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The Grand Illusion: Multiple Dog Household Aggression Issues Can Be Confusing

The Grand Illusion: Multiple Dog Household Aggression Issues Can Be Confusing

I have written several blog posts on the subject of preventing multiple dog household conflict but none on resolving it. There is a reason for that. Most dog parents who are not behavior professionals are not well versed in the finer points of determining the true cause of the issues at hand. I cannot count how many times I have been told that one dog is at fault only to arrive and see a different story entirely.

Of course, rarely is one personality in the household solely at fault for conflict. It usually takes two to tango. But without a plethora of dog body language knowledge, most people just don’t see the true initial cause. Behavior better off nipped in the bud early on is permitted to continue and tempers rise. The dog that is eventually blamed for the starting things is often only responsible in varying degrees from not at all to an equal partner in crime.

A situation that could quickly get out of control.  Photo courtesy of Kate McGill.

A situation that could quickly get out of control. Photo courtesy of Kate McGill.

I often see posts on the internet in various venues with multiple dog household parents asking how to solve a conflict within their household. Responses that are in any way different than “Get professional in-home help” serve to frustrate to me to no end. These issues cannot be solved by “dog trainer Facebook” or “dog trainer Yahoo group”. You need experienced eyes on the situation at hand to determine what dynamics are in play. Anything less and not only are all dogs in the household in danger, but so are the humans who happen to be present when any conflict takes place.

Redirection onto a human is a real danger when you are dealing with inter-household aggression. Relationships are not enough to ensure safety when emotions are at a high point. I happen to have a different opinion on dogs and their use of their teeth than some professional trainers. I do agree that if a dog wanted to bite you in most circumstances and if you just get a muzzle punch or a snap close to skin, then they certainly are just warning you. That is where my agreement usually ends on this subject.

With a dog fight, all bets are off. You CAN get accidentally bitten by the love of your life. Teeth are flashing fast and if you reach in to separate the feuding parties in the heat of the battle, it’s easy to get bitten. Think about a human in the same circumstances. Your emotions are high and a perceived rival attacks you. Someone you love reaches in to prevent you from retaliating and while you are wildly swinging, you give your beloved a black eye. It happens. Very easily. Don’t assume you won’t get bitten because you and your dogs have a great relationship. That would be a very dangerous assumption.

There is no general guideline that exists to repair the divide in inter-household aggression. Relationships don’t exist in a vacuum. The dynamics of any household are complex and complicated. You would not expect to resolve conflict among human household members based on some pre-existing formula that you could refer to. Give the canines in your life the same respect for complexity. You need professional eyes on the situation to determine the root cause of the issue at hand. No two conflicts are identical in any species.

Often, the dynamics that are causing the problem are not immediately evident even to the professional. My initial presence alone will change the dynamics in such a way that just listening and watching while waiting for the dogs in the home to get more comfortable and act more naturally is an important part of the resolution. As is often in these scenarios, the behavior at the root of the issue is something that a dog parent simply considered normal dog behavior. We could be better dog parents overall with an approach to dog rearing that mirrors human parenting. The comparisons are very similar.

In conclusion, I will reiterate that if you have inter-household aggression, then you owe it to your family, both human and canine, to get professional help. If you are not experiencing all out combat in your home but things could be a little less tense, then avail yourself of the previous blog posts that are written to prevent combat and instill a feeling of safety and peace in your multiple dog household.

Fairness in the multiple dog household. http://www.howmanydogs.com/fairness-among-the-crew-alls-fair-in-love-and-war-or-is-it/

Bully dogs in a multiple dog household. http://www.howmanydogs.com/an-intervention-is-in-order-canine-bullies-in-a-multiple-dog-household/

Stepping in as needed in a multiple dog household. http://www.howmanydogs.com/executive-decisions-why-do-you-have-to-parent-your-crew/

Why safety is important to dogs. http://www.howmanydogs.com/2014/10/safety-zone-why-safety-is-so-important-to-dogs/

Feel free to share your inter-household aggression story below.

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Tales From The Stark Side: Do Dogs Need Toys?

Tales From The Stark Side: Do Dogs Need Toys?

Do you need toys? No, not the toys you played with when you were a child. But grown up toys. There are so many examples and each person views different things as entertainment and enjoyment aids. Things such as sports equipment, books, music, TV, video games, exercise equipment, etc. I could name hundreds of items that different humans view as their version of toys. And most people have active and passive toys. Some toys physically tire us out. Some toys mentally tire us out. Both have their place and both are necessities.

Everyone unwinds in different ways. Dogs are like that too. One dog may enjoy a good chew on an antler to unwind after dinner. Another dog may enjoy racing around the house after a ball. Yet another may view stuffed toys as calming.

