It’s a sad situation.
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)