Fights. New Home Living With Other Dog. Stress

An elderly family member is no longer able to look after her dog and he now has a new home. Cairn Terrier Ben has gone to live with the couple and their dog Bonnie.

Bonnie is a Labrador Cocker Spaniel mix (the Labrador next door called to visit the mother dog!). She’s small, no bigger than a Cocker. 

A couple of fights

Each dog is great individually but being together is a challenge for both. In the short while that Ben has been living with them, there have been a couple of fights and another few altercations that they have interrupted.

Six-year-old Bonnie is used to being the only dog in the household. She’s extremely well behaved and obedient. However, Ben stirs her up and as soon as there is any arousal in the air it upsets her. She growls at him.  Although Ben submits and appeases, once she goes for him he retaliates and she comes off worse.

One of the fights resulted in a hundred-pound vet bill for damage around Bonnie’s eye.

Ben’s life has changed dramatically.

Ben has a lot of habituating to daily life and getting used to things. He lived in a very quiet place with an old lady.

He is terrified of home things like the vacuum cleaner, lawn mower and hose. On walks he is scared of vehicles and bicycles.

Because of the built-up effect of stress and tension, at the moment he will be in permanent aroused state inside.

Fights when arousedIt’s his inner stressed state and fears that Bonnie is probably picking up on. This makes her reactive.

There was graphic evidence when I was there. The cat who had been keeping out of Ben’s way, got too close to Ben. She jumped up onto the kitchen side in a panic. Bonnie’s immediate reaction was of aggression towards the cat. This never normally happens as she and the cat get on very well.

Bonnie can’t cope with Ben’s arousal and this is causing the fights.

The incidents happen at predictable times when there is excitement or barking. She will hump Ben. I feel she’s attempting to relieve her own inner stress whilst trying to get some control over him.

When the humans are out of the way however the dogs relax. They sleep. When the couple goes out, they come back to drowsy dogs.

A child is coming to live with them

Another factor makes it vital that there are no more fights. They have a friend with an eight-year-old boy coming to live with them in the very near future. The child is wary of dogs.

So, we will work on the root cause of the problem that is causing the fights. Ben’s state of mind. He needs desensitising and counter-conditioning to all those fears he’s having to cope with.

The couple should, for now, completely avoid those that they can – like vacuum cleaner and hose. There is enough other stuff to deal with.

Enjoying walks is a priority, so they will work on his fear of traffic. From a distance from them that Ben’s comfortable, they will associate moving vehicles with special tasty food.

Without the deadline and concerns about the child coming, they could have relaxed and taken their time. But this puts a bit of urgency into the situation. However, it’s important they take things a step at a time and don’t rush it (a stitch in time saves nine and all that).

When should the dogs be together?

When Ben first arrived the dogs were freely together. Then there were the couple of fights.

Next the dogs were kept totally apart if not on lead.

Just before I came this had progressed back to the dogs being together – separated if there were signs of trouble. I am worried this could be too late.

In addition to helping Ben, there are the usual flash points of arousal that could result in fights. These include when someone comes to the house, if they rush out into the garden barking and if someone walks past the fence.

Resources cause fights, so no balls, toys or food should be about when the two dogs are together.

Dogs separated by a gate unless all is calm.

I prefer for now keeping the two apart at times when they can’t be sure things will be fairly calm. ‘Apart’ should be the new default with ‘together’ only at selected and safe times. Until the child and his mother have settled in anyway.

It’s vital the two dogs no longer rehearse the behaviour. Removing rehearsal will help to remove fights from their repertoire rather than the opposite.

I witnessed just how good they are with one another in the short periods when nothing was stirring them up. In many cases dogs can’t be in the same room – or even look at one another – without breaking into an attack of rage.

It’s a good sign.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. any form o aggression needs professional help. Click here for help.

Fights. Two Staffs, Young Male Fighting the Female

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.

I watched.

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).

Jealous When Other Dog is Fussed. Dog Fights.

Nellie isn’t very happy.

This is despite being treasured, along with their other two tiny dogs, Luna and Sandy.

Nellie is a two-year-old Pomeranian, the last to join their little dog family of three. Luna is a Chihuahua Pomeranian mix and Sandy a Chihuahua.


Luna is Nellie’s problem. Tiny Sandy keeps well out of it. Every time the young couple sit down Luna is on them – the lady in particular. She is cuddled and fussed. Nellie herself isn’t a dog that likes so much fuss, but she doesn’t like Luna getting it either.


I’m pretty sure it’s not that she doesn’t like Luna herself (she’s absolutely fine with her when they are shut in the kitchen; they play together). She is jealous.

