Neutrality: Minimize friction by being proactive. Put away the toys, keep bones in the cabinet, block access to socially significant areas (ie. sofas and beds), and avoid giving attention that could potentially spur conflict. Preventing fights through management is just as important as the next recommendation: forging a bond.
Forging a Bond: Take them for long walks in places that neither one of them has ever been (the more often you do this, the better). Not only are they less likely to get into fights when they are on neutral ground, but it will also help them to become friends. Migrating, sniffing and exploring new territory is a great bonding activity. Do this in combination with the next tip: developing positive associations through positive reinforcement training.
Developing Positive Associations: Positive reinforcement training that rewards sitting, lying down, and “going to place” helps us and our dogs focus on building up desirable behavior, and can simultaneously condition these dogs to feel calm, comfortable and relaxed in each other’s presence.
What to do if and when you notice tension (ie. a hard stare, growling, snarling): Be Calm: Yelling, screaming, reprimanding or frenzied actions will make matters worse. Aggression stems from stress, if you are feeling nervous or uneasy you are likely going to feed into your dog’s aggressive behavior. Be Prepared: Have dogs drag a short leash at home (when supervised). Now if you notice tension you can calmly walk up to the dog, pick up the leash and call him (or lead him) away from the other dog. Abruptly grabbing a dog’s collar is often a sure fire way to start a fight.
Warning Signs are Good! Be thankful for growling, snarling and air snaps; this is a dog’s way of communicating that they are feeling stressed, and is the perfect time to calmly diffuse the situation. Many people want to “correct” their dog for exhibiting these signs, and believe that this is the best way to “teach a dog not to be aggressive.” In reality, they are only addressing the symptoms not the underlying cause of the problem. The other most unfortunate side-effect of “correcting” warning signs is that your dog will learn to suppress warning signs, and go straight into fight mode. Have you ever heard people say “There was no warning, my dog just attacked!”? Corrections can teach dogs to suppress the warning sigs of aggression, but will NOT teach your dog not to be aggressive.
What to Do If Your Dogs Fight: Break the fight up, and separate the dogs for 2 or 3 minutes (or until they are calm) – now take them for a walk or in any environment that is most conducive to relaxation. Reintroducing dogs in a calm, controlled, positive fashion will ensure that neither dog will harbor resentment and make the rivalry worse.
Written by Alyssa Rose (Lapinel), Certified Professional Dog Trainer
Alyssa Rose owns and operates Legends Dog Training, based in San Diego, California. Go to: http://www.legendsdogtraining.com for more information about training services, including private training, 2-4 week board and train programs, and guided online training for those live throughout the country or abroad.