I go to few fights between a male and a female.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier Minnie is now seven. Since they got her as a puppy she’s always been anxious, easily scared and a bit needy.
Staffie Tom then joined them. Another puppy. He is a year old and about twice her size now.
All started off very well. I suspect the two dogs have been allowed to play too roughly, particularly in Tom’s formative earlier months. He will have learnt bad habits. He’s not gentle with his mouth even with humans.
Then, five months ago and (seemingly) for no reason, there was a big fight. The lady was asking both dogs to sit for a treat as she often did. Tom suddenly went for Minnie. She retaliated. This resulted in the predictable screaming. The son in his late teens rushed in and separated them.
Then all was well until a couple of weeks ago when things have gone rapidly downhill.
Three fights in the last two weeks.
There have now been four serious fights with the young man having been bitten when separating the dogs. Two of the fights have been at the door when one dog was coming in from a walk. It’s Tom who goes for Minnie. She is a lot smaller than he is and last time he shook her like a rag doll.
The final fight, since when the dogs have been kept strictly apart, was just a few days ago.
When I arrived I had the lady bring Minnie in on lead first. If Tom is already in the room she, the timid one, wouldn’t want to enter. She sat the other end of the room and we talked until she relaxed.
Then the son brought Tom in, sitting by the door, the other end of the room – I was in the middle.
Minnie was obviously extremely uneasy with lip-licking, fidgeting, staring away from Tom.
Tom himself wasn’t happy either. He was mostly angled away from Minnie and the lady. He panted. Then he looked at Minnie and for one moment their eyes met and I quickly and causally walked between them. It’s important to break any eyeballing.
Tom was then taken back out. They now have a series of gates and keep the dogs strictly apart. We swapped dogs a bit later.
It was hard to see just what was going, but one thing stood out, so that is the place we can start. It’s Minnie’s mental state.
A downward spiral.
Already a bit unstable, the more uneasy, anxious, aroused or scared she is, the more it seems to affect Tom. With each of the fights she gets even more nervous and defensive. She is now off her food. It’s a vicious circle because therefore Tom gets worse too. I’m pretty sure if she were chilled, Tom wouldn’t be going for her. When attacked, though, there is no backing down. She immediately fights back.
I am pretty sure that Minnie’s instability is largely genetic.That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot they can do to help her cope better and fill her life and brain with some stuff that helps her. Being cuddled, fed and walked isn’t enough for many dogs.
Helping Minnie will help Tom.
The other aspect to this is Tom’s own excitability and lack of self-control. The key word here is self control. Not being controlled by the son. He needs mental stimulation and something to work for.
While I was there the young man already started working Tom’s jumping up using clicker to show him the desired behaviour; cutting out scolding and commands. The boy was a natural and really got the hang of it and in no time Tom was calm and focussed.
The kind of walks Tom is given need to change. At the moment he pulls like mad which results in constant correction. How frustrating that must be. He will have more freedom on a loose leash so he can do his own thing. It’s no problem if he is ahead so long as he doesn’t pull. More relaxed walks should be a lot better for his state of mind also.
With both dogs in a more fulfilled state of mind, making progress with the fights is more likely. They should have better things to focus on. Why do dogs need enrichment?
While work is being done on these two aspects, the actual reintroducing the dogs together must be done very slowly and gradually. It’s really important they get no further opportunity for fights. Each time it makes the next fight more likely and worse in intensity.
Frequent short sessions.
Keeping the dogs from seeing each other entirely could make any eventual reintroduction more tricky. I believe the way forward is frequent very short sessions where they are in the same room on leads but can’t actually get to each other. It should only be when everything is calm and carefully stage-managed.
These sessions will be carefully monitored and both dogs’ body language carefully watched while the humans work on being relaxed. They can use standing between the dogs or even a cushion to block view if there is any staring. They can call one of them to get attention away from the other, but no scolding.
Each session will be terminated at the first sign of any unease, before any growling or eyeballing if possible, with the dog nearest to the door being removed.
They will need to do the rigmarole of one dog upstairs and the other in sitting room and taking them outside separately for the foreseeable future. Tom will also be checked over by the vet – Minnie was recently when she was injured.
I will go again in two or three weeks and take a fresh look at things from what should then be a slightly different situation. Things may be a bit clearer. Hopefully Minnie will be a little more confident again. We can then see what to do next.
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 Tom and Minnie. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. 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 much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where any form of 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).