Myth: Let Them Fight It Out
Just typing that sentence makes my blood run cold.
I have seen both the behavioral side of this urban legend and I have witnessed the trauma and terror from a veterinary technician’s point of view.
Some dogs are able to fairly quickly establish a hierarchy of who is in charge and who is to be the submissive in a stressed or “imposed” family structure.
People have one dog and add another and most of the time the dogs figure out where they fit in. Normally the first or the oldest dog is the “alpha” and the “beta” is the new dog.
Adjustment maybe fairly quick or may take a few weeks dependent on the dogs in question.
But sometimes, some dogs will never get along.
When you put two very dominant dogs together they may not be able to come to an adequate agreement in their own minds.
This can be made worse by owners who don’t know or understand the dogs.
But I shudder when I hear people give the advice; “Just turn them loose and let them fight it out”.
Whereas this might have worked for some people in the past, I think it is barbaric.
We have come a long way from hanging dogs in the name of “dog training” and “letting them fight it out”.
Dogs can, will, and do kill each other.
I have also seen eyeballs ruptured and torn out and jaws and faces broken.
And, if you are lucky enough that both dogs survive you can have thousands of dollars of vet bills and two completely traumatized dogs to deal with for a lifetime.
Let me tell you that a dog that loses an eyeball in a fight with another dog will never be the same around other dogs!
What most people don’t realize is that “in the world of dog training and breeding” many of us have dogs in the same household, that never really see one another; much less get along.
They take shifts inside versus outside and never socialize together alone.
I had never been put into this situation until recently. I was lucky that all of my dogs got along.
But several months ago, I got a very dominant and possessive 6 week old puppy, and although he is learning to accept my role as “Mom” and let me touch his things (he still doesn’t like it and I still get threatened occasionally) he will undoubtedly NEVER be able to be alone with my other two dogs.
I am afraid, as a dominant puppy, he would threaten them (thinking he is big and tough) and they would kill him (them being a “pack”).
If I were to allow him to be alone with one of them at a time, I am afraid we would have a very serious dog fight.
They do interact together in the home with me in the room, but as “Mom” I am in control!! I have made a point to be in control throughout their lives together.
I can easily control my older two dogs with my voice because of the extensive training they have received, so I can tell them to “Leave It” when it comes to the puppy.
And, the puppy is also in the midst of constant training with me, so that I can control his naughty behavior when it comes to the older dogs.
Don’t make a mistake; it is the puppy who is the aggressor! Just because they grow up together doesn’t mean all dogs will get along either! There are no guarantees with dogs!
So because of that; we as owners have to give ourselves the best tools possible to combat and control negative behavior, and that comes with consistent obedience training.
Not yelling at your dogs when they get in trouble, or using intermittent compulsion, but actually teaching them how to behave and what to do.
Obedience training is never really finished (think your dog is well trained?), it is always a work in progress and there is always more things you can teach your dog and different things to do together.
To Keep the Peace
my dogs have beds that I can direct them to and from there they do down stays.
If you make a mistake behaviorally at my house, you often get to do a long down stay. This helps me maintain my spot at the top as “Mom” and it squashes conflict from dog to dog.
So If You Want to Add a New Dog?
Start by keeping the new dog on a leash or a tie down (if you are with him) in the house.
This helps to keep the existing dog from feeling like he has lost everything. He learns that the new dog has boundaries and he can avoid him if he wants. When he is ready he can venture into the new dog’s space.
This also helps you to establish behavioral and training boundaries with the new dog and teaches him to listen to you.
Make sure that you are working on obedience training with both dogs, separately.
Spend time training your older or existing dog, this is fun time for both of you, but also teaches your dog to listen to you in case of emergency.
It is also fun for your new dog to get out and get training and also teaches him to listen to you.
You know the kind of conflict where both dogs are growling, barking, hackling and trying to fight one another (I once had this when I brought a “rescue” female home with my female. The two females wanted to kill each other and I decided it was not worth the risk of keeping the new dog.)… it may not work out keeping them in the same room together.
Then you have to decide: can you live a life where they never interact independently; or does this dog need to find another home?
Keeping dogs separate isn’t easy!!! But it is possible, and with time and training behaviors and tolerance to each other can improve!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.