1. Mercurial

    Mercurial Contributor Contributor

    Jan 16, 2009
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    Question for Dog Owners (About a Behavior Problem)

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Mercurial, Jun 7, 2010.

    I have a very large "pack" in my house, with four humans and three dogs. Two are miniature schnauzers and one is a boxer. One of the little ones is the oldest and has always been the alpha. The youngest (the boxer) has been beta, and the smallest schnauzer has always been the most submissive of the pack order. They all understand that all humans (even strangers) are above them in the pack order.

    Lately though, there have been a number of fights between my boxer and the alpha --probably more than twenty. The boxer and the smallest have fought once (although the boxer continually threatens her and the smallest goes out of her way to avoid the boxer now; poor baby), but there has never been a fight between the alpha and the smallest. It usually takes two humans to pull the dogs apart (because they need to be pulled apart; it's not just one dog being attacked --both are attacking). Last night was really bad, and I have a deep cut on my hand that looks like it might scar. My knee is still torn up from a fight last March; I think it should heal if I dont cause any more damage to it.

    My questions to you are:
    1) What is the cause of these fights? I have my suspicions (read on), but if you've been in a similar situation, I'd love to hear from a veteran.

    2) What can I do to prevent future fights?


    My suspicions for the causes of the fight are:

    1) The alpha is getting quite old. She is eleven years old (schnauzers live from approximately 12 to 16 years) has congenital heart failure. She is on five different medicines to be taken twice daily and is having problems with her vision now. I am wondering if the beta, my boxer, is challenging her for the alpha position. But that wouldnt explain the incident between the boxer and the smallest...?

    2) The boxer may have an internal problem. We have talked to the vet about the problem, and he prescribed her Xanax, which made the fights less frequent but didnt stop them, and we cant afford to keep her on Xanax indefinitely, especially when it is not working all that well. He says that it's a dominance issue and that it will be worked out eventually, but what are we supposed to do? Let them bite and claw at each other (and sustain serious injuries; like I said, I myself am probably going to have a few battle scars) until they work it out?
    I only wonder if maybe she has a problem because our boxer is epilleptic. Could that have anything to do with the fights? I only suggest this because she seems to be the constant in these fights. She is involved in every single fight.

    3) It could be a food-possessive problem. I am noticing that food is sometimes involved in the fights. They have broken out around "dinner" time for the dogs (never in the morning) and as a precaution they now eat in separate rooms. Yesterday, pizza was ordered and people were eating in the family room where the food was lower to the ground. I personally didnt think that the food was anywhere near either dog, but could that have sparked the fight? If it is a food possessive problem, I am not sure which dog would be the aggresive one in this situation. The boxer has always been laid-back with her food around humans, while the alpha is much more aggressive...


    Our dogs are well-loved and someone is always home to take care of them. I am home often now that it is summer, and my mom works from home three days a week. My grandfather is retired and lives with us too. We dont take them for walks as often as we should (generally dogs should be walked once daily, sometimes twice daily depending on the breed), but they get plenty of daily exercise.

    Like I said, we have spoken to our vet and he doesnt seem to be concerned. But I am. The alpha is very sick and frail and I fear that our large boxer could leave permanent damage if I dont act fast enough, and the fights are scary enough that I know in the future, I will never own more than one dog at a time. :(

  2. madhoca

    madhoca Contributor Contributor

    Dec 1, 2008
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    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    My grandmother bred dogs (at first German Shepherds, then mostly Old English Sheepdogs, later Lhasa Apsos) for many years. Sometimes there were up to 12 or so dogs (not counting puppies), sometimes only 4-5. I must say, only one or two chosen ones were ever allowed inside the house, the rest stayed in a run. She also always had to keep some dogs apart because of clashes. I remember sprinkling cologne used to drive them apart, but maybe that was only those particular dogs!

