There’s a whole lot of fighting going on out there. I’ve had eight calls about dog aggression in the past week. Fighting outside the home, fighting inside the home, battling over toys, territory, food and other high-value resources, namely humans.
One caller told the familiar tale of her two female dogs who have taken to fighting. She brought this terrible twosome into her home when they were 9 months old, and they spent their puppyhood peacefully playing together like loving sisters. As they grew older, the playing turned to fighting. Now Mom spends her days breaking up dogfights and trying to avoid getting bit in the process.
Let’s talk about that for a minute: breaking up dogfights. How do you do it without losing a hand? Answer: Don’t use your hands. Ever.
Most dogfights can be broken up with distractions. Throwing a blanket over the dogs is my preferred method. You could also bang pots and pans together or otherwise create a loud ruckus — but not with your voice. Yelling just serves to amp up an already intense situation. The noise should be something unfamiliar to the dogs. If a fight breaks out outside, spray the dueling hounds with a hose — and use a strong spray. You aren’t cooling them down; you’re breaking it up.
But the best way to break up a dogfight is to prevent it. Learn to recognize the early signs, and put the brakes on then. Get to know the triggers, and manage them. If your dogs fight over food, don’t feed them together, and don’t leave bowls of food on the floor when it’s not feeding time. Ditto with bones, treats and toys if those are a source of contention.
If the triggers aren’t obvious and your dogs fight violently and for what appears to be no reason, you’re going to need the help of a dog behaviorist who specializes in aggression. And if the situation is serious, you might need to rehome one of the dogs. It isn’t fair or decent to make them live together if they are a threat to each other.
Another caller has a 125-pound dog who, at 7 months old, attacked a pup over a bone. The owner spent the next four years trying to desensitize his dog by taking him to the park, giving him a bone and hoping he’d let the other dogs in the park pass near his treasured bone without incident. He’s still hoping. Recently, his dog attacked a dog in the park, resulting in 30 stitches for the other dog and a lawsuit for the caller.
Another caller’s 4-year-old toy terrier is an escape artist who attacks dogs and their owners as they try to walk by the house.
These are bad scenes. This is the stuff of lawsuits, lost homeowners insurance, overwhelming vet bills and even the loss of your dog due to impoundment and euthanasia.
If the dog is young, the solutions are training and socialization.
If the dog is older, the solutions are training, socialization under the supervision of a professional and careful management of the dog’s environment.
If an older dog never has gotten along with other animals, he probably never will. There are tools on the market — specialized leashes, harnesses and muzzles — that enable an owner to walk such a dog in public spaces. And a professional trainer can work with the dog and owner to desensitize the dog’s reaction to other dogs, animals or people, and to teach the owner to redirect the dog’s attention at the early stages of an aggressive response. But the dog and his environment always will require careful and intelligent management.
For those living in a dog-eat-dog world, knowledge, common sense and good judgment pack the biggest punch.
Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com, and visit him at http://www.unclematty.com. Send your questions email@example.com or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.
COPYRIGHT 2012 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.