They got both Harley and Louis as puppies, at about the same time, ten months ago. They are now seeing some of the problems they might encounter with same-sex siblings.
The two dogs are, in fact very different. Harley is a Great Dane. Louis a Boxer.
Over the months as the dogs have matured, they have increasingly been challenging one another.
Constantly competing for resources and attention.
Louis goads and taunts Harley by parading resources. Harley, the less confident of the two, gets aroused and he retaliates. It ends with him flying on top of Louis and bowling him over, pinning him down.
This competing behaviour is now so well-rehearsed that it’s become a kind of habit. As soon as there is any stress of any kind – the two dogs start at each other. All trouble between the dogs is generated by over-arousal and both dogs spend a lot of time excited. It may start with play but quickly deteriorates.
The couple are constantly having to try to pull them apart – not easy.
When people come to the house the two dogs are so excited that they jump all over them – no joke with a huge Great Dane in particular!
If left out of the room they create a great fuss, making them even more aroused when they do eventually come in. They may already be redirecting their frustration, excitement, arousal, onto one another.
Their humans are never able to settle peacefully in front of TV in the evening without the dogs mugging them, jumping on them or goading one another.
Peace is impossible!
What has brought things to a head is that Harley is starting to behave with other dogs the way he does with Louis – bowling them over and pinning them down.
Spending time apart.
Their first challenge is to get the two dogs happy being apart for a much of the time, without pining for one another. They need more quality time spent with them individually. It will be hard to begin with until they get used to it.
They have the perfect environment – a large kitchen with TV and sofas where they sit, with two smaller rooms leading off each end. Both small rooms are gated. One for each dog.
Behind these gates they aren’t banished – they are still part of the family but they can’t see each other. They can be fed in their own rooms and have chews and toys.
Along with separating them for periods of time is prevention of further rehearsing. No more challenging and competing behaviour, with Louis taunting Harley and Harley getting rough.
The dogs have had some good training, but that goes out of the window when the two are together at home. Training doesn’t necessarily reduce stress. The two good walks they get each day aren’t doing the job either.
The dogs need to learn that good things happen when they are calm and to have self-control.
This is best done by the couple using positive reinforcement for every bit of behaviour they like. They should wait for calm before doing anything the dogs want like putting on a lead, opening the gate or putting food down.
At the same time, when the dogs are together they should be on lead, unless asleep. This will need two people, one for each dog, with them out of each other’s reach.
The benefit of physically keeping them from actually getting to one another is that each can now have something to chew without it causing trouble and competing. Chewing helps calm.
They can now begin to break the habits formed over the past months. They can be given activities that help calm rather than arousal, like sprinkled food all over the grass. Hunting and foraging are healthy appropriate activities.
It will take time.
Having established a good routine working with the dogs separately and walking them separately too, they can begin to let the dogs freely together for short periods when they are relaxed. They will be ready to grab leads and part them immediately aroused behaviour begins.
Then they need something on which to redirect this build-up of stress – a Kong each maybe.
When their stress levels are reduced and they are able to be happy apart, training can kick back in. They can learn to settle politely when people come to the house. This will only be possible when they are no longer so over-aroused and so intent upon getting at and competing with each other.
With more self-control, individual work and management in terms of physical restraint, the two should also learn to be more polite when people come to the house.
Over time, short periods with each other should get longer with ultimately their beautiful, friendly dogs back together.