Jealousy is a horrible emotion that eats into you, isn’t it. It’s like Nellie is bearing a grudge. She seems to choose to act like she’s an outcast, lying away from Luna and the young couple.

Luna for her part may be tormenting her! She is obviously ‘revelling’ in her attention, rolling on her back, eyeballing Nellie, rubbing it in (that’s my interpretation). Nellie turns her back, shutting it out.

Daily fights.

Over the past few months this has degenerated into fights, sometimes several times in one day. Damage is only prevented because these fights only happen when the dogs are with the couple and they are sitting down. Someone is always there to grab them.

Reducing overall stress levels should help greatly. At present dog to dog play with Luna goes on for far too long unchecked. Human to dog play is far too vigorous also.

Giving Nellie individual attention with things she herself likes to do will help her, things like going for a walk or hunting for food. She’s not a dog that much wants cuddles.

They will cut down on the constant fussing of Luna too. The lady is having a baby soon so Luna will have to get used to this. We have a plan for preparing Nellie in particular for baby.

Common denominators leading up to a fight.

Nellie is jealous


In analysing the fights there are certain common denominators. Fights only happen when the young lady is about, never the man alone or when the dogs are by themselves. Fights happen when the lady is sitting down (hence cuddling Luna).

I watched to see exactly what the dogs were doing – things that people hadn’t noticed. It began with some lip-licking from Luna and some displacement behaviour from Nellie – she licked herself. Someone passed the house and both dogs rushed to the window barking.

Nellie, now more unsettled walked about growling softly. She disappeared out of Luna’s view. The owners thought she was asking to go out, but no.

Nellie reappears, still growling on and off. Luna was stretching on her back. She looked at Nellie. Eyeballing and stillness. Then it exploded like the cork removed from a bottle of fizz.

The fight was immediately interrupted, not hard because Luna was already on a lap and could not leap onto the floor to get at Nellie.

After the interrupted fight.

It was about to erupt again a short while later – unfinished business. We put our plan into action.

As the fighting always involves eyeballing, I immediately put my clipboard between them, breaking eye contact. As the fighting never happens when either of them is walking about, the young man immediately got up and walked out of the room, calling Nellie who follows anyone moving about.

Where shouting may be necessary simply to interrupt them, I feel there are better ways which we discussed (not listed here because what works here may not be the best plan for other fighting dogs). Ideally they should nip it in the bud before it erupts. Better still, to help Nellie with her jealousy.

It’s like Nellie resents the ‘favourite child’ and like a jealous child this brings out the worst in her. One can see from her body language she’s not happy as she watches and licks her lips, or turns her back on them.

Practice makes perfect.

Unfortunately, the more this sort of thing is repeatedly practised, the more it becomes hardwired into the brain response, increasing the likelihood of the behaviour recurring. This is why things seldom get better by themselves but go on a downward spiral.

Our work will be like a jigsaw of bits to gradually put into place, concentrating mostly on Nellie. She will need positive associations with the baby from the beginning in order to avoid jealousy. They have two months before baby is due, so work starts now.

Some people dispute that dogs have feelings like jealousy which I find ridiculous. In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin noted that ‘everyone has seen how jealous a dog is of his master’s affection, if lavished on any other creature.’ See the Daily Telegraph article written by Sarah Knapton. To read more about dogs and jealousy, see Stanley Coren in Psychology Today.

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 Nellie and Luna because 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 as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where any forom 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).

Tension Between the Dogs

Jack Russell Bella is a very hyped up and stressed little dog


I could hear the three little dogs as I got out of my car down the road!

With the exception of a German Shepherd, I have recently been to a run of little dogs, and one thing many of them have in common is excessive barking! The problem with all this tension between dogs is that it can then lead to conflict.

Two of yesterday’s three little terriers were particularly hyped up, especially Bella (left). Not only do they bark at sounds and people arriving, they bark with excited anticipation whenever anyone moves. Car journeys are a nightmare.

I took Bella’s picture after we had worked with her for a couple of hours, keeping the atmosphere as calm as possible, moving quietly and slowly, and rewarding her when she stopped pawing and scratching for attention. She became calm, undemanding and happy. It’s like at last she had a clue what was required of her.

The barking understandably drives the two ladies with whom they live to distraction. There is quite a lot of shouting! The more worked up the humans become, the more worked up the dogs get too. It’s a vicious circle.

Attempts at some ‘firm’ discipline have led Bella to showing her teeth and she has in fact bitten one of the ladies. A confrontational approach can so often end with the dog standing up for itself. Fights can break out Between Bella and one of the other dogs

In the stress-charged atmosphere, Bella and one of the others may break into a fight. Bella can become fixated with her tail, then spins, growls and chews it. She may chew at her feet.

