Dog Attacks Dog in Home: Is This Situation Salvageable?

dogs fighting graphicA trainer friend recently asked my advice about a situation involving three dogs who live in the same home. One of the dogs belongs to a young couple who are living with the girl’s parents, and the other two belong to the parents. The couple’s dog is a 60-plus pound bully breed mix, while the other two dogs are much smaller; one is fourteen years old. These circumstances alone do not necessarily guarantee trouble, but in this case, the larger dog had already attacked each of the other two dogs to the point that they required treatment by a vet. The couple is planning to move out of the house within the year, but what, my friend wanted to know, could they do in the meantime? Could training fix this issue and if so, how?

My response was that although it’s always a good idea for a dog to be trained, in this case, strict management was the answer. The dogs needed to be kept separate until the couple moved. You might have seen a television show where a trainer miraculously causes dogs who were previously fighting to throw their paws around each other’s shoulders and sing Kumbaya, but the reality is that this dog had already showed a willingness to hurt the other dogs. Had the attacks not been interrupted, he might have killed them.

Strict management is never easy. Even with the best of intentions, it is extremely stressful to live in a house where one has to be constantly on guard, constantly rotating dogs between safe spaces, and never feeling truly relaxed. Worse than that is if an owner rationalizes that the situation isn’t quite that bad, that it probably won’t happen again if everyone is being careful, and lets down their guard. Interestingly, someone recently brought up a blog post I wrote back in 2012 called Tough Decisions, which described two arguments that I use to this day with owners who want to keep dogs who are at high risk. The blog was about a 14-year-old dog who was at risk of being injured or killed by another dog in the home:

The first thing to consider: “Imagine that you’re living in a house with someone who has attacked you physically. Although someone is keeping him away from you, you know he’s around and that he wants to hurt and possibly even kill you. How anxious and stressed out would you feel, every single minute of every day you were at home? What would your quality of life be like?” (To clarify, this does not apply to those keeping their dogs completely separated visually and physically.) I went on to explain that chronic stress is not only harmful to dogs mentally and emotionally, but also physically; among other things, it can cause gastric ulcers, and suppress the immune system, which opens the door for a variety of diseases. Chronic stress was the last thing this poor 14-year-old dog, who had lived in the safe haven of a loving home all of those years, needed or deserved.

The other thing I said was, “Imagine that you decide to keep this dog, and the worst happens; she kills your 14-year-old dog. How would you live with yourself, when you knew this could happen and that you could have prevented it?” I have worked with many complicated, dangerous behavioral situations over the years, but when the truth comes down to that the dog should simply not be in the home, I have found posing these two questions helpful to allow owners to come to the right decision.

In the case of the young couple my friend was working with, since they would be moving and this was not a permanent situation, the dogs simply needed to be very carefully managed for a prescribed period of time. In permanent situations, tougher decisions have to be made. This is not to say that dogs who are fighting in a home can’t be taught to get along; to the contrary, as a behavior specialist, I’ve worked with many dogs in just this situation, and it is in fact the entire focus of my book Keeping the Peace. But when there is a huge differential in size and strength between dogs, with the bigger, stronger dog being the attacker, that is one very red flag. The same goes for young dogs attacking seniors. The other red flag is the history. If a dog has already demonstrated a proclivity to attack another dog, the intensity curve normally goes up, not down. Working with an experienced behavior specialist is absolutely warranted in scenarios where change is possible, or to assess a situation properly. But the bottom line is that in truly dangerous situations, for the physical safety, as well as the mental and emotional well-being of all involved, another solution should be found.
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13 Responses to Dog Attacks Dog in Home: Is This Situation Salvageable?

  1. Another great blog, Nicole! I wonder in in your trainer friend’s scenario it would be possible for the young couple’s dog to stay with friends who are “dogless” until they move in a year? Friends who are close by so that the couple could still walk and do things with their dog. That would be one suggestion I would make to clients if they were mine.