Where it gets complicated in some multiple dog households is when there is some resource guarding that has gone unchecked. I have been to homes where things have progressed to the point that all the toys were removed. Ponder the significance of that statement and apply it to your own life. Wow, powerful thought, isn’t it? How would do you deal with that? Would your sanity be in danger? I know mine would. Now why would it be any different for your dogs? Everyone needs environmental enrichment. This is crucial for mental stability.

One English Setter chews on a toy as another looks on.

All dogs like toys of one type or another.

It’s even worse for dogs who have never had toys or have had them taken away early in life. The reasons often vary. They range from pulling all of the stuffing out of stuffed toys to eating a Kong and needing surgery. These are remedied in different ways but are not a reason to eliminate toys on a permanent basis.

Stuffed toys: it’s fun for a dog to pull out the stuffing. As long as they are not ingesting said stuffing, simply buy very inexpensive dollar store stuffed toys and supervise. Let them have a blast. Get over the clean up factor. It’s not the end of the world to pick up toy stuffing. If they are pulling out the stuffing in order to get to the squeaker, there is a line of stuffed toys called Egg Babies that have stuffed eggs in the pocket of a stuffed toy that allows the dog to pull the squeaker out without damaging the toy. It usually takes only a moment for a dog to understand this concept once shown. My own beloved Merlin adored his Platypus Egg Baby. It was the only toy he did not disembowel!

Sucky toys: my Kenzo loves to suck on his tuggy toys. This relaxes him. Some dogs like to knead and suck on pillow type toys or even throw pillows. Again, thrift stores are your friends here. And supervise.

Antlers: some dogs love them, some can take them or leave them. Dogs that like hard chew things like deer antlers, dogs that like softer things often prefer elk antlers. There also now are hollow horns available that are yet even softer than antlers. Know your dog’s chewing style. If their goal is to break the antlers, these are not the right chew things for them.

Nylabones and the like: again, some dogs love them, some dogs can’t be bothered. Most dogs like the Nylabone Galileo. Just don’t step on it in the middle of the night or drop it on your foot. Size this toy appropriately for your dog.

Kongs and other food dispensing toys: choose the hardness appropriate for your dog. If he can’t have a Kong goodie bone because he may break it in half, then get the larger Kong products. There are so many to choose from that there is bound to be one appropriate for your dogs.

Sturdy toys for destroyer dogs: I get so many people saying their dogs destroy everything and no toy is safe so they stop buying toys. Nonsense. I have found Cane Corso proofed toys. If they can’t destroy these toys, neither can your dog. Try them. Your dog will thank you. There are several among the tried and tested options. Jolly Ball, Orbee balls, Kong Wubba, the aforementioned Nylabone Galileo. Again, size appropriately.

Now for the more challenging equation. Multiple dog households with a resource guarder or two. Number one, get in-home professional behavior assistance. Run, don’t walk to your internet and find a qualified one in your area. Email me and I will find you one. Your dogs sanity depends on it. They need toys. In the meantime, set up sturdy tethers with the guarders in question, out of reach of one another and give them something to help them relax. Or crate them for this activity on a regular basis. I prefer tethers as they learn to do this in proximity to one another without practicing bad behavior. You can also spend separate time with each playing with active toys. It’s important.

Some of you may be thinking that your dog doesn’t like any toys. Again, nonsense. You just haven’t found the kind they like yet. Even if the only thing they end up liking is gnawing on a marrow bone, that is better than no toys at all. And toys don’t have to be actual toys. Plenty of dogs like to simply carry something around and not actually play with it. Some dogs like to play with empty soda bottles and nothing else. Some dogs just want to run around the house. This is still play. And sometimes you have to teach a dog that it can be fun to play with toys. That usually starts with food but it’s not always necessary.

A word about exceptions to the playing requirement. Often when dogs get older, they grow less interested in play. That is normal but they still typically view something as relaxation, My Siri is twelve now and she occasionally still beats up Kenzo but she always carries her huge furry ball around in her mouth. And other exceptions are dogs that are simply finding their peace on their walks. That is great.

The stressed dogs I am talking about have little in the way in mental stimulation. If you walk your dogs daily and they have toys available to them but don’t play with them much, then don’t worry. But if they get neither walks (that are calming because reactive dog walks are NOT calming!) or toys, then you very likely have a problem. So allow your dogs toys. Teach them if you have to. I guarantee you that once you engage your dog(s) with toys, you will have a much happier and more mentally stable dog than you had before. Try it. There is joy in play and relaxation time. Allow your dogs that joy.

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Executive Decisions: Why Do You Have to Parent Your Crew?

Frequently, I walk into multiple dog households that are running amok, for lack of a better term. Some just a little, some far more than a little. In many cases, my presence would have been mostly unnecessary if someone had stepped in as the decision maker right off the bat. Simply put, stepping in as needed assures the safety of all your dogs.

