Aggressive Behavior in Dogs Sharing a Family Home

As I entertain dog forums and dog “frequently asked question” sites, it is a common theme that people are shocked to find that – when introducing a second dog to a family; the first dog who was previously an angel, suddenly lashes out with aggression. This takes many families by surprise and has them wondering – “what’s wrong with our dogs?”, not “what’s wrong with us?”

Dog -on-dog aggression can be scary and very dangerous. If you have never seen your dog lash out with aggression, you have never seen your dog at its most primitive, wild state. And that would be a good thing for you.

The Canine Mind: How Dogs Think?

Many people are curious to find out what their dog is thinking, the reality is, few people actually listen. That’s because often, they don’t have the experience, or just don’t understand. The canine mind is simple and lives in the present. Understanding this is the key to what your dog is telling you.
Many people project human emotions on their dogs. We hear it around us all the time. It starts with “cute” labels. For example, the owner becomes the “dog parent” and the dog is referred to as a “fur baby”, etc. There are many terms, but I don’t want to glamourize this miss use of the human-dog relationship.
Using “endearing” terms for the relationship with your dog is already the perfect set up for aggression, but few people understand why. ..

This is why:

By giving your dog human emotions we are making an assumption that the dog rationalizes and places significant weight on morals and values in their decision making processes as would a human.

As much as we would all like to believe dogs are this complex, they are not. Placing this amount of responsibility on the dog causes the dog stress because it causes confusion. The dog can not comprehend your expectation. Being wild animals at heart; dogs only have a few emotional expressions to utilize, one way to communicate their frustration – anger and therefore aggression.

Dogs are pack animals. They WANT YOU to be the BOSS! This was a hard concept for me to grasp myself, years ago. I thought a dog should have privileges like humans do, use the sofa because it is comfortable, sit only when he wants too, lay down only when he does it on his own. Most rational was like mine in the past “No one tells a person to “sit” or “lay down”” on command, that’s abusive. But I came to realize with dogs, providing this guidance and obedience is their form of discipline. The same way we take our shoes off at a friend’s house, or say “please” and “thank you” out of respect.

A dog looks to you for guidance; they want to be told what to do. Without our leadership, they don’t know how to act in our human world. They don’t know what our human “normal” socialization is. So it is up to us to take control as pack leader and show them. Provide the expectation and be consistent.

Dogs thrive in a consistent environment. It prevents them for feeling stressed and therefore lessens their anxiety and aggression. Consistency is easily maintained with consistent housing, becuase domesticated dogs are very territorial. Regular, predictable meal times with feeding bowls always kept in the same place day in and day out. Crate in the same place all the time, predictable walking times, and so on.

Some people go so far as to have all the dog’s daily activities on a ridge schedule, including playtime and crate time, etc. I don’t believe this is necessary, but the main things like, eating, walking, sleeping, should be very consistent to promote a strong attachment bond between the dog and you as the leader. You see how when you change your thinking; now taking charge of your dog does not sound so over bearing. You are merely giving the dog structure in their life, similar as you would raise a child. You are giving discipline by outlining clear, realistic expectations and providing your dog with manners that comply with human social norms. So the public will feel safe.

Introducing Two Dogs to One Family

So how can you get another dog in your family once you already have an existing dog? Every situation will have its unique challenges, but here are some basic tips that most people will benefit from knowing:

• Start planning how many dogs you want right away! You should know you want more than one dog by the time you purchase the first one. Knowing this will influence your decisions regarding the first dog in terms of compatibility, temperament and financial obligations.

• Choose opposite genders. It’s not impossible to combine two dogs both male or both female, but the chances for aggression are much higher because naturally, they want to compete.

• Prepare for some aggressive behavior in the first few weeks and plan how to deescalate the situation and discipline the dogs. Anytime another dog is introduced to the “pack”, the “pecking order” has to be re-established. The dog already established with the family will want to fight to maintain rank.

• When choosing the dog breeds try to research their sociability. Some breeds are more social than others, Labradors and Golden Retrievers to name a few good ones. Dogs like German Shepherds and Chihuahuas are NOT very social and will raise hell when a new dog is introduced.

