Enforced Togetherness: Love the One You’re With?

May 22, 2020

85 heads together mouthing editEnforced togetherness brought on by stay-at-home orders has been a double-edged sword. I worry about things like how many dogs are going to have separation anxiety issues when people start going back to work. But beyond that, while some families have enjoyed spending increased time together, others are not quite so thrilled. In the latter category are homes with dogs who don’t get along. I’m not talking about dogs who want to seriously injure each other and can’t be allowed in the same space; I mean dogs who cohabitate but are likely to get into fights now and then and perhaps even get snarky with each other on a regular basis.

Dogs pick up on our emotions, and it’s not a stretch to say that most of us have been pretty stressed out these last few months. Add that to an already tentative dog-dog relationship and  the possibility of fewer or less far-reaching outings resulting in less exercise and mental stimulation, and you’ve got a recipe for amplified behavior issues. Whereas one dog might have normally tolerated what he perceives as rude behavior from another or been willing to back down when warned off, his buffer of tolerance may have worn thin. That increased tension can lead to more skirmishes and fights.

Although behavior modification should, of course, be part of the solution, constant daily management is critical. That means knowing your dogs and what will trigger them. For example, my own dogs are known to get snarky with each other in certain situations. This morning, as I went about preparing their food, I reminded Sierra that she needed to stand outside the dog door and wait. Bodhi stays inside with me because apparently, if he’s separated by more than two feet from food that’s being prepared, he might burst into flames. Happily, food was prepared and peace reigned in the kingdom. But the point is, Sierra knows the routine and goes to her place on her own almost all the time, but this time, had I not been paying attention and she’d moved too close to Bodhi, a fight might have broken out.

It really is all about establishing routines. The “hot spots” where fights are likely to break out are things like food being present, guarding of other types of valuable resources, excitement at the front door (how many amazon deliveries have you had lately?), access to locations like the couch or bed, or access to attention and petting. The better you know your dogs, the more carefully you pay attention to their body language and interactions, the easier it is to manage situations in order to keep the peace. (Speaking of which, if you need help, check out my book Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home.) It’s those times when we’re not thinking or not paying attention, combined with increased stress, that it’s all too easy for things to go awry. It’s not always easy, but all of this enforced togetherness can actually be an opportunity to create new routines and strengthen our relationships with our dogs as well as their relationships with each other.
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