Eyeballing from one dog; looking away, whale-eye, lip curling and growling from the other.
The hostility between the two Springer Spaniel bitches seems to have suddenly started about three weeks ago.
It’s hard to see where the tension, eyeballing and snarling between the two dogs has come from. It seemed to be out of the blue – but was it? Both dogs had been happily living and playing together since they took on Poppy, now three years old, as a puppy. Tilly is ten years old.
Both Springers have a lovely life. They are trained and worked kindly as gun dogs, fulfilling what they were bred for. They only spend the mornings out in their kennels and for the rest of the time they are well-loved family pets living and sleeping in the house.
There is another dog, a female Jack Russell called Fern who may be escalating the tension. Fern tends to be reactive to sounds. Her barking upsets Poppy and sends her running for cover.
Three weeks ago, immediately after they had returned from a few days’ holiday with the two Springers, the man caught them eyeballing each other, then growling.
Could the sudden hostility have been triggered by the reuniting with a hyper and noisy Fern who had stayed behind with a friend, at a time when they will already have been aroused? Things with Fern have changed recently. She has been recovering from mammary cancer. Could this be relevant?
Anyway, the man had immediately grabbed both dogs and parted them, putting them briefly in different rooms. This was followed by ever more frequent episodes.
Things escalated until about five days ago there were three bouts within the space of one hour.
Things only haven’t developed into a full blown fight due to vigilance and the man separating them immediately. It’s now happened so many times that it could be becoming a learnt response – a habit, something the two dogs may automatically do as soon as they are anywhere close together other than out in the open on walks.
Since these final three episodes the two dogs have been kept apart.
The Springers take it in turns to be in the sitting room with the couple. They are in separate kennels in the mornings and instead of all being together in the kitchen at night, two have been in the kitchen and the other Springer in the back lobby. She cries. Nobody is happy.
Surprisingly however, all three dogs still all go out happily for their morning walk together just as they always used to. It seems away from the house and out in the open they are fine.
When I arrived just Fern was with us first and she did a lot of barking at me. This barking is unusual apparently which made me wonder if something more was going on with her. Maybe she has been more stressed since her recent treatment for cancer?
Poppy then joined us. She was very wary of me as she is with all people she doesn’t know, pacing about, tail between her legs, interested but backing away.
We set things up so I could see both dogs together for myself. To take Jack Russell Fern out of the equation, we put her out in the garden. The man put Poppy on lead and the lady went to fetch Tilly from the outside kennel, also on lead.
They sat well apart and I placed myself where I could see both dogs.
There was an immediate and surprising change in Poppy. She became a different dog. Bold. She was unconcerned by me now. She stared at Tilly.
Tilly, in turn, looked at Poppy out the corner of her eyes with her head turned away. A lip curl. then a growl. I sensed that Tilly was by far the more uncomfortable of the two dogs.
From my observations, instead of the aggression being a problem solely instigated Tilly as they had thought, it looked like it may be six of one and half a dozen of the other.
With strategies in place to keep the two dogs’ attention away from one another, I then let Fern in to join us. She was barking as she entered the room.
Immediately there was an altercation between her and Tilly in the doorway.
Could the reactive Fern be part of the problem? Possibly also something has changed with her since her cancer treatment.
Where do we start?
They will continue to manage the environment by keeping them separate. It’s possible that during the morning outside in their adjacent kennels things could be brewing with eyeballing and so on, so I suggested putting a board between them.
On leads in the house, in short sessions they will work on relieving the tension between them, teaching each dog things to do that are incompatible with eyeballing or challenging the other. It’s vital they get no more opportunities to further rehearse the behaviour.
Because the dogs are fine on walks, instead of afterwards immediately putting them away again in their separate areas, they will take the walked and satisfied dogs indoors still on lead, give them a drink (separate bowls just in case) and sit down for a few minutes. They can thus hopefully build upon the rapport the two dogs still have out on walks.
Finally, they will be helping Fern with her stress levels which could well be compounding the whole over-aroused situation.
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 Tilly, Poppy and Fern 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. 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)