    As well as this, the dogs had a lot of obedience training, since they were bred for work or showing, and this seemed to help them relax in possibly stressful situations. She sometimes kept a muzzle on them, too, since although they were mostly very good-tempered they were very big dogs.

    I remember her sometimes having problems with the bitches getting very cranky as they grew older. She also had one with a kind of brain problem which suddenly made it impossibly aggressive. I think as your dogs are growing older and have health problems etc their hierarchy and temperament is changing. Like your vet says, they could sort themselves out in time. Have you tried separating the dogs and then gradually re-introducing? Also, the dogs will pick up on changes in your behaviour and sense stress, so I don't know if anything has changed recently in your home?

    Sorry, not too helpful, I realise! But separating them may be the kindest solution. Certainly, I'd say don't feed them in the same area, and make sure they have enough exercise and individual attention.
  3. losthawken

    losthawken Author J. Aurel Guay Role Play Moderator Contributor

    May 5, 2009
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    I have grown up with dogs all my life I'm no expert, but I've also watched a lot of 'the dog whisperer. (Kidding)

    I would suspect option 1) the boxer is trying to move up in the ranks. As I've seen it, when a dog is trying to assert itself as being in charge it tries to dominate everyone, not just those above it. It's like entire social system needs to be re-enforced and re-defined in their minds. That might be why the boxer attacked the little Schnauzer.

    My only suggestion would be to make absolutely sure that they know YOU are the alpha, and that you determine the hierarchy. Discipline sternly when there are fights. Even go so far as to force the hierarchy you want.

    When we had a baby we made the dog lie down and then put the baby next to it in a dominant position, (letting the baby pet the dog, while keeping the dog laying down submissive). It was a way for us as alphas communicating how the hierarchy was going to go.

    Maybe you could get the dogs to lay together and give them snacks, being sure to enforce that the schnauzer has a right to his own, and that he gets and equal if not greater share.

    Just some thoughts...
  4. fantasy girl

    fantasy girl New Member

    Apr 15, 2009
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    I have three dogs, and I am having the same problem. The two that fight are both sisters, just from different litters, about a years difference between them.

    Since we moved to our new house in November, they seem to always be fighting, and the only solution we have come up with is keeping them permanently separated, and if a fight does break out, out German Shepperd tries to split them up. Keeping them away from each other isn't too hard for us, because the two dogs are tiny (Jack Russel, Chinese Crested, Yorkshire Terrier cross',) for you this would be more difficult.

    Personally, I think it is a hierarchy problem. The oldest is six, with the youngest at five. They are both bitches, and are both have Jack Russel in them, which are mainly aggressive dogs anyway, but the only thing we can do is keep them separated.

    I don't think this will help much, but there you go.

    FG xx
  5. Mercurial

    Mercurial Contributor Contributor

    Jan 16, 2009
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    Thank you all so, so much. :) I am pretty sure it's a hierarchy problem, and seeing as you guys seem to agree, I'm going to try to work from there... It's funny; all three of the pups are bitches, and we made sure they'd all be females because our experience with male dogs (especially terrier males) has been somewhat miserable. We were hoping that by having all females, we'd be avoiding aggression!

    We havent tried total isolation because most of the time they are fine; it's just that the fights have been going on since late last year which has made the number of fights so high. I'm starting to wonder if separation might be the key though... at least until the alpha unfortunately passes on, which I'm beginning to think will be very soon. She cant keep down her food anymore and is getting quite thin. :(

    I dont think there's been any major changes in the household recently, but the dogs do respond to the stress. They usually fight when my mom is in the room; when she was gone for an entire two weeks a month or two ago, there wasnt a single fight. I'm not sure how she'd change that though.

    They know that humans are pack leaders, although the dogs tend to see each human differently. The boxer responds well to me but not as well to others, while our alpha schnauzer has only recently allowed me to pick her up without snapping (she doesnt care if anyone else in the family does). I wonder if this is a problem. We have never given it much thought because they recognize we are higher in the rankings than they are, but I think they see the humans in different positions, you know?

