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The Ties That Bind: Families and Conflicts

Families; they are who you are connected to in this world in a way like no other. The word family means far more than a blood connection. Some families have adopted children, who are chosen with as much love as others have who given birth to have for their blood related children. Some families are a combination of blood relatives with new additions, by marriage or other means. This type of family is incredibly common in this day and age, with second marriages and his and hers kids blending as one complete unit. Unless your family is comprised of robots, there are ups and downs. Conflicts are normal in the course of life. Each person has their own concerns and opinions and they don’t always mesh with others who share the home. If this doesn’t happen in your home, then I welcome you to present your family to research scientists so that you can be studied for the benefit of the rest of us!

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I cannot count how often I hear clients and potential clients come to me with the worry that their dogs, who usually are wonderful friends, had a disagreement. As with human families, this is normal. What is different with your canine charges is that you, as the human source of parental guidelines, have the responsibility of determining what the cause was so that you can set future scenarios up for success.

Before I go much further, I need to make it clear that this blog post is not about canine households where conflict is more common than harmony. If that is the case in your home, then you need immediate in-home professional behavioral assistance. Run, do not walk, to your email and send me your zip code so that I can find you a qualified behavior consultant in your area. The rest of you, keep reading.

Life does not exist in a vacuum. Every day is different. How you wake up starts your day off. Some days you feel better than others. Everything that happens in that day contributes to how you feel. How you feel affects how you act. Unless, of course, you have exceptional self control at all times and really, who does that??? I don’t know anyone who does. If you do, again there is that suggestion that you present yourself to be studied for the benefit of science and learning! The rest of us have varying degrees of self control. This self control is also affected by what behaviors that we have been taught are appropriate and are reinforced well. The same applies to dogs.

Dogs that have been taught good manners and reinforced well for making appropriate choices are better equipped to cope with an off day than others who did not have those same benefits. Add to that equation everyone’s natural personality baseline. Some are extroverts and some are introverts and some are in the middle.

Perhaps your dogs get along great 99% of the time. They play together, they rest together, they depend on each other for companionship and support. But one dog likes bones better and the other dog likes balls better. One dog is a bit worried about loud noises and the other dog hates rain. One dog is clumsy and the other dog is usually adept at getting out of the clumsy one’s way. One day while you are at work, there is work being done on your street right in front of your house and your noise sensitive dog is getting more stressed by the moment. He has self soothed himself all day by chewing on his bones while his clumsy brother has chased his balls on and off throughout the day, sometimes requiring a move from your other dog. The noisy work outside ceases for the day, you come home. The dogs are delighted, their walk is imminent. While you are getting ready to take them on what they have waited on all day, it starts pouring down rain. The clumsy one rushes out the door when you are ready to exit for your way, only to get immediately wet. He turns on a dime and crashes right into his brother in his haste to get back into the house. His usually tolerant brother has been stressed all day over the noise so instead of shaking it off as he would normally do, he turns around and scares the crap out of mister clumsy with a huge roar and pins him down. You are alarmed and frightened. Your sweet low key boy has suddenly become “aggressive”. No damage was done to clumsy boy but you are sure that tolerant boy has suddenly become “aggressive”.

If this were something that happened regularly, you would definitely need to get professional help. But if these dogs have successfully lived together for years and they have had no disagreements that you have noticed in the past, then you have yourself a case of trigger stacking.

There are numerous articles on this subject available, some listed below, and this one is simply the latest to join the others, with a different slant. What it means in this case is that outside influences shortened a fuse that is normally longer. That is normal.

Linked Articles —
Great Expectations: Life Will Roll You on a Regular Basis

The Cumulative Effect

He Never Does That!

Life is full of compromise. This is relevant in all species. Families don’t always agree on what the best way to live together is. Your dogs are part of your family. They have independent personalities just like the humans. They feel differently every day. The more that you strive to understand that, and the more that you strive to set them up for success, the better chance that you have of existing with mostly harmony. So set your crew up for success and don’t expect them to be robots!

Feel free to share in the spaces below how you set your crew up for success.

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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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