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Learn reason for dogs’ fighting
Dr. Spiegel, Could you address the following problem? We have an older dog (14 years) and two young ones (3 and 1/2 years old). The older dog and one of the little ones fight and sometimes it's very rough. The younger one seems to be the tormentor. What can be done? Thanks Doctor. C.S. Wilmington
Dear C.S., One of the best things you can do at this point is to gather more information. Keep a log, and record the date and time of each incident, what each dog was doing just prior to the incident, and how the incident played out. Until you are certain of the actual dynamics of the situation it is often best not to get involved. All too often, interdog aggression problems happen only in the presence of the owner, and it is actually the attention of and interactions with the owner that are sought after by the dogs. The dogs carry on, it attracts the attention of the owner, and the owner interferes. An owner's attention and direct physical interaction can be the greatest prize there is for some dogs. It is because of this that many behavior problems are inadvertently reinforced by owners. The dog is misbehaving. The dog's owner calms the dog by petting it. The dog stops the behavior. The owner thinks (s)he has succeeded in stopping the behavior. But over time the dog engages in the problem behavior more and more frequently. Why? Because when he does, he gets the owners attention quickly and reliably. This can often be a significant factor in multidog households. The health of your older dog can be a primary factor as well. Given the age difference, it is likely that the younger dogs came into the situation respecting the rights and status of the older, stronger, more experienced (i.e., dominant) dog. Now, however, the younger dogs have grown stronger and quicker, while your 14 year old has probably grown weaker and slower. For a younger dominant-minded dog, this presents an ideal opportunity to take advantage of situations and to get the things (s)he wants. These may include favorite resting places, bones, toys, food, proximity to owner, and possessiveness of an owner's attention. When it comes to moving up in the ranks of a dominance hierarchy, it is a game most often won by opportunists. If your younger dog recognizes that the older dog is not quite himself (weaker, slower, sick, etc.), the younger dog may make more frequent attempts to knock him down. Have your vet conduct a geriatric examination of your 14 year old. On the other hand, it could simply be attempts by the younger dog to play which are being met with increasingly negative reactions on the part of an irritable ailing older dog. It is also possible that what may appear to you as fighting is simply the way the vast majority of dogs love to play... mock-fighting. This is a situation where detailed descriptions of incidents and knowledge of the individual personality traits of the dogs involved are critical to the assessment and resolution of problems. EVENT: Canine Partners for Life's 4th Annual Paws-a-Thon and Hound and Handler Classic will be Sat., April 20 @ the Delcastle Recreation Center, McKennan's Church Road (raindate Sun, the 21st). Registration begins @ 8:30. Hound and Handler Classic (a 1 mi. running race) begins @ 9:30a.m. The Paws-a-Thon (a 1 and 3/4 mi. walk) begins @ 10:15a.m. Participants are asked to collect pledges before the day of the walk. Prizes for all amounts over $25. Grand prize: Luxury Weekend Getaway for two. All proceeds benefit Canine Partners for Life, a Cochranville, PA organization established to provide certified service dogs to people who have physical disabilities. Call Michael Cartwright @ (610) 869-4902 for a pledge sheet or more info.