    I will try to see how they react with the snack suggestion because I really dont want to separate them permenantly, and hopefully if the boxer recognizes that the alpha is still alpha, the fights will stop. We always put them both in the submissive positions (on their backs or sides with us above them) after a fight, but maybe that's only reinforcing what they already know --we're in charge. Perhaps the alpha should be standing near the boxer while the boxer is still in the submissive position?

    I am starting to think that unless losthawken's tips work out, this will have to be our permenant solution. I'm thinking it is probably a hierarchy problem too, so I think maybe something else I will do is to take them on walks more often than we do. :redface: I have heard that taking dogs on proper walks (not humans-being-pulled walks) helps reinforce pack values and pack order. It couldnt hurt...

    Hehehe! :D We try to follow Cesar's way in our home by recognizing that dogs are dogs, and even though we think of them as our children, we have to treat them like dogs and not like people in order for them to be happy and healthy. It's, for the most part, provided a good environment for all involved.
  6. k.little90

    k.little90 Active Member

    Jul 7, 2009
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    Smalltown, USA
    My dog Riley had this issue when I first got him as well. I live with my grandma who has Pepper, a 17 year old lab. When my puppy was introduced to Pepper, she made it clear that she was the alpha, snarling and staring down and such. When Riley started into the post-puppy years, he began challenging the lab, fighting back when she would go at him.

    The only thing that I found that helped was to enter my dog into obedience school. Even though Riley was well behaved before, enrolling him in classes and taking them with him ensured that my control was absolute over him. Now when he and Pepper begin to fight, I can use MY alpha power to let him know that it isn't ok. Even though Riley's desire to fight is still there, he stops because I told him to.

    Does that make sense? This may work with your Boxer, but I don't know about your older dog...
  7. Mercurial

    Mercurial Contributor Contributor

    Jan 16, 2009
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    We have taken two of the three dogs to obedience school. The third, who is the most submissive, never attended because she is actually my grandfather's dog, and he was too frail to take her. We didnt want to take her because we didnt want her to think that she was "our dog" instead of his.
    She has learned commands like come, sit, and stay though, which is enough for me. She isnt the problem anyway though.

    We arent really using our alpha positions to let them know that it isnt okay though... we just pull them apart (which takes a lot of effort! The boxer is quite strong) and put them in submissive positions. Maybe the immediate aftermath should be taken advantage of a little more than it is currently in these situations.


    I am taking the boxer for daily walks though now. They always get energy, but I know the walking is important, especially with emphasizing pack order. The reason why we dont do them very often is because it can get very difficult trying to walk three dogs at once, even with two handlers.

    I am teaching her to walk properly, meaning behind or beside me, which was not always the case. She has taken on quickly; the only times I needed to correct her was when there was another dog or some other distraction around. But by the end of the walk, I didnt even need to correct her.

    I am afraid to walk the alpha... Like I said, she is very sick and has trouble walking now; she is favoring her right leg and avoids movement when possible. When she has to, it's very slow. Plus, she is having a hard time eating. When she eats her meals, she usually ends up vomitting (yes, the vet is aware of this and we are working on a solution), so I am afraid to walk her for that reason as well --I dont want her to lose any more weight as she is already five pounds underweight, which is a very big deal for a miniature schnauzer.

    But I am hoping by walking the boxer and expelling some of her energy and also continually showing her that I am alpha, that will hopefully help with the fights as well.

    No one ever said it would be easy, did they? :(
  8. Sharajj

    Sharajj New Member

    Aug 18, 2009
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    Hi there, I've had multi-dog households for years and I know what you are going through.

    Have you considered any of these things:
    - When do they fight? Feeding time? When one is being shown affection? Are their toys around? There are a lot of things that can trigger this behaviour that are easily missed by humans. We aren't dogs after all! :)

    - Do they have their own 'spaces'? I do not mean isolation. Dogs are social animals and isolation is punishment. I mean a crate or special spot/room where they can go and feel safe. This place would mean that any kids can't bother them, other dogs can't bother them, etc. Stressed out dogs really respond well to having a safe spot like this. They also seem to prefer spots where they can still see what is going on without being in the middle of it.

    - When you feed them are they fed separately? This may not seem important for dogs that have previously gotten along but feeding a group of dogs together can build up problem over time and what may have never been a problem before can become an issue seemingly overnight. There are many pros for feeding dogs separately. They do not feel like they need to rush to get their meals. Eating slower lessens the chance of bloat, gas and digestive distress. You can easily monitor how much they are eating and will know if they go off of their food earlier than you otherwise might.

    - And lastly, maybe stop and think about if you or anyone in your home is unintentionally playing favourites with the dogs. Particularly with the older dog. This can cause problems. All dogs should get some one-on-one quality time with you each day for their own mental wellbeing he he.

    A few years ago I had four large dogs in my home. The smallest was 60 lbs and the biggest 120. One of them all of a sudden started to build a grudge with the other and there were some bloody battles. It was a very stressful time and I too have a scar to show for it. The only solution was to crate and rotate. This was after consulting with a certified behaviourist by email. We were in a remote area and maybe if i had been able to meet with a behaviourist regularly we could have overcome it but the safest and sanest method was to crate and rotate. It was work, but then again so is having dogs! And the peace of mind was worth it.

    My strongest piece of advice to you would be to be careful using any of the 'quick fix' methods you see on TV. Things like these are best left in the hands of professionals, or not at all. Things like alpha rolls can quickly backfire on the average dog owner. Especially with dogs that are already showing signs of stress or behavioural problems. If you feel like you need to reestablish YOUR order in the hierarchy look into Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF). This can be extremely effective in combination of crating and rotating and you may find that over time things calm down and you can relax a bit :) Good luck.
  9. jacktheknife

    jacktheknife New Member

    Jun 8, 2010
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    I have had a female Walker hound for 8 years, Sandymay is her name.
    Then a 14 month old Black & Tan male came up for grabs
    and I went over and got him.
    All my hounds are 'free hounds' as there are too many homeless dogs
    in the world and some of my best hounds or dogs have been free.

    Duke was mistreated and he has been known to bite people.
    One girl said that "he made blood run down my arm!"
    He is a loving, good hound but I pulled a tick off him a little while ago
    and if he hadn't knocked his head on the table he was laying by,
    as he attacked he would have bit me too.
    If I touch him while he is in his sleeping curl he comes at me like a bear.
    But I have only had Dukedog for about 6-7 weeks and he is getting better and better.

    I was out cooking Fajitas and Duke would come over and lay his head on my shoulder
    and snuggle up to my neck and just sigh.
    I love old Dukedog but he has not been trained right.
    The problem is his other owners didn't understand him,
    they didn't 'speak dog' or 'hound' either, and Duke just didn't understand them.
    My Sandymay taught him how to go to the door and bark to get in or out,
    and he was an expert 'house dog' in two or three days.
    Now that is a smart hound.

    Sandymay was viscous when I brought Duke home
    and I have never seen her 'show her teeth' to me!
    I interrupted Sandy disciplining Duke,
    and she turned around and looked at me like a monster!
    Showing me 100 teeth, and a look in her eye that chilled my blood!
    Duke never is aggressive to her,
    but Sandy was breaking 'the new dog in',
    letting him know that she is the boss,
    and all the food and water in all the bowls all over the house
    are her's because they always have been hers,
    at least till I brought Duke home.
    And I interrupted her and made her look bad
    and that was what she was saying to me.

    I do 'speak hound' you see, fluent 'hound' and 'dog' too.

    'Let them fight!'

    But don't watch them or get involved,
    {it's a dog thing}

    They won't kill each other
    and they will eventually get a 'pecking order' established.

    J. Winters von Knife

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