Q: I have two dogs that have always gotten along really well but all of a sudden started fighting. They’re usually fine, but every once in awhile they look at each other, their hackles go up, and I know I need to separate them ASAP! Now that I know what they look like before they fight I can usually separate them before they start. But last week I didn’t get there in time and we ended up at the emergency room. The vet there said we probably need to find one of them a new home. They’re both old, though, and it would break my heart to lose either one. Please help!
A: Inter-dog aggression is a very common problem. In fact, I currently live with two dogs who fight unless they’re permanently separated. I live with this uncomfortable situation because I’ve decided that I have the space, the energy and the inclination to separate them –– not to mention the wherewithal to treat them should something go wrong. But not everyone can handle dogs who fight.
Luckily, just because your dogs have suddenly started fighting doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it (short of finding one of them a new home). In fact, there are plenty of potential solutions –– though few easy ones. But first, let’s address the possible causes:
Dogs who fight do so for a variety of reasons. The most typical of these include insufficient or inadequate socialization with other dogs (usually early on in life), past traumatic interactions, territoriality (dogs will protect their turf from other dogs), and resource-related issues (they’ll protect their food, their toys and their people, too).
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Our response to this unwanted behavior can exacerbate this problem, as can health concerns (in either dog), genetics, and aggression towards other animals. These pressing concerns, along with the possibility of human and animal injury during fights, explains why we urge that pet owners like you see a veterinarian immediately.
Solutions to the problem of inter-dog aggression typically include the following:
• Identifying triggers for the behavior (toys, passing through doorways, rough play at the dog park) and eliminating these;
• Behavior modification (training designed to encourage relaxation around their housemate);
• Pharmacological intervention (controversial);
• Permanent separation within the household;
Seeing a board-certified veterinary behaviorist is also highly recommended. These veterinarians are best trained to assist a truly committed owner in cases like these.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.