  2. puppyluver8 says:

    Like the previous post about dog parks and the volatile situations that can come up, I have found myself breaking up a fight or two over my 4 rescues.
    It’s what you don’t see or didn’t see, can sometimes tell the true story. Maybe the smaller dog(s) started it, and the big one finished it off. It happens so fast, it’s hard to tell who started it.
    Personally, I think it gives the aggressor a ticket to do it again sometimes, once they have started it in the past. Better safe than sorry for all involved. I would make arrangements to thin the herd out, sorry to say. Thank you.

  3. Angel McCoubrie says:

    Thank you for your advise. I had to sit and watch a staffy getting beaten after it had attacked her own pups. I’ve been trying to make the owners understand that there is to much stress in the house with all the people coming and going, and the fact that (to me) their getting yelled at and kicked. Personally I think these 2 dogs are beautiful and with the right person would make great fur babies. All they want is love.
    What I don’t fully understand is why would the mother attack her 3 month old puppies?
    Before people say I should say something to the right people and get them out of the abuse, I would like you all to know, that I know I should but I’m to scared of the abuse I will cop. I really do feel for the dogs but I felt worse for the pups.

  4. Denise says:

    I have a similar situation. My shepherd has gone after my senior dog but, in her defense my morkie went after her first. Most time Chloe will back up and leave Roxy alone. But my golden will go after Chloe if she tries to go after Roxy . I’m guessing he’s her protector even though she will go after chase too. But she can’t do the damage Chloe can. It certainly is a difficult situation because Roxy is is submissive but also likes to dominate. It all centers around me I think because it’s only happened when I’m home. But, in 5 years I’ve only had 2 incidents.

  5. Lisa Francis says:

    I would love to speak with you about our situation. We have had, what I call, a sudden onset of aggression between our dogs. We have 3: a 3 y.o. male corgi (neutered at 6 mos), a 2 y.o. female Corgi (spayed at 6 mos), and a 10 m.o. Norwegian Elkhound (spayed at 7 mos).
    Our female Corgi was not happy with our new addition (Alia, the Elkhound joined our family last May at 10 weeks old), however she merely kept her distance, no real problems, and within about a month, things were fine. Our male corgi is a rollover – quite literally – but he does believe and act as if EVERY toy or chew is HIS. Still, no issues between any of them until Alia reaches the 7 month mark. Then she suddenly began attacking our male corgi, and he fought back. This happened twice in a weekend, and we called our vet to see about spaying Alia earlier than previously planned in the hopes it might be a hormonal issue that could be easily addressed. Her recovery went well, and it was probably about a month later that the problems began again, but this time the issues seemed to be with our female Corgi, and generally at mealtime. But it is the Corgi who is now suddenly growling – only at Alia – when they are fed and Alia is in her field of vision. Alia has never tried to get Maggie’s food or anything that we would think would have suddenly caused this problem.
    We tried multiple things, and now we feed them each in their kennels (in the same room, at the same time). That seems to be working to address this issue, but Saturday when the male Corgi and Alia we’re both drinking water, Phineas muttered a growl (almost ‘under his breath’ if that makes sense), and Alia was ready to attack. Once any one of them starts to initiate a fight, both Corgis charge Alia to attack. We haven’t had any fights that have required vet care as we are always with our dogs when they are out of their kennels. But, there has been minor bloodshed, and the ‘viciousness’ of the attacks – along with their sporadic and semi-unpredictability – has us constantly on edge. They are all kept kennels when we are at work. The Corgis are no longer a threat of chewing up the house when we are gone, but Alia is. We don’t keep her kennels or separated from the Corgis because 1) I don’t think it is right, 2) she would go nuts and hurt herself.
    We have asked our vet (who is fear-free certified) about a behaviorist, but they don’t know any to recommend. I’m trying to look online, but not sure of what I find. We don’t want to have to re-home Alia, and hope that there IS a resolution, but are at a loss of who to turn to and trust.
    I hope this has been okay to leave here. Your article is simply the closest I have come to our problem, and the first time I’ve seen any reference to multi-dog homes with problems.
    Thank you for your time and any suggestions you may be able to offer.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Lisa, at 7 months of age, Alia is now an adolescent. If there are to be aggression issues with dogs, it is not uncommon for them to begin to manifest during this time. It is also not unusual for there to be issues between female dogs, although of course this is not always the case. As far as your female Corgi growling at Alia during feeding time, clearly she is sensing something from Alia that was not there when Alia was younger, and is warning her away. My fear is that issues could escalate between her and your female Corgi and someone could get hurt. I cannot advise you long distance about aggression issues like this, as it is a very serious and could mean rehoming Alia. If you email me at info@phantompub.com with your zip code, I will see if there is someone I can recommend in your area. Again, I cannot do long distance consults, but I am happy to try to find the right behavior specialist for you. In the meantime, my book “Keeping the Peace” is all about these types of issues.

