Preventing Inner-Pack Aggression: Part I

I work with many families whose dogs fight with one another. It’s not unnatural for dogs to have disagreements, however, there is a point when the disagreements can cause serious issues. Disagreements that turn into full blown fights can cause injury for both dogs, and can also cause tension in the human and dog pack. The good news is there are steps you can take to help avoid the issues of inner-pack aggression.

First, ensure you have established appropriate leadership within your “pack.” You need to set expectations so each dog knows what is required to earn the rewards you have for them (e.g. going outside, coming inside, going for a walk and feeding). Require behavior that is controlled and reward behaviors you would like to see repeated. Establishing leadership is not about being dominant or the alpha, so focus on consistency and confidence instead.
Leadership among your dogs is a separate issue. It is rare to have one dog in charge of everything. When an owner tells me that a specific dog is the “alpha,” what I’m really hearing is that a particular dog is the bully and is usually the one causing the problems. Each dog will decide what is important to them and will make that clear in a confident manner to the others. In other words, there may be one dog that finds going outside first important where another dog likes to be in charge of play. You do not want to interfere with this established leadership unless one dog is becoming a bully.

The next thing you must do is learn about dog communication. Dogs communicate with each other to avoid conflict. They are born with this ability and continue practicing these skills through socialization with other dogs. Disagreements between dogs typically occur because one dog disrespects another’s signals, or because a dog does not have the confidence to use his skills appropriately. Dogs with good communication skills will communicate their stress and try to calm a situation (or themselves) by first using passive signals. These signals include ignoring, turning the head or body, yawning and bowing. When these signals are repeatedly disrespected by another dog (who is being a bully), he has no choice by to use less passive signals (growling/snarling). At times, this can cause a disagreement between the two dogs, resulting in one dog using “aggressive” signals (snap or bite). Understanding dog language will help you to know when to interrupt before the situation can escalate to this level. If this level of disrespect is allowed to continue, very often, inner-pack aggression results as the dog being disrespected will automatically jump to snapping or biting when the bully dog is present.

Get the education you need and set leadership appropriately in your home before you have issues. If you are already having some issues within your pack, check back with our next blog on some signs that things are getting out of hand.