BY SHERRY DAVIS, Contributing columnist | Sunday, Jan 09 2011 05:00 PM
Last Updated Sunday, Jan 09 2011 05:00 PM
Problems in multi-dog households often occur when owners are ineffective leaders and attempt to manage their dogs by treating them like human children.
Kathi and Karen have four dogs: Bella, a 1-year-old dachshund/chihuahua mix; a 10-year-old fox terrier/papillion mix; and a 4-year-old chihuahua/papillion mix.
Everything was fine until about five months ago when they brought home Penny, a basset/dachshund rescue, who is now about 9 months old.
That’s when the trouble started.
Kathi says, “They play together fabulously, but whenever there is food involved, Bella will growl and lunge at Penny, and it seems to be getting worse. Now, if Penny is on the bed, and Karen or I sit on it, Bella will come up and start snarling and growling at Penny, then try to attack her. If we are not quick enough to grab Bella’s collar to stop her she will hit Penny with her mouth hard enough to make Penny cry out. This behavior is making us crazy, and it seems to be ramping up more and more over the last month. Putting Bella in a closed room stops it, but that doesn’t seem fair to her.”
“At times Bella and Penny are best friends, playing and chasing each other. None of the animals gets preferential treatment. When one gets a toy, they all get a toy. Same with a treat.”
So what’s going on here?
It is not unusual for rescues to be resource guarders.
With no challenge from the two older dogs, Bella assumed leadership in the pack dynamic.
With Penny’s arrival and approaching maturity, that dynamic has changed.
Dogs do not understand the concepts of sharing, equality, or time-outs and confident and self-assured dogs do not use aggressive displays to maintain their position.
Because Bella has no rules or boundaries for her behavior and is acting out of insecurity, she sees the younger female’s attempts to gain access to the bed and proximity to the owners, which are high value resources, as a threat and punishes her aggressively.
Putting Bella in another room when this happens does nothing to solve the problem or teach her that the behavior is unacceptable, and depending on Penny’s personality, the time may come when she no longer backs down from Bella’s attacks.
Dogs will get injured and people will be bitten.
I recommended the following steps to get this behavior under control:
* Both Bella and Penny should receive basic obedience training, which should be practiced in the home environment, and specifically taught to “leave it” or turn away in any situation on the owner’s command.
* Any posturing must be corrected immediately.
* The dogs should be fed in crates or in different areas.
* Both dogs should be blocked from getting on furniture with the owners until obedience is proficient at which time they can be invited up in turn while the one on the floor holds a stay position.
* Leashes should be used initially to correct any disobedience as collar grabbing will often redirect aggressive behavior toward the owner.
* During the training period, each dog must be taught to hold position while being praised or while attention is given to another.
* Finally, the owners must understand that Bella’s problems started with her insecure personality, and all the love in the world is not going to turn her around without consistent rules and boundaries to give her confidence and parameters for her behavior.