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  • April Schrader, CPDT-KA

How to Manage Fighting Between Your Dogs

When treating inter household dog aggression management is Key, management comes down to preventing opportunities for your dogs to fight. So the first step is for you to identify the situations that cause your dogs aggression towards each other. It is often somewhat easy to identify the immediate trigger for a dog fight. It is usually whatever happened right before the hard stare, posturing, growls, and sometime the actual fight.

So what are some typical triggers for dog fights:

Tension over resources: Dogs often fight over access to a resources that they perceive as valuable such as a bone, a person, a resting place on the couch, or food bowl.

Overstimulation: Dogs may fight when moving through or contained within a tight space or during rough play. This aggression is typically due to one or both dogs being over stimulated, fearful or frustrated
Redirected aggression: This happens when one dog wants to gain access to something they cannot, such as someone walking your house, seeing another animal etc. When the dog cannot get to that thing he wants, he unloads his frustration/aggression on the dog next to him.

Any event that produces adrenaline: Since adrenaline is involved in aggression, it stands to reason that any adrenaline-producing event can trigger a dog fight. For example; the mailman, UPS truck, running/squealing children, pizza delivery person, etc.

Any event that produces pain: For example, one dog accidentally stepping on a dog with arthritis.

What can you do to prevent and or manage your dogs fighting:

Separate: If your dogs have had a fight it is best to separate the dogs for awhile to give them a chance to decompress, after a fight it takes days to weeks for adrenaline levels to return to normal. Elevated adrenaline will cause dogs to escalate more easily, meaning more fights. You can divide up a portion of your house with baby-gates or other similar type of room divider between a kitchen and family room, for example. Make sure to rotate the dogs so they get turns in each area to prevent any frustration.
Exercise: Each dog should be exercised separately and on a daily basis for a minimum of 10 mins. Some examples of exercise are tug of war, fetch or chasing a flirt pole, walks are not considered exercise. You do not want to rely on your dogs playing with each other as exercise, this leads to overstimulation and fights.
Avoid punishments: Punishments in dog training WILL exasperate the situation. Dogs are amoral which means they do not understand right from wrong and never will. Yelling & shouting at your dogs especially during a fight can increase confusion, fear stress, anxiety and cause more aggressive behavior. Being dominant or the “pack leader” are not appropriate training goals; inevitably, the pet is picking a certain behavior because it seemed appropriate at the time, not to get back at the other dog or to be in control. Dogs are not capable of feeling jealous, spiteful, or guilty!!! So when you see fighting between your dogs it is because there is something off with their relationship, punishments will only cause your dogs to be more fearful of each other and cause more fights.
Positive reinforcement Training: This allows you to communicate clearly with your dog. You decide what you want your dog to do and let it know by offering rewards when the dog does the desired action. When you reward your dog for doing things correctly, it's more likely to repeat those good behaviors because it is reinforcing. Positive-reinforcement techniques use non confrontational methods to work a dog’s brain – rewarding positive behavior, establishing rituals and training actions that are incompatible with negative behavior, and lessening a dog’s anger and frustration. Decision-making is influenced without the use of force, and the dog’s trust in the owner or other household dogs is not violated through threatening treatment. Positive reinforcement can help your dogs create positive associations with each other and eliminate fighting.
Do not leave food bowls, bones, toys etc down: If your dogs are fighting over resources then they should be put away when the dogs are together. Leaving those items out will encourage your dogs resource guarding behavior and cause a fight. The bottom line is that most dogs don’t like to share, are not interested in equality and we shouldnt force them. When owners try to enforce sharing by reprimanding one dog for steeling another dogs bone, food or toy it can destabilize their dogs relationship, make fighting more likely.
Enrichment: Enrichment is a necessity for ALL dogs! Studies have shown that enrichment reduces stress, prevent boredom and and lessen unwanted behaviors. Enrichment is anything that modifies a dogs environment to encourage physical activity and mimic behavior's that they would perform naturally. These activities include food puzzles, nose work, trick training and physical enrichment such as playing fetch.

Mild fights between dogs can usually be handled at home via management and prevention. However, aggression can quickly get out of hand and lead to injury to you or your dogs. If your dogs cannot seem to get along, do not hesitate to call a professional.
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