Dog Eat Dog?
A friend of mine is having a problem with one of her dogs attacking her other dog. She came to me to ask why this might be happening. There are several reasons that this could be happening and I could not fully judge the situation without observing it directly so I decided to put together the top 5 reasons that this might be happening.
First, let's observe what we know. This particular situation involves two fixed, female dogs that have lived together for most of their lives without issues. The younger dog, let's call her Sadie, has just been diagnosed with Cushing's disease and is the one doing the attacking. The older dog, Molly, seems to be an innocent bystander in all of this.
Reason #1. My first question was to find out if the dogs were fixed. Dogs have hormones and all storts of issues that come along with not being fixed. This can cause extreme hormonal changes that affect behavior. I want to add to this that even fixed females will sometimes still fight for dominance if there is a male around.
Reason #2. Food aggression. Food aggression can seem to come out of nowhere. Dogs that used to be perfectly happy eating side by side suddenly cannot be anywhere near each other. Perhaps this is just grumpiness from old age or perhaps one dog has decided it doesn't like the way that the other one chews with their mouth open. Who knows. In any event, there are a few ways to try to work around this. Try to seperate the animals when you feed them. Bring one dog inside and have one outside. Seperate them before you even begin to prepare the food and do not allow them back together until all food bowls have been put away for a few minutes. I suggest keeping the dog that is being attacked on her "home turf" and removing the dog that is doing the attacking. That way, the attacking dog is the one that is out of her element and is being reintroduced to the other dog after eating. I have seen dominant dogs attack more submissive dogs everytime they are brought back into their home turf, even if they only left for a few minutes.
Let's say that the attacking doesn't seem to only occur around feeding time. Sometimes, the dogs simply know that dinner time is in a few hours and they are already jockeying for feeding position. Try bumping feeding time up a few hours without warning (still separate both dogs to feed). This way the dogs are surprised and don't have time to argue about who is going to get dinner first. After dinner, the arguments seem to calm down most of the time. Fighting just doesn't seem as important when you have a full stomach.
Sometimes the dogs are fighting over food that isn't even theirs. If a family member is snacking, the dogs may think that is fair game and are fighting over who is allowed to beg for scraps. I suggest trying to get the family to eat at one time and in one place. For example, everyone eats dinner at the table while the dogs wait outside. No food comes out until the dogs have safely been placed outside. This may help to eliminate some bickering.
Reason #3. The dog being attacked may be sick. Animals can often tell when other animals are sick. In the wild, they would use this as a survival tactic. They might pick off the weak, sick or injured animals so as not to attract other predators, not to be slowed down, or to get rid of another mouth to feed. Sometimes dogs do this when they can sense the other animal has an illness. This could be cancer, heart failure or any other number of things.
Reason #4. One, or both, of the dogs may be in pain. The reasoning I offered to my friend was that Sadie simply may not be feeling good and the other dog got on her last nerve. This explanation seems silly but I do think there is truth to it. Sadie may be developing arthritus and it hurts her to be touched, she may be lashing out at Molly either to tell her to stop touching her or because she thinks that Molly is somehow causing her pain. She also may be simply expecting the pain to come and so she lashes out in advance hoping to avoid the pain.
Reason #5. Stress. I have heard of dogs becoming more aggressive during the winter due to being kept inside more. Any number of small changes in your home could have led to stress on your dogs. Did a family member recently leave for college? Did you get a new dog bed? Have you started leaving earlier for work? All of these can be stressful to a dog and she gets release when she snaps at her neighbor. I suggest looking for these changes and trying to spend more time with the dogs, perhaps one on one. Take each one out into the yard seperately and spend some running time with them.
These clearly are not all of the reasons that your dog could be attacking another dog but I hope they help in some way. For more information, I recommend checking out this post by Pat Miller in The Whole Dog Journal. It has some very descriptive explanations.
Do you have experience with dogs attacking each other? What are some of the things that helped you to solve the problem?