This article applies to initial dog-dog introductions, as well as, those dogs that need “relationship therapy” due to fighting or tension that arises in their day to day routine.
Minimize friction by being proactive. Put away the toys, keep bones in the cabinet, block access to socially significant “hot spots” where fights are most likely to occur (ie. sofas, beds, doorway thresholds), and avoid giving attention that could potentially generate conflict. Preventing fights through management is a critical part of helping two dogs develop a strong relationship. Stick with the protocol and re-assess your management protocol every 6 weeks. Every altercation could extend the training timeline. Erring on the side of caution typically leads to the best results.
Forge a Bond Through Shared Experiences
Take them for slow walks in new places. Exploring neutral territory is a great bonding activity. Be cautious if one or both dogs are reactive on leash. You might choose to walk on quiet trails where walks will be most relaxing and you are less likely to run into triggers.
Place two training mats on the ground and reinforce your dogs for being at separate stations. “One for you, one for you.” This is a great way to establish calm, positive association in each other’s presence. Work on these exercises once or twice each day. To create a safe training set up for dogs that cannot co-exist in the same space, or that fight over food or attention, you can place one mat on the opposite side of a baby gate.
What to do if and when you notice tension (ie. a hard stare, growling, snarling)
Be Calm. Aggression stems from stress. Yelling or physically reprimanding a dog for aggressive behavior usually adds more fuel to the fire and can intensify subsequent fights. Be Prepared. When your dogs are supervised, have dogs on a harness, dragging a short leash. If there is tension between the two dogs – pick up the leash and lead him/her away from the other dog. When it makes sense, reinforce your dog for moving away from conflict. Try to avoid grabbing a dog’s collar when you notice tension, as this is often a sure fire way to start a fight. Keep a behavior log. Write down the date, time, location, observable behaviors, as well as, any other factors that may have contributed to the incident. This will help in establishing and implementing a more effective management and training plan.
Warning Signs are Good!
Be thankful for growling, snarling and air snaps; this is a dog’s way of communicating that they are feeling stressed, and is the perfect time to calmly diffuse the situation. Many people want to “correct” their dog for exhibiting these signs, and believe that this is the best way to “teach a dog not to be aggressive.” In reality, they are only addressing the symptoms – not the underlying cause of the problem. The other unfortunate side-effect of “correcting” warning signs is that your dog will learn to suppress warning signs, and go straight into fight mode. Have you ever heard people say “My dog attacked without warning”? This is usually because the dog was trained not to give a warning. Corrections can suppress behavior in the short-term, but in the long-term aggressive behavior can become more intense and less predictable.
What to Do If Your Dogs Fight
After you break up the fight you should secure both dogs on harness and leash and move them both to an environment that is more conducive to relaxation. Changing the environment can help them transition to a calmer state of mind. Reintroducing dogs in a calm, safe and controlled manner will ensure that neither dog will harbor resentment and make the rivalry worse.