months to get Ben to the point I want him to be at; I would like to be able to walk down the road and pass a dog on the other side without incident – that will be a major milestone for me. It’ll be a while yet but we feel we’re on the right path”.
We’re both using the whistle and cheese which works brilliantly. Yesterday I couldn’t see him, looking round I realised it was because he was walking with his nose right at the back of my knee – that made me happy. I’m certainly more confident and I’m discovering more about Ben’s triggers.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.