Last week, I wrote a blog called Dog Attacks Dog in Home: Is This Situation Salvageable? I received a lot of feedback on Facebook and in email, and some on the blog site as well. Unfortunately, many comments related stories of one dog gravely injuring or killing another. They were heartbreaking, horrific situations where management had failed. My heart goes out to those owners. There were also many comments describing how management had been successful and the owners were able to keep both dogs, and had lived that way for many years. But, one poster asked, what exactly is solid management? What does it entail for the average pet owner? Good question!
When two dogs who have previously cohabitated peacefully are suddenly fighting and no other resolution can be found, some owners opt to keep both dogs by implementing a strict management protocol. In a small space such as an apartment, keeping dogs safely separated is likely to mean using the “crate and rotate” approach, where one dog is crated out of sight and reach of the other dog, who is left at liberty. The dogs’ positions are then periodically switched. Of course, no dog should be crated all day; the idea is to rotate the dogs at least every few hours. The free dog gets exercise, potty breaks, attention, and whatever else meets his needs and makes him happy. Ideally, the crated dog would be napping or at least resting comfortably during that time. Sometimes, rather than a crate, dogs are simply kept in separate rooms or gated and let out separately.
In a larger space such as a home with a back yard, one dog normally stays in the yard while the other is in the house. Their positions are then rotated. Care should be taken, however, if there is a sliding glass door where the dogs can see each other, as constant, close visual contact would only cause stress. In that case, the outside dog might need to be kept in an area where he does not have access to the sliding glass door, or the inside dog would be restricted from the room where the door is located. Regardless of the management setup, both dogs should receive adequate daily exercise. If two people are available, the dogs could be taken out for walks, hikes, or runs separately early in the morning, for example, before the owners go off to work. If there is only one person available, the dogs will need to be taken for exercise one at a time. These double-the-exercise owners are very dedicated people who are in very good shape!
I know of many people who are and have been using separation protocols successfully for years. It is, however, very stressful for the humans, and may be for the dogs as well, depending on how it is implemented. It is always vital that no one in the family let down their guard. I have heard story after story along the lines of, “Everything had gone well for years, and then one day my son opened the door to the yard and Buster came in and immediately attacked Goldie.” It takes only one split-second mistake for tragedy to strike, particularly when a dog who means harm to another finally sees his chance and takes it. If there are young children in the home, the chances that protocols will be followed are drastically reduced. Even with the most responsible children, kids are kids and stuff happens. The same goes for teenagers who are distracted or irresponsible. At the other end of the age spectrum, I know of a family where the wife’s elderly father was living with them. The man was highly forgetful and, one day when the couple was away at work, he absentmindedly opened the sliding glass door to the yard. Tragedy ensued when one dog came in and killed the other.
Those are obviously worst case scenarios. Again, there are many who do successfully keep their dogs separated without accidents or unfortunate incidents. This is a personal decision, and the amount of stress and walking on eggshells that one will live with should be considered. People who choose this lifestyle are making a sacrifice for their dogs. Aside from the challenges of daily living, it can be difficult if not impossible to go on vacation, unless one has a pet sitter they trust implicitly. The other consideration, beyond the emotional stress and whether potentially irresponsible parties live in the home, is the age of the dogs. If one dog is 15 years old, it could be that management will only need to be implemented for a few months, or a year or two. The outlook is a lot different when both dogs are, say, under the age of three.
Whether or not to implement a strict management protocol in order to keep both dogs who are fighting is a personal decision, and is often a difficult one to make. Owners should be educated so as to make the best decisions, and should then be respected for their choices and offered support whenever possible.
You can find my book Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home and my other books and seminar DVDs at www.nicolewilde.com. Don’t want to miss a blog post? Subscribe above and be notified by email of new posts.