  6. Sarah Ortiz says:

    OMG…I am so glad to hear that this is basically only resolved with separation. I have been living this situation for 6 1/2 years now. I didn’t know if I was going to emotionally survive it. It took me about 3 years to become accustomed to the situation. I had the problem dog up for adoption on a website for 2 years and contacted several rescues to see if they would take her. But all circumstances were against her: she was close to 3 when I pulled her from the streets of my subdivision, she’s a larger dog AND she’s black. Obviously, the aggression didn’t help. The first 3 months she came into the home were fine, then out of the blue she attacked one of the dogs, just pounced on him without provocation – he wasn’t even looking at her at the time. So I had to crate her. Not only was my poor dog under stress, but she became Cujo every time he walked past her. The situation became almost unbearable. July 4, 2019 will mark the 7th year she’s been here. She’s the TRUE one-person dog and I have to muzzle her to brush her or take care of her hot spots. I AM glad she wasn’t adopted because she actually bit the owner of my boarding facility, even though she had boarded several times before. Fortunately for me, we’ve known each other for over 25 years and she’s used to dealing with aggressive dogs in her business, BUT, had she been adopted, I can’t begin to imagine what could have happened.

    • wildewmn says:

      Sarah, I’m so sorry you’ve been having to deal with this for so long. I’m glad there have been no major injuries, and it sounds like you’re using good management. Hopefully the dogs are separated to the point that they cannot see each other at all. I agree, the attacker would have been a difficult dog to rehome, and who knows how things would have ended had she been in a home with someone who wasn’t willing to go the extra miles you have done.

      • Sarah Ortiz says:

        Thank you for replying. Unfortunately I can’t have them out of sight ALL the time, but while I was working they were completely out of sight. Now, I’m retired and part of the time they’re in the same room together (mostly evenings), but she’s always crated while the other two are around. I have a true time share system; the problem dog gets time alone with me during the day and she gets to enjoy some time by herself and can go outside, but while the two potential victims are in the room with her, she’s crated. There’s a 4th dog who I also have to keep separated. She’s a very sweet, failed foster. I took her to Petsmart every Saturday for 6 months and no one wanted her. I NEVER had an issue with her with all the dogs around, but there were a couple of instances that she snapped at dogs in a line at a different location, so I felt it would be best if she was adopted as the only dog in the home. I believe that’s why she ended up not getting adopted. She participates in the time share. Much easier now that I’m home every day, so she gets many more hours out of her crate. It is a lot of work, not only because of the time sharing situation, but they also have to be walked separately. Again, thanks for your time.

  7. ccrow says:

    I had inherited my daughter’s mini Aussie, who lived with us for several years. Unfortunately, a younger female started going after her when she (younger) hit adolescence. I sometimes care for my son’s dogs when he travels, and they would join in, As you say, management doesn’t always work, unfortunately. We have a happy ending, at least- the Aussie has gone back to live with my daughter and a couple smaller dogs, and everyone gets along. As you say, the attacked dog can be under a lot of stress- my daughter and I see a huge difference in the Aussie’s attitude and demeanor since she has escaped living with the ‘mean dogs’.

  8. Vickie Wagner says:

    Even though the dogs can be seperated, with t their keen sense of smell, isn’t that letting the dog that was attacked know the attacker is still in the home?

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