Doggy conflict – the new guy is shaking up the system

Just like with the addition of any new family member, the old order of things changes. Longtime members get ruffled and new members don’t know the rules, don’t follow the rules or don’t care about the rules in their efforts to fit.April10Obe2013 001a

Sometimes the angst is immediate, sometimes it takes a while to develop. So just because they were OK initially doesn’t mean it will stay that way.

Since I board and train and sometimes foster dogs, we have regular visitors. Some of them are welcomed without any concern, others are dealt with suspiciously and then accepted and some are initially thought of as fine and then shunned as too rough or too something. Usually there’s a bit of growling or threat air snapping between dogs somewhere along the way to ensure politeness. I’ve never had any fights (well back in the 80s when I was raising Airedale terriers we did have two males that were kept separated mostly, as they had developed a serious dislike of each other…but still never needed stitches).

With all the greetings between dogs I’ve developed a system of sorts, there is no ‘just throw them together and let them figure it out.’

High excitement or high activity doesn’t create calm greetings and I want the dogs to greet newcomers well and I want newcomers to learn how to greet dogs they don’t know so – everyone is exercised, walked, played out first; greetings are one-to-one, not three or two to one; greetings are in open spaces, not doorways or hallways or anyplace narrow and confined; there are no objects that need guarding, like toys or dishes of food in the area where the greeting will be; greetings are encouraged as side-to-side or rear to front, not face-on-face and I start with the easiest dog or the one of the opposite sex so we have a good beginning. If the situation starts to get too wild or silly I distract, use the leash to help and move on.

With Obe, everybody liked him from the start. He was a well-mannered 6-month old Doberman puppy, confident enough, but not too much. Now he’s been here for two weeks and his confidence has blossomed and he’s trying stuff that the older dogs don’t appreciate. The delicate balance here is to let them teach him dog politeness but not let them push too far. I don’t want him to think he needs to fight and I don’t want them to think it’s OK to bully anybody unnecessarily.DogdobermanMar292013 006a

Max, my elder shepherd seems to have come to an agreement with him. He will not tolerate being jumped on (or anything that rhymes with jumped on) and Obe occasionally tests the limits and gets growled at and pushed back with loud at his shoulders threatening barks…Obe quits and retreats quickly, but doesn’t seem very worried and they both get rewarded for their proper resolution of difficulties. This is what I want.

Jazz, who is female, half his size and jealous of my attention has much less tolerance for his teenage boy silliness – she won’t tolerate him trying to take what she has or chasing after her if she hasn’t invited play and she’s right. Today she stretched some of his skin with a pretty good pinch (no blood, but he was screaming). At first I attempted to distract them with some quiet suggestions and treats, but they were pretty focused on yelling/barking/air snapping at each other, he wasn’t retreating and she was determined. And the other dogs had started barking support of the action (always not helpful to have a loud peanut gallery).

Then because close wasn’t working I just walked away saying ‘lets go’, since with Jazz much of the issue is keeping me for herself. They settled, followed and I told a shivering Jazz that all was well and tossed a treat to Obe while I told her she was fine and then examined a shivering Obe…no puncture or cuts and told him he was fine. And then we walked it out. Then I leashed him and gave Jazz the look that said I have him on a leash, it’s not an invitation to bother him. She understood and was good with it.April10Obe2013 011

I will be taking care with these two, showing them how to get to a place and wait for me and not jockey for my attention. Obe is a temporary tenant, he will be going to my daughter next month, but the fact he will be family has made him get a slightly different kind of attention from me and Jazzie knows it and so does Obe.

I’ll be working with Jazz inside the kennel run and Obe out and looking to end any lip curling or any aggression displays from her when he’s being just fine – if my hands are offering something to him/to her there’s no issue. Her in because she’s actually the most determined aggressor, he goes a bit too close despite her signals sometimes, but she’s taking it too far. Treats for happy lips.

Jazzie has always been overly toy/ball/frisbee focused and I need to improve her response to leave it even when a toy has just been launched and she’s in pursuit. She is solid on ‘wait’, before a retrieve but if she’s in motion its hard to turn her off. This whole training time will give me a good chance to improve her ability to wait and share.

FYI the most common, damaging response from people is meeting dog aggression with aggression – no kicking, no yelling, no grabbing, no rushing in or leaning in like a fight coach during altercations. Most dogs aren’t really fight ready, they take a while to get up to real seriousness. There’s posturing, then some instigation then noise and snapping, but hardly any real contact and fur is amazingly protective and this will cycle, but rush in, yell, hit and it will escalate (maybe not that time, but the next time or the next). No one wants or needs to try that grab them by the back legs wheelbarrow dog thing.

Often, if you’re important to them, keeping your voice quiet, moving away and requesting them to come with you is enough to change the dynamic. But letting dogs have repeated bouts of scary conflict especially with people yelling them on will get them fight ready, we don’t want that.

Have you successfully desensitized a dog who was dog aggressive? Or conversely, made a dog unintentionally become more dog aggressive by….?


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