March 11, 2010

Sibling Rivilry

I have considered myself very lucky. For the most part, all of my dogs have always gotten along. That’s not to say that a little squabble won’t break out occasionally over food, but it is always easily resolved. We make sure to do our best to not create unnecessary animosity between the dogs. The dogs only receive precious raw bones when each is in it’s own crate. They also eat their meals in different areas as to not provoke any sort of competition over resources.
When a fight does occur between two resident dogs it can be very scary and the future may seem uncertain. If you have children in the house, this creates even more concern. Some are nothing more then minor arguments while others can be very dangerous to both the dogs and people in the house.
Dogs may engage in arguments over anything from one dog being too pushy going through the doorway to vying for the attention of their favorite person. First, the reason for the disagreement must be established and then training can begin to teach the dog that his behavior is not necessary.
If you have two dogs that fight over eating their daily can simply feed them in separate rooms which will certainly eliminate the opportunity for the fight. It will likely reduce the anxiety that one or both dogs are experiencing in anticipation of a fight so that they can both enjoy their meals in peace. If it is impossible to feed them separately and the dogs are causing bodily harm to one another, you can feed one or more dogs in a crate.
If your dogs are not trying to tear each other apart while can teach them impulse control by training each one individually to sit and wait until you release them by name to eat their food. I still would not feed them side by side, but this will make it more manageable to feed them in the same room. It is also important to teach a “leave it” command in case food drops on the floor while both dogs are present.
If you are going to share your life with more than one dog at a time it is absolutely essential that each dog knows it’s name and have a good recall meaning that when you say the dog’s name & come, the dog responds immediately without thinking. All too often, we let our dogs get away with the response “I’ll be with you in a minute” and they continue to play with their house mate. It is not up to your dog to decide when they are done is your decision and it needs to be respected.
I like to train each dog who comes into the house to target my hand. I simply hold my hand out in front of the dog and wait for the dog to tap my hand with his nose...then I click and treat. In a multi-dog household I will start to add the dog’s name after a few minutes of repeated taps. Over time the dog learns when it hears it’s name and sees my hand held out it will automatically come running and touch it’s nose to my hand. This is especially helpful when you have two dogs that are engaging in play or are about to escalate it to something more and you say each of their names and they each run to their designated hands which automatically separates them and you once again regain control.
Another important aspect of impulse control is a solid sit / wait. Dogs often get into fights when racing one another through the door. If you teach your dog a sit / wait and then release each dog by name, then one dog at a time will go through the door and you eliminate the opportunity for a fight to break out.
Finally, everyone in the house must learn how to read canine body language. Some great illustrations can be found at ASPCA Canine Body Language to dispel the myths and help you understand what your dog is trying to tell you.
Once you feel confident that you can call your dog successfully out of just about any situation, you can detect when a situation might be about to occur, and you can reduce or eliminate the anxiety your dog is experiencing, you will be on your way to a fight-free household. Don’t forget that your dog can easily pick up on your stress. So while you may think you are cool as a cucumber...your dog knows better. Take a couple deep breaths and remember what you have been working on. When you exude confidence your dog will turn the leadership role over to you and you should be able to restore peace in your pack.

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I train dogs using positive reinforcement training to modify unwanted behaviors.  I step outside the traditional training box and use therapeutic-grade essential oils to assist in my behavior modification regime when it comes to dogs plagued with fear and anxiety as well as aggression.  My philosophy is to heal the dog's mind, body and spirit, not just to rid the dog of unacceptable behaviors.  I specialize in shelter dog rehab, reactive rover, and fearful fidos.