Honey and Millie are both six years old. They were brought home on the same day, but they are not sisters. Millie came from a good breeder and nice home environment, whereas Honey missed out on some vital early input from siblings and mother, and had to be hand reared. What happens during the first twelve weeks or so of a dog’s life makes a huge difference and I don’t believe can ever entirely be reversed. A dog without proper early interaction with siblings and mother will be harder work.
The two dogs used to get on brilliantly. They had puppies at the same time – even putting all their puppies together in one whelping box and sharing the maternal duties.
Unfortunately things have gone downhill. Honey, predictably, is a much more stressed dog. A short while ago, due to complications in a pregnancy, Millie had to be spayed, and the imbalance of hormones between them may be adding to the growing tension between the two dogs.
Honey will suddenly just go for Millie. Sometimes she gives ‘that look’ first, sometimes it seems to happen out of the blue. There are a couple of common denominators – the lady is always present and it seems to involve comings and goings, either of people or one dog returning into the presence of the other. On most occasions the house has been busy and Honey will have had a build up of stress.
To my mind the biggest contributor of all to Honey’s stress levels in particular is the enormous amount of freedom the two dogs have. They have quite a large area on the estate where they freely roam – controlled only by an electric barrier. They are left out all day with an open kennel for shelter. They are there at the gate whenever anyone arrives and it is a busy place. Honey barks, growls and hackles – scared and warning. It’s quite surprising that all her stress is taken out on poor Millie and that she’s not actually gone for a person by now. There is a public dog walking path through the estate that they can see but not reach, which also causes barking and stress.
These two dogs are in charge of the territory, no question about it. Without realising it, the people are often allowing the dogs to be in charge of them also. If it were just the much more stable Millie it may not really matter as she can handle it. Honey can’t.
I am hoping that they can find a way of enclosing the dogs during the day when they themselves are not about and that they feel happy with, and of keeping them well away from the gate area when people come and go so they are let ‘off duty’. My own dogs are peacefully contained in quite a small area in the house when I am out and I wouldn’t have it any other way for their own sakes – and for the most part when they are anywhere further afield than my garden, I accompany them.
Ruling the roost really isn’t easy on a dog. With some indoor leadership work as well as limiting physical boundaries, Honey’s stress levels should then reduce and I am sure she will not feel the need to take it out on poor Millie. Possibly spaying her in a couple of months’ time when the time is right could help, but I don’t believe this alone is the answer as the dogs already had had a few differences earlier. It needs to be done in conjunction with the behaviour work.
Rearing littermates usually comes with problems, and even though these two weren’t actually from the same litter, because they were adopted together at the same age there will be little difference.