• Make sure the new dog is chronologically younger, younger age, than the dog already with the family. An older dog gets more respect that a younger dog. So DO NOT INTERFERE with their natural canine norms.

• Make sure the dogs have separate crates or kennels, for sleeping. A private place they can retreat too when they want to be alone.

• Make sure the dogs have their own food dish and water dish and get fed at the same time out of their own bowl. Make sure to clean up any left-over food and discard. Do not allow them to eat each other’s scrapes.

• Take them on walks together. For the first few weeks you will need to find new walk routes that the previous family dog has not explored as the dog will be very territorial on the usual walk routes.

• Start walking the dogs by utilizing another family member to walk one of the dogs while you walk another. Start them on separate leashes about 20 feet apart with one dog with each person. Just walk casually parallel, but at a distance with each other. This helps dogs build pack mentality with a new member. Each walk you can get closer and closer until both dogs are walking together with one person. But take time, and with any aggressive behavior, stay at that distance apart until the behavior resolves. Dogs have great peripheral vision, so they see the other dog at all times, even if you have to turn your head.

• Other people will tell you how easy it was to add another dog to their family with little or no trouble, and no planning. This is a lie. It is not what most people experience. And it depends on many factors. They probably coincidently picked compatible breeds to integrate. They probably have smaller breed dogs that are easier to lead if you have experience or are a natural leader yourself. But most people need help, even if it’s from a professional. So don’t feel bad or think that you can’t do this.

• Some resources tell you some dogs will NEVER get along and set you up to plan for separate lives. This is a lie too. Dogs only care about the present. They don’t harp on the past. So your dog’s past experience cannot be used as an excuse. They can get over the fact they were abused and left in a shelter. All they think about now is how they were adopted by a caring person such as yourself. Show them love and confidence and don’t look for signs of “trauma” from past events. People always like to think “oh Fluffy can’t do “such –and – such” because she starts shaking and is so traumatized by her past”. Stop making excuses. Show her you are a confident leader and make her get over it now, or it’ll always be a behavioral problem. Your dog will only achieve what you show them, they gain their confidence through you. Don’t cower.

• Same goes for dogs that were previously attacked by another dog. They get over it. Don’t make excuses or feel bad for them. You’ll end up negatively reinforcing their aggressive and fearful behavior and magnify the problems. Take control, get a professional. Re-socialize them and show them how to get back their confidence. You are the only one who remembers the event, they have already moved on. This is a coping mechanism to help wild animals survive. You need to survive. You would not be as fit to survive if you are going to mope around over a family member or friend that was “hunted down”. We humans would, but that is the complexity of our brains, not the canine’s.

• Finally, dogs only read our body language. That’s why they pick up our non-verbal cues that may be completely opposite of what we really want them to do. For example, you have a dog that lunges and barks at other dogs. You tell him “no bark” when you see another dog, in hopes that he won’t bark or lunge. As you tell him the verbal command, “no bark” you tighten up the leash and get nervous yourself. Your body tenses up in anticipation of holding him back when he lunges at the dog. Even though you tell him not to bark, your body language shows the dog fear and panic, so he panics too and therefore is actually more likely to bark and lunge at the other dog.


Tools for Helping Prevent Aggression and Socialize Your Dogs

• Use a crate or kennel for your dog to sleep in and when your dog wants quite time. Each dog should have their own separate crate or kennel. When the dog retreats to the crate/kennel he should not be praised, pet, encouraged to play, or given treats etc. Let the dog be alone. If feeding time interferes with the dog’s quiet time, prepare the food and place it where the dog would normally eat, but let the dog decide when to go eat it

• To socialize your dog to natural outdoor situations, such as people, cars and other dogs safely, use a long training leash that can be anchored securely in the ground or around a tree. It can give the dog the illusion of being free while you continue to practice basic obedience commands with minimal to moderate distractions and progress until your dog can focus in environments with severe distractions all while you have them on a leash for everyone’s safety and your control

• Read books to help with your training techniques and communication styles between yourself and your dog. If you prefer to watch training techniques, I suggest this Cesar Millan DVD “Aggression”. Train with a professional trainer local to your area any time you think the problem is bigger than your comfort level. A professional can help you gain knowledge and tools to work effectively with your dog

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