It was wonderful to see the little dog calm down and to demonstrate to the ladies what is possible if positive methods are used. There are kind methods of stopping a dog barking at the gate, of breaking up potential trouble between dogs and of getting a dog off the sofa. These methods require patience but the big difference is that they work, and not just in the moment.

Many humans feel it’s the right thing to do to play wildly exciting games (‘but the dogs love it’) or give manic greetings to dogs, not understanding that they may be pumping them up to a degree that something eventually will have to give. It’s hard to convince people that it’s kinder to wait and respond to the dogs only when they are reasonably calm.

The main aim for now is to reduce the tension between dogs and arousal in the household. Having calmer dogs will help their humans – and calmer humans will help the dogs.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bella and the other little dogs, which is why I don’t share all the exact details of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Two Little Jack Russell/Parson Terriers

Lugh and Idris are gorgeous very well-loved 14-month-old Jack Russel/Parson mix Terriers with a few unwanted behaviours creeping in.

The owners are ‘bringing them up’ in a fair and caring way and th dogs are mostly well-behaved, although they may be doted on a little too much by the lady in particular. She gets very worried, especially out on walks, because both have slipped their harnesses on occasion.

It is always strange to see two siblings living identical lives with such different personalities. However, different personalities cope with being ‘worshipped’ in different ways. Lugh is more confident and calmer. Idris is more highly strung.

I took no notice of the dogs when I arrived and this spooked Idris – used as he is to everyone paying homage.  He barked at me. Lugh was much more chilled. Idris has started to play ‘owenership’  games over food resulting in a couple of fights between the two dogs. On walks Idris pulls and pulls though not Lugh. He is very hyped up when he sees other dogs, hackles up and barking.  The dogs are never off lead and seldom go anywhere open because it requires a car journey – and neither dog travels well. Lugh is sick almost immediately and Idris panics. Both have slipped their harnesses in the street and the lady who is the main dog walker now feels so worried about this that along with the pulling walks are not enjoyable at all.

They will go back to the beginning with the walking so that Idris no longer pulls, with a strategy for when they encounter other dogs, along with equipment which gives the lady confidence that the dogs can’t possibly be Houdinis. They also have a plan to gradually work on the dogs’ anxiety in the car. Backing all this up, leadership skills at home need working on, especially around food.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

Aggression at Home is Escalating

Newfoundland trying to adjust to new lifeIt is a difficult situation for Kaloo, a Newfoundland. Until recently he lived with another Newfie and their male owner. Recently they moved in with a lady who has two Springer Spaniels and two children, so two ‘packs’ are merging.

For Kaloo there are two areas of stress. One is the competition for ‘top dog’ status with Springer Pip, the other is being in a much more, to him, stressful environment with excitement, noise, boy shooting toy gun, trampoline and so on.

Kaloo is two and a half years old; until he went to live with the gentleman about 9 months ago he had been in rescue kennels for a long while, with a previous history when still a pup of guarding.

Now things are beginning to get dangerous. He is targeting the lady and has bitten her twice. He growls quite ferociously at her and at the two children. This mostly takes place when they want to walk past him – and he usually occupies the main access route to the doors.  He has now begun to fly at people when they move suddenly, without the warning growl. He has occasional spats with the male Springer who has started to scent mark in the house and there has been blood. Kaloo is not a happy dog.

The lady is understandably very wary of Kaloo now which is making things worse, and quite rightly worried for her children as is the man.

It is always difficult to feel you are doing right by your own dogs when new dogs join your household. Things they were able to do before may now no longer be possible. The lady feels afraid to walk around her own house.

Poor Kaloo is confused and stressed. By understanding him better and by both working on human leadership as well as safety measures to manage the situation, I sincerely hope that this can be resolved. The man must take much better charge of Kaloo, work on getting him to come straight away when called so that he can avert trouble (at present he comes if he feels like it). Kaloo needs some form of physical restriction or containment when the man isn’t about. When he does growl the humans need to respond appropriately, taking charge whilst not retaliating with anger which would very quickly escalate things.

Growling isn’t for fun – it’s a warning. ‘Go away’. ‘Don’t move suddenly’, ‘Don’t come near me’. ‘Don’t walk through this door’. ‘Don’t come near this person’. It’s Catch 22. If the warning is obeyed then it reinforces growling.  If it’s not obeyed the dog may then take it to the next step and if it is never obeyed the dog may well drop out warning altogether and go straight to biting, which I think is now happening with Kaloo and the lady. It’s moving in a dangerous direction.

The whole family needs to change the way they behave with the dogs – especially Kaloo, and to some extent the boy Springer.  Meanwhile, ‘play safe’ is the golden rule.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.