Many of you, who are also human parents, understand the need for creating and enforcing boundaries. Fairness and polite behavior towards siblings is important for human harmony in a family. The same thing applies to the canine members as well.

This is not an advisory to micromanage your dogs’ interactions. A comment to this effect on the How Many Dogs Facebook page brought up this important point. Intervening is a judgment call in some cases. For what can be considered small things, no intervention is necessary if your dogs generally get along well. An example of this is a dog objecting to being stepped on by another dog, by grumbling or barking but nothing further. As long as the clumsy one is not inclined to redirect, that is a perfectly normal interaction between family members.

Parenting Your CrewHumans object to being jostled too, usually by reminding the jostler to be more careful. Dogs get this same privilege provided they can be reasonably polite about it. The key point here is to know your crew. If there are issues, you need to intervene far more often in order to prevent bigger problems.

Do not let your dogs work it out on their own! Not most of the time anyway. Really, the implications of such a scenario boggle the minds of behavior experts. It’s a recipe for disaster, just as allowing one’s human children to make inappropriate decisions regarding their interactions with their siblings. Oh sure, if you “raise them right”, some decisions will be appropriate. But so many more won’t be without initial supervision, intervention and consistency.

Consistency is the key word here. Set an example, make it happen all the time with few deviations, and you have a guideline for success. It doesn’t mean that you need to run your household like a boot camp. Nor does it mean that force needs used to ensure compliance. The best human parents don’t scream, shout and/or hit to handle their children’s infractions. They use conversations that include wise words and consequences for bad behavior. But intervene they do, and because of that the entire family feels a sense of security that all members are properly cared for emotionally and physically.

Will you always have to intervene? That depends on your particular crew and their relationships, but the goal is that you have to intervene as little as possible – aside from preventing furniture from flying due to playtime bursts in the wrong rooms!

Security is one of the most important issues to any life form. Feeling secure allows everyone to relax. Safety from emotional and physical assaults ensures security. Give your crew security early on and you create the right formula to prevent problems later on. Combine safety and security with teaching manners and impulse control and you will put a lot of behavior consultants out of business!

Feel free to use the spaces below to describe how you create safety within your crew.

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Command Performance: Do Words Have Consequences?

I think “yes” would be the accurate answer to this question. Words like “command” and “obedience” reek of control. They are included in the “hammer” style tools of dog training. I much prefer the use of “cue” and “manners”. Like the saying goes, “If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” While this statement is typically applied to actual training tools, this equally applies to the word used in training as well.

Many people assume that words, once spoken, disappear. While that can be true but what can also happen is this; quite often, the words that are used can convey a specific feeling to the person who spoke the words. Words such as command and obedience are forceful. They imply those who they are directed to are inferior and in need of domination. This could not be further from the truth in relation to the dogs in our lives.

Photo of Dawn Goehring of Comedy Barn Canines. Photo Courtesy of Christine Romano, Rich Blessings Photography

Photo of Dawn Goehring of Comedy Barn Canines. www.comedycanines.com. Photo Courtesy of Christine Romano, Rich Blessings Photography

While our dogs certainly require structure and limits, they don’t need such words to provide said structure. What they need is kindness, empathy, understanding and clear communication. They are not looking to take over our world. We have the opposable thumbs after all.

“Breaking” is another word that is better off dispensed with in regards to housetraining. While the word is appropriately descriptive of the goal that is in mind – as in “breaking the habit” – it does speak to the notion that force can somehow resolve the problem.

According to Raymond Coppinger, dogs chose to join us; domesticating themselves by stationing themselves near human camps. The ensuing partnership was mutual. We provide for their needs. They know this. There is no need to lord it over them with force. They revere us already. They respect us when we work with them rather than on them.

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Dogs are the most forgiving creatures I know of. We treat them badly and still they adore us. Using kind words goes a long way towards promoting partnership and trust far more than words that convey the need to wield control with an iron fist. Every step taken towards dismissing such a partnership makes an additional step easier. The ledge seems less steep.

Forceful words can cause even bigger problems in the multiple dog household. As with a multiple human household, personalities will differ among the crew. A dog that is pushier than another dog can feel emboldened by harsh words spoken at such from the humans in the household. Harshness can create bullies out of humans as well as canines. It is up to the humans to set good examples to be followed. Think of it in terms of children who are emotionally abused by their parents. While they may grow up stronger because of what they endured, there is an equal if not greater chance that they will learn how to be angry easier than how to be kind.

Compassion and respect should not be reserved for one’s fellow humans. All creatures are deserving of this. Choosing words that you would use with humans whom you love, with the canines in your lives, will go far towards building the trust that creates a wonderful bond. Words DO matter. Choose them with care.

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