Despite popular opinion, dogs do not live in wolf packs and interdog aggression is not caused by a hierarchy-based theory. This “Ceaser Milan” style training has been disproven by multiple specialised veterinary behaviouralists worldwide and is not recommended in the management of interdog aggression. For this reason, we recommend veterinary and behavioural management of interdog aggression. Generally chronic, reoccurring conflicts (or “fights”) are a sign of mental health disorders in one or both combatants.
Initially your vet will likely take you through a series of questions to determine what is causing the conflict and whether there is an underlying physical problem. For example, if one dog has arthritis or extremely painful skin disease it may become unusually aggressive. Mental disorders may also cause this such as anxiety or canine cognitive function syndrome. It is essential the vet examines and discusses both animals involved as often the victim is not the dog you think! For example, if a dog has an anxiety disorder and the other dog in the house is normal, it may react aggressively to the anxious dog’s abnormal behaviour.
Consider the following:
- What happened before the fight?
- Who approached who?
- Was there food around?
- Were you around?
- Are there any recent changes in the house hold e.g. new baby, guest, renovations?
- Has either dog had any issues with this behaviour before?
Determining the source of the problem (i.e. the correct dog) and establishing the triggers is the key to successful management. Management usually involves four aspects:
- Safety – work to prevent triggers and protect the “normal” dog. It may be necessary to keep the dogs separated and move them around the house on lead.
- Relaxation training – this helps them to have better coping skills. Reward calm behaviour by reassuring them in a soothing tone. Don’t encourage clingy behaviour. For example, don’t cuddle them when they are begging for attention. Practice making them sit and stay calm for 3-5 minutes, 5 times daily.
- Gradual re-introduction – this should only be attempted if both dogs are calm and relaxed. If any signs of tension or aggression occur the dogs must be immediately separated. Start with short periods of time then lengthen.
- Medication – sometimes the anxious dog may require treatment of their underlying anxiety which usually includes medication and pheromone therapy.
In some instances, despite your best intentions the dogs may not be able to cohabitate and the vet may recommend permanent